Selection process for McCallum principal postponed twice, now underway

Interviews in process after two delays, permanent principal will soon be announced by Superintendent Elizalde


David Winter

McCallum Interim Principal Nicole Griffith helps a first-day freshman on March 1, which felt like one of Griffith’s many “first days” back that she has experienced as the McCallum principal during a pandemic.

Samantha Powers, co-news editor, co-copy editor

The McCallum permanent principal selection process is underway. A process was begun last year to select a permanent McCallum principal following Nicole Griffith’s term as the interim principal, and this process was wrapping up in December when it was decided that the principal search would be reopened due to the lack of campus information available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Murray, Campus Advisory Council co-chair and member of the principal selection committee, said that the reopening of the selection process in December came as a surprise.

“When we got the email, ‘Hey, can you guys hop on a Zoom call with us?’ I just figured that they would be notifying us that they had gone to completion, and that person had been named,” Murray said. “But when we got onto the call, they told us that the process was being … redone, that it was kind of being stopped and initiated from the beginning all over again.”

CAC co-chair and selection committee member Claire Mathias explained that the revision to the timeline was frustrating in some ways.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say it was very frustrating,” Mathias said, “for all of the stakeholders, for the parents, for the teachers, for kids, for everybody who wants some stability.”

I think it’s pretty safe to say [the rescheduling] was very frustrating for all of the stakeholders, for the parents, for the teachers, for kids, for everybody who wants some stability.

— CAC co-chair Claire Mathias

In the revised timeline, a survey for parents and faculty regarding their criteria for the principal was opened from Jan. 25-29, and this survey was used by the Vertical Team principals and two AISD representatives to screen applicants on Feb. 19.

On Feb. 23, when the revised timeline was about to begin with interviews conducted by a campus selection committee, the timeline was once again pushed back in light of the record-breaking snow storm that hit Austin and rendered many in the city incapable of so much as heating up a pot of pasta, much less conducting a Zoom. Initially scheduled for Feb. 25, interviews with a campus selection committee comprising two CAC co-chairs, two teacher representatives, two McCallum parents and and Executive Director of High Schools Sheila Henry was rescheduled for March 8. These interviews took place on Monday and the committee identified finalists.

The next steps of the process include finalist interviews with AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde and two other AISD officials, including Executive Director Henry. After that point, Elizalde will present her choice for the McCallum permanent principal to the Board of Trustees and the board is expected to confirm her choice. The dates of these events have not been announced, and Executive Director Henry did not respond to e-mail messages from the Shield asking about the new timeline.

Graphic by Anna McClellan.

Mathias explained that the selection committee prioritizes community input, but that information is more difficult to gather without face-to-face interaction due to the pandemic.

“[The committee] will take the input from everybody and work that in however they can in terms of the questions,” Mathias said. “And in terms of the rubric for the evaluation, I think that’s something that they develop. And that’s why that’s one of the things that was hard, I think, about not having the face-to-face, is that you want to represent the community, the best way to do it is to talk to people and find out what they’re interested in.”

Mathias did add that there are advantages to a virtual format for the selection process, including some of the benefits of utilizing technology so heavily.

“The process of interviewing… the difference from last year was that this year, because we were on a Zoom call … everything was in a Zoom form,” Mathias said. “So it asked the question, we each took turns asking questions, same thing we did the year before. And you could even type your comments and your thoughts as you were going, which you can’t really do when you’re in person, it’s really hard to do that. So then when we got to the point where we were ranking, I personally felt like I have way better notes than I did the year before.”

Murray explained that the leadership profile developed from community input is the main way she evaluates candidates from the McCallum principal position.

“For me, it’s really that leadership profile, because you go in knowing that the leadership profile is drawing a picture of the community,” Murray said. “McCallum is a very tight-knit community, and I like to think that we’re super open-minded as well. I’ve been here for 10 years, [and] I feel like it’s a very positive and proactive community. And so that leadership profile is going to reflect the energy of this great school that we work at.”

Senior Emily Arndt is a CAC student representative and the Student Leadership Team Organizational Officer. Arndt said that the top priority for the next permanent principal should be equity issues.

“The most important qualities for a principal, especially now, are equity and prioritizing equity because there are so many students who could possibly be left behind,” Arndt said. “And it’s so hard to know when students aren’t on campus, you can’t see their faces, see how they’re doing in classes, everything’s so different.”

Senior Emily Arndt, the Mac Student Leadership Team organizational officer and student representative for the Campus Advisory Council, speaks at an equity panel on Jan. 5. The panels and discussions that day were part of the Student Leadership Team (SLT) initiative started at McCallum by former Principal Brandi Hosack, and that legacy has been continued by Interim Principal Nicole Griffith. Arndt and her fellow SLT officer, senior Olivia Navarro, hope that the permanent principal will continue this progressive momentum at McCallum, whoever they may be.

Because of confidentiality, it is not officially confirmed whether Interim Principal Nicole Griffith is in the running for the position of permanent principal, but Arndt would be pleased if she did take on the position. Griffith has dedicated time and effort to preserving the legacies of her predecessor, Brandi Hosack, including the implementation of the Student Leadership Team to address equity issues at McCallum. Arndt admires her dedication to student voices.

“When we started with Student Leadership,” Arndt said, “she was immediately like, ‘OK, what can we do, what are y’all’s ideas? I want this to be student-run, but I want to support you guys.’ Because with student-led clubs … it’s hard to get things done when it’s only students, and so she was like, ‘Anything that you want, I will do for you.’ So, for people who haven’t met Ms. Griffith, she is doing so much.”

Senior Olivia Navarro, a CAC student representative and the Student Leadership Team Logistics officer, also described Hosack as a model for the next permanent principal.

“I would say that it’s really important, at least for me, and I think for some other students that I’ve talked to, to have a principal who’s very flexible and accommodating,” Navarro said. “And also having a principal who is willing to do what Hosack did, which is to rock the boat a little, who’s willing to make some change and take some steps to be a little more progressive and more out there with their process of how they’re doing things.”

I would say that it’s really important… to have a principal who’s very flexible and accommodating … and  willing to do what Hosack did, which is to rock the boat a little … to be a little more progressive and more out there.

— Senior Olivia Navarro, SLT officer and CAC student representative

Navarro admires Griffith’s leadership during a pandemic school year and her ability to adapt and communicate with the community.

“I really like her,” Navarro said. “I think that she has done a lot this year to try and be as flexible as she can with the outdoor school learning options and the student leadership. I think she’s been doing a pretty good job also with communicating with teachers, from what I’ve heard from some of my teachers. So I would say that she fits like my description of what a good McCallum principal would be.”

Arndt said that the biggest challenge facing the permanent principal will be improving the sense of community that has been taken from many students by the pandemic.

“I am so worried for the current freshmen who have had no opportunity to make friends,” Arndt said. “There are students, not necessarily all freshmen, who came to McCallum not knowing a single person and still have barely any relationships because of Zoom school. And that is not anyone’s fault in particular, but the person who will be in charge moving forward will have to prioritize that and make sure that spirit activities are super prioritized and campus involvement is a big thing.”