This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. May 9.
Parents at Sligo Middle School say they are banking on new leadership to turn the school around, after finding out Tuesday that the school’s principal submitted his resignation.
Richard Rhodes, the Silver Spring school’s principal for seven years, accepted a role as an administrator for a national charter school organization. His resignation is effective July 1, according to a May 8 letter from community superintendent Bronda Mills to parents.
Rhodes leaves at a time that parents had hoped would be a turning point at the school. They have met all school year with school system administrators, listing off their concerns such as Rhodes’ leadership, instructional rigor, resources, home-to-school communication, and discipline/safety.
Now, their priority is shifting to helping the school system find the best person to move the school forward.
“I think they need a really strong leader here,” said Jeannette O’Connor, whose child will go to the school in two years.
Rhodes had mixed progress during his tenure at the school, when looking at school system data.
The school’s state test scores are substantially higher now than seven years ago in all subjects but eighth-grade math. Still, the schools’ scores fall much below the average for county middle schools.
Attendance and detention rates have remained constant, at about 95 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Staff surveys from last year and this year show that Sligo staff is somewhat less satisfied with their school culture compared to other middle school staff countywide.
Rhodes acknowledged Wednesday he has learned a lot during his first stint as principal. But he stands by his work, and he said he believes he has changed the school culture for the better.
“I know what this school looked like when I walked in,” he said.
Rhodes said he feels good overall about his time during the school, and despite the criticism from parents this year, he has no bitter feelings.
“I love this school,” he said. “I like the kids. I like the staff. I like the parents — even when they are mad at me.”
At a meeting with more than 50 parents Wednesday night, Rhodes explained the possible action steps that the school could take moving forward, based on the issues that school system officials heard from parents.
Many parents spoke out in frustration at the meeting, stating that the action steps did not match the concerns.
On one PowerPoint slide, for example, the issues listed were the need for more accurate reporting of bullying, greater articulation between elementary and high schools, more use of the school-to-home communication system Edline, and other communication processes. The only action item on that slide was “Share the calendar.”
“I don’t feel like this solved anything,” O’Connor said. “I felt it to be a really big disconnect.”
Parents were told that the school system would give more solid action steps at a May 21 meeting. Yet many parents spoke out that they would not be able to attend that meeting, as it will be at 3 p.m.
Melissa Polito and other parents believe many of the issues could be put to rest through solid communication. Much of the problems, Polito said, come from the school’s reputation.
Rhodes agrees. He said he wants people to know that Sligo is “a good school, seeking to be great.”
He hopes the school’s new principal will focus on two things: professional development and communication.
“The lack of communication has been unintentional,” he said. “It has been a learning process, about how the whole school communicates.”
Alice Witt, one of the parents leading the charge for changes at the school, said she is hopeful about the school’s future, as much of the school’s culture stems from its leadership.
“Really good leadership makes for a really good school,” she said.
The school will host parent meetings on Monday and Tuesday to collect information from parents about the characteristics they would like to see in the school’s new principal, Mills wrote in her letter.