EFES principal leaves for Norfolk

Published 10:04 pm Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Elephant’s Fork Elementary’s outgoing principal, who is leaving for a new opportunity in Norfolk, says she is confident the academically struggling school will lift academic performance by the end of the year.

After five years at the school’s helm, Veleka Gatling will leave at the end of the month to take up a new position at Norfolk’s Campostella Elementary School.

Her decision has nothing to do with Elephant’s Fork having fallen short of No Child Left Behind Act yearly progress goals or the higher pay she would receive as a principal in the Norfolk school district, Gatling told the Suffolk News-Herald.

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“This is actually a career move that will benefit my family,” she said. “I’m actually returning home going back to Norfolk Public Schools, where I began my career as a teacher, and I’m a native of Norfolk.”

To avoid the restructuring plan, which Suffolk Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Jackie Chavis has said could involve drastic changes including replacing staff, the school must meet so-called Adequate Yearly Progress in all subjects two years in a row.

But the state of Virginia has also applied to the federal government for a waiver that Chavis said would release Elephant’s Fork from the progress goals and any restructuring plan.

“We would have to continue with intervention for that school, but restructuring would no longer be a requirement,” she said.

A variety of strategies have been implemented in a bid to lift performance, including, for students, “No-Worksheet” days and common tests for grade levels, and for teaching staff, weekly grade-level meetings, monthly leadership meetings, and monthly meetings for teacher assistants.

“It has been challenging, but we have had steady growth every school year and as a matter of fact … when (scores) are reported, you will see that we have had steady growth,” Gatling said.

Growth has occurred in all grades, but has been more marked in grades four and five, she said.

Gatling paid tribute to Elephant’s Fork teachers. “They understand that a child in first grade who doesn’t read at all needs to be reading at the end of the year,” she said.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, what school you are in, what you are juggling, people’s precious commodities are their children.”

Gatling is planning a vacation before taking up her new position in Norfolk.

“Actually, I have a trip planned to Bermuda, because my younger sister is getting married,” she said.

Working in Suffolk Public Schools has been rewarding, she said. “It has been an awesome experience,” she added.

Chavis said the hunt for a new principal started with advertisements posted last Friday. Applications will be received “over the next couple of weeks,” she said.

She hopes the position can be filled by July 1, but “it’s based on the field, and we will make sure we have a qualified candidate.”