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Mt. Zion school has new boss

Ashley McKnight-Taylor

For Frances Barnes, teaching runs in the family. Her mother was a teacher. One sister is a teacher, the other, an administrator. Barnes is, not surprisingly, a teacher. But now she is taking that next step.

The Suffolk School Board, at its meeting Thursday, appointed Barnes as the new principal of Mount Zion Elementary School.

Barnes, currently the assistant principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary School, will replace Katrina Rountree-Bowers, who was named principal for the new Creekside Elementary School. 

She learned last week that position was hers. “I reacted very calmly because I was really in shock,” she said. “It was just an overwhelming excitement.”

She had to keep the news secret until the official approval at the board meeting, though. The announcement was made throughout the school system Friday, and Barnes said she was inundated with congratulatory phone calls and e-mails.

Barnes, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in education from the College of William & Mary, began her teaching career in 1973 at Surry Elementary School in the Surry County Public School System. She taught fourth grade for two years before taking an eight-year sabbatical to bear and raise her three children. She did, however, keep her hand in teaching a tenth-grade math class from 1978-1979.

After her youngest child went to school, she began teaching sixth grade at Surry Elementary School. Barnes earned her master’s degree in education with an emphasis on reading, language and literacy from William & Mary and went on to work as a reading specialist at the middle school level.

Thanks to an administrator internship program started by Surry’s former superintendent, Barnes went on to earn her certificate in administration and supervision in 2001. Because Surry is a smaller system and there were no administrative jobs available, she applied with the Suffolk School System.

In 2002, Barnes was hired as assistant principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. 

“This school is like a family to me,” she said Friday. “This is a very close staff and good morale here.”

Leaving the school will be difficult, but Barnes said she looks forward to meeting and getting to know everyone in the Mt. Zion community- students and their parents and families, all staff members, and community and business partners. She’ll begin a transition period, working with Rountree-Bowers, before moving to the school in the spring.

For the past week she has been taking notes and jotting down ideas for her new role. While Barnes doesn’t plan to make sweeping changes at Mount Zion, she does want to work to maintain its excellence, particularly when it comes to the Standards of Learning (SOLs).

“My job is going to be to make that blue flag still hang on the building.”

But more than that, she wants to perpetuate the school’s successful programs and traditions.

“I just want to make Mount Zion … continue to be a shining star in the Suffolk School System.”

ashley.taylor@suffolknewsherald.com