When Prince William County’s 69,000 students head back to school on Tuesday, they won’t be the only ones out to learn something new.
Steven L. Walts, the new superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools, also has a lot of learning to do in the coming school year, he said.
Walts is spending the first months of his administration, which began on July 1, getting to know the teachers, students and staff, he said.
“One of the things that has been utmost in my agenda is to be out and meet the people who work in our school division and who are going to be teaching our children, who are keeping our buses moving, who are preparing the cafeteria food and just to make it a priority to go out and meet people in their work locations,” Walts said.
Walts said he hopes to visit each of the county’s 82 schools in the first 82 days of the school year.
“Part of what I’ll be doing is assessing with the staff areas of strength and areas where we can look at improvement opportunities,” he said. “One mistake would be to come in and, without one day of school, start talking about changes. I think what I’m more interested in is trying to be a good listener, to learn about the schools, to learn what people are doing, to learn and to listen to people’s opinions about how the school division is working.”
That input will help Walts and the School Board decide what, if any, changes should be made in the coming year.
One change already underway was approved at an August school board meeting. The School Board voted then to reorganize some administrative departments, combining the management and school services departments into one.
“We’re consolidating some of those services because I think they will function better together,” Walts said.
Those school visits are also intended to get school staff used to seeing a new face, he said.
His predecessor, Edward L. Kelly, served as superintendent of county schools for 18 years.
“Following someone of Dr. Kelly’s reputation is challenging. Being here 18 years, he hired most of the people, he promoted most of the people,” Walts said. “I’m following someone who has managed a tremendous amount of student growth. When you look at the sheer population change and the numbers of schools built, and the numbers of employees we’ve had over his 18-year tenure, that’s an awesome amount of progress and change,” he said.
Walts anticipates that population growth will be one of the biggest challenges he will have to face in his tenure with the school system.
The Prince William County school system is already the 64th largest school division in the nation, and its enrollment has been growing by about 5 percent each year, Walts said.
This year the county is opening two new elementary schools, Glenkirk in Gainesville and Victory in Bristow.
But Walts, 51, is no stranger to managing large school districts, he said.
Before coming to the county, he served as superintendent of the Greece, N.Y., school district for seven years. That district is the 8th largest in New York.
Before that, Walts served as an assistant superintendent in Baltimore County and Wichita, Kan.
“I think the sum total of my experiences have really well prepared me for Prince William,” he said.
Still, Walts looks forward to the new challenges that his new job will bring, he said.
“My philosophy is really to do what’s in the best interest of every child and to try our best to provide every child with the best education we can. That’s what my decision making will be centered on, and I look forward to doing that this year,” he said.