By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 27 — On Monday, the Page County School Board approved the hiring of Dr. Paul Johnson as the next principal of Luray Middle School. He will replace Ben Bailey, who recently resigned from that post after two years.
With the school board’s decision and Dr. Johnson accepting the new role, he will no longer be eligible to run for chairman of the school board as an employee of the school division. That means Jason “Scotty” Breeden now stands as the only candidate for school board chairman in an uncontested race this November.
Johnson served as both assistant principal (four years) and principal (three years) of Page County High School before becoming the school division’s director of human resources in 2011. After nearly eight years in that position, Dr. Johnson left the school system last April while also serving as assistant superintendent. He was employed as the director of human resources for Delaware North, concessionaire to Shenandoah National Park.
The longtime administrator says although he briefly got away from education, his interest in local schools never dissipated.
“It came to my attention that the school system had not found a principal to fill this vacancy, as of last week. It has been 14 months since I retired from PCPS. However, not a day has gone by that I haven’t watched, listened, or engaged in conversations regarding matters pertaining to the school system,” Dr. Johnson said. “I found that although I was no longer working for the schools, my interest and desire to be part of it never faded. When I had the chance to consider this position, I knew in my heart that it was a great opportunity to re-invest in the lives of students and our schools.”
The former, and now newly hired, principal says that he has already begun recruiting for teacher vacancies at LMS and organizing the search for a new assistant principal to replace Maggie Calabrese, who resigned prior to Bailey.
“This is all occurring during the evenings as I’m still working daily with Delaware North,” Dr. Johnson said. “However, my first day in the office at LMS will be on Monday, July 6.”
Dr. Johnson was temporarily furloughed from his position as HR director by Delaware North, but he had returned to work when the principal position was announced earlier this week. The national park concessionaire recently sent out a letter to all employees of the worldwide company that was less than comforting.
“The COVID-19 crisis shuttered nearly all of our 200-plus operations across the globe and forced us to resort to dramatic measures to work toward stabilizing the company… Most regrettable was the decision to place so many of our loyal, hardworking and talented associates on temporary leave,” the company notice stated. “Even with those difficult actions, we must now deliver the message that many of our team members who are currently out on leave will either not return as quickly as we had hoped, or not return at all… Our current operational and financial projections indicate that we simply will not be able to return to pre-pandemic employment levels… We originally anticipated that the pandemic would disrupt our business for only several months, but we now know that our recovery could take multiple years.”
Dr. Johnson acknowledged that his decision to return to Page County Public Schools came at a bad time for Delaware North, who is now slowly reopening sites along Skyline Drive.
“I have loved my experience working with the great employees of Delaware North – Shenandoah National Park. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about corporate human resources,” Dr. Johnson said. “The hard part about leaving these friends is that I had the chance to provide employment and a great work environment for so many of our community members. Having said that, I feel a sense of ‘coming home’ in rejoining Page County Public Schools.”
Johnson also says he understands that the middle school position will differ from his previous post at PCHS, and that younger students will have different needs.
“Obviously, the developmental and age needs are different with 6th-8th graders than with the older high school students,” the new LMS principal said. “At the middle level, I believe that the timing is perfect to begin shaping habits, and creating an excitement for learning. I believe that the middle school leadership has to possess high energy, relatability and a passion to connect with kids!”
As stated earlier, Johnson will officially take on the role of principal at LMS on Monday, July 6.