Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007

New GHS principal defends her record

Christine Handy-Collins says she had nothing to do with D.C. charter school’s troubles

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The county school system says that the probation and closure of a Washington charter school once headed by a newly appointed principal is not relevant to her ability to lead Gaithersburg High School.

But the panel that interviewed Christine Handy-Collins for the job never heard about the school or its problems.

‘‘We were not made aware of anything like that. We were not even given her full employment history,” said Laurie Augustino, president of Gaithersburg’s PTSA and a member of the panel. ‘‘The way that they do their interviews, we’re not allowed to ask general questions of the interviewees.”

When the school system interviews candidates, it asks them a fixed set of six questions, drawn from questionnaires filled out by parents before the interview. Because of federal hiring rules, each candidate must be asked exactly the same questions, and the interviewing panel cannot deviate from that, a schools official told parents at a July 11 meeting.

Handy-Collins, 44, was named Gaithersburg High’s principal two weeks ago amid high praise for her record as an educator. She was Maryland’s ‘‘Principal of the Year” in 2006 when she led Colonel Richardson High School in Federalsburg in Caroline County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

But it was her two years as principal of Techworld Charter School in Washington that was brought into question by The Examiner newspaper, which wrote July 22 that the city’s school board put the Techworld Charter School on probation while Handy-Collins was its principal.

Handy-Collins was Techworld’s principal when the school opened in 1998; she left in 2000. The D.C. school board closed the school in 2002.

Incensed by the suggestion that Handy-Collins was connected to Techworld’s woes, the school system reiterated its support.

‘‘There’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that she had any involvement in the allegations of fiscal mismanagement,” said school system spokesman Brian K. Edwards. ‘‘Any allegations that she was somehow involved in that are nothing but scurrilous innuendo.”

Techworld’s probation and closing were based solely on concerns over the school’s financial management, said Oxon Hill resident Dean Matthews, who sat on the charter school’s board of directors from 1998 to 2000. At no point, he said, did Techworld’s board or the D.C. school board find fault with Handy-Collins’ performance.

‘‘The academics were fine. In fact, they were improving,” Matthews said.

Handy-Collins said she is proud of her accomplishments at Techworld, and stands by her record as a school leader. ‘‘I have never had a negative evaluation,” she told The Gazette. ‘‘I’ve had a stellar career to this point, and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

Handy-Collins said she left Techworld because she had to spend too much time tending to the administrative duties needed to run a charter school and not enough time on the students and academics. ‘‘I felt like I really could not grow as a school administrator there because I did not have the support,” she said.

After leaving Techworld, Handy-Collins went to Colonel Richardson High School in Caroline County, serving as assistant principal for one year before becoming principal in 2001. She held that post through the 2006-2007 school year.

In the four years that Ed Shirley, superintendent of the Caroline County school system, had Handy-Collins under his watch, the number of students who were taking Advanced Placement courses, SATs and going to college increased dramatically at Colonel Richardson.

‘‘Her list of accomplishments as far as I’m concerned speak for themselves,” Shirley said. ‘‘She was a highly successful principal, and I have no reason to doubt that will continue at Gaithersburg High School.”

Gaithersburg High serves students from north Rockville.

Other than the restrictive nature of MCPS’s interview process, Augustino’s only reservations about Handy-Collins lie with the fact that at Colonel Richardson, she was responsible for 635 students, compared to the 2,200 students at Gaithersburg High.

But, Augustino said, it is ‘‘not a great concern.”

‘‘I would hate to think that the size of the school would cause someone’s approach not to work,” she said.

‘‘Let’s go into this with a positive attitude, let’s give her a chance,” she added.