BOWIE – More than 60 parents from Heather Hills Elementary School had their voices heard last week on who should be the school’s next principal.
Parents had previously raised concerns about the school’s administration at a Board of Education meeting last month, claiming the school’s previous principal, Patsy Hotsch, had created an environment not conducive to learning.
“My observation is that this culture is toxic,” said Alexandra Calloway, a Heather Hills parent and volunteer, at the June 12 meeting. “The lack of respect for students, the parents and the volunteers is what makes it toxic. It starts from the top with the principal; it is time to call for a change. “
Hotsch announced her retirement on the last day of school, June 13. Calloway said the parents at the Board of Education meeting were not aware the announcement was coming the following day.
“I am happy to see a change occurring,” Calloway said. “It would have been nice for the school system to communicate that there was a change coming, because if we had known sooner I don't think the parents would have taken such measures to be so vocal.”
Following Hotsch’s retirement, Prince George’s County Public Schools has about a month to screen applicants and hire a new principal.
“The window is short because of the late notice and the desire to have somebody on board as soon as possible,” said PGCPS Instructional Director Chris Mills, who moderated Thursday’s meeting.
The general consensus among parents is a desire for a principal who maintains open lines of communication with parents and creates a close-knit school community.
According to parents’ accounts, Hotsch refused to offer special assistance to a student with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and instead told the parent “that her child would do fine if she could just learn to focus.”
Former Parent Teacher Organization President Dawn Wampler shared similar concerns at the meeting with the Board of Education, saying the problem is not a new one.
“For years parents have been asking for change in a leadership that has stayed beyond their productive time at our school,” Wampler said. “Over the past 5 years our leadership has consistently obstructed attempts at meaningful parental involvement and allowed a toxic atmosphere of harsh discipline and fear to take root.”
In 2011, parents sent a letter expressing concerns about students’ plummeting grades and signs of depression.
“(Hotch’s) response was to assure us that there was no problems and our children definitely were not depressed,” Wampler said.
During the school system’s meeting with the parents, PTO president Ann Marie Pisano said it would be beneficial to bring in a principal from the outside rather than promoting from within.
“I think it might be good to have an outside influence, and the new principal be somebody who comes into Heather Hills fresh and can see us in a way that we might not be able to see ourselves,” Pisano said.
Brennan Tanner, a music teacher at the school, said the teachers want a better distribution of school resources and stronger leadership.
“We need...someone who knows the county policies that are in the book and fairly, consistently and respectfully implements them,” Tanner said.
Mills said the school system will take the parents’ and teachers’ suggestions seriously.
“We definitely want to have a principal that fits the school and fits the needs of the community so I would say it probably will have a significant impact,” Mills said. “This reinforces our assumptions about what the leadership profile and the principle should be.”