Principal shift sends 6 to new schools

Published 11:16 pm Friday, May 27, 2011

Six Suffolk elementary schools will experience shifts in leadership this summer as a result of the closings of Mount Zion and Robertson elementary schools.

Superintendent Deran Whitney on Friday announced administrator reassignments for the 2011-2012 school year. The changes take effect July 1.

Mack Benn Jr. principal Melodie Griffin will take up the position at Driver Elementary School, while Driver’s current principal Chanel Bryant will move to Nansemond Parkway.

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Keith Hubbard, who currently serves as principal at Nansemond Parkway, will head to Mack Benn.

Mack Benn assistant principal Steve Smith will take on the same position at Booker T. Washington.

Mount Zion’s Frances Barnes will become the principal at Florence Bowser, replacing Cheryl Riddick, who will serve as principal at Southwestern.

The Southwestern position was freed up when current principal Nancy Harrell announced her retirement.

After more than 30 years in education, 13 of which she served in Suffolk, Harrell told her staff in February she would be leaving.

“I have been in (education) for 32 years, and I would like to do some traveling and other things,” Harrell said. “I thought it was a good time to retire.”

She started her education career as a fifth-grade teacher in Franklin in 1979. In 1990, Harrell started in administration as an assistant principal before moving to Suffolk Public Schools in 1998.

She was the assistant principal of instruction at Nansemond River High School for one year and the principal at Driver Elementary for seven before taking up her post at Southwestern.

Harrell said above all, she will miss the students because working with children was the reason she got into education.

Harrell hasn’t announced her retirement to the students, but she said she is certain they will carry on and do great.

“I’ve had a wonderful experience working with great children,” she said. “I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to work under great leadership at Suffolk Public Schools and blessed to work with such a dedicated staff.”

Along with Harrell, Robertson Elementary School principal Rhonda Jones also will retire at the end of the school year.

Jones started in education in 1981 as a speech language pathologist and has worked in Suffolk her entire career.

She said spending time in numerous classrooms and witnessing different teaching styles as a speech and language teacher influenced her to become an administrator.

“The more I learned about general education, the more I realized I wanted to be in a position to support all of the students,” Jones said.

She served as assistant principal at Mack Benn Jr. for nearly two years and became Robertson’s principal in 2002.

While she has been considering retirement since the winter, Jones said she definitely considered the closing of Robertson in her decision.

“I think it would be easier for the students and staff if I retire now,” she said. “There’s going to be lots of changes in their lives anyway.”

Jones said she will miss seeing the students every day and the tight-knit environment at Robertson.

“It really is like working with a family,” she said.

The reassignment process has left an assistant principal vacancy at Mack Benn Jr., which the school division intends to fill, spokeswoman Bethanne Bradshaw said.

The schools also will have to fill the principal position at King’s Fork Middle School after the recent passing of Talmadge Darden.