When some pupils return to classes next month, they'll be greeted by a new person at the helm of their school.
Former assistant principals Dietmar Perez and Naesha Parks were elevated to lead their schools, Harlem High and Evans Elementary, respectively.
They took over the schools once run by Alan Griffin and Scott Weinand. Griffin left Harlem High to become principal at the county's alternative school, and Weinand left Evans Elementary to take over Grovetown Elementary.
Perez said he understands that tough challenges are awaiting him as he takes over at his ailing alma mater.
Harlem High recently was downsized by about 600 students, who are now rezoned for Grovetown High. And for the second consecutive year, Harlem failed to make adequate yearly progress, as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, because of a low graduation rate as measured by the number of students completing high school in four years.
In his first year as principal, Perez, a 19-year educator and Harlem High alum, said he wants to place a special emphasis on the senior class.
"We certainly won't be ignoring the other grades, but I want to focus on those 150 seniors," he said. "I and my staff will work with them, encourage them and help them any way we can so that, come May, all 150 will walk across that stage to get their diplomas."
Perez said he was not discouraged that so many Harlem students are going to Grovetown.
"We have a lot of good parents and good kids, and I think by keeping it small it'll be easier to get to know each one of them," he said. "I hope this will be a way to get us back to being a small-town, community school."
Since Harlem High was in a transition, Griffin decided the time was right to enter a new stage of his 38-year career.
The longtime school administrator will run the county's alternative school.
"I had toyed with the idea last year of retiring, but I just really wanted to take on one more challenge before calling it a career," Griffin said. "I think this is that challenge with a very unique mission, and I'm excited about it."
Griffin was Harlem High's principal for five years and its assistant principal for 11 years. He also worked as assistant principal at North Harlem Elementary and Wrens High School. He taught at Aquinas High School for eight years.
Throughout his career, Griffin said the idea of working in an alternative school held a "certain appeal" to him. In the role, he said he intends to maintain a simple goal.
"I think the measure of our success is how many students we transition back to their regular school," he said. "That's what I want to accomplish; when we send students back to their school that they're ready to be successful."
Like Perez, Parks is a product of the Columbia County school system -- a member of the Evans High class of 1992 -- and has served her entire professional career in the county.
Also like Perez, Parks believes in fostering a small-town feel in her school.
"I think of the school as a community, and I want the kids to enjoy learning," she said. "That's important to me. We're all responsible for working together to shape the kids in a positive way."
Parks was an assistant principal at Evans Elementary for three years. Before that, she taught special needs pupils at Martinez and North Columbia elementary schools.
"In looking at education as a whole, I think it's our desire to impact and influence as many kids that we can," she said. "As a teacher, it was in my classroom. I look at the principalship as a way to impact kids in a positive manner on a grander scale."
The principal's office was vacated when Weinand opted to transfer from the school to Grovetown Elementary after the retirement of Bob Boyd.
"I was ready for a new challenge," Weinand said of the transfer. "I wanted the chance to get to know a new community and take a school to the next level."
Weinand was principal at Evans Elementary for three years and was an assistant principal for three years prior to that. He taught in elementary grades for six years.
"Grovetown (Elementary) has a great faculty and great kids who have steadily improved on their test scores," Weinand said. "I want to be there to keep building on that success."
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