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Posted on Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Meet the four newest Ann Arbor schools principals

By Kyle Feldscher

It’s been a long summer for four Ann Arbor schools principals who are taking over a school building for the first time at the beginning of September.

Virginia Bell is the new principal at Burns Park Elementary School, Charles Davis is the new principal at Carpenter Elementary School, Bill Harris is the new principal at Eberwhite Elementary School and Natasha York is the new principal at Thurston Elementary School.

Each of the four new principals has prior teaching experience and is drawing on past leadership roles to help adjust to a new job.

Each principal said they began getting ready for the school year right after the 2010-11 school year ended and have been working throughout the summer to prepare for 2011-12. spoke with the four new principals during the past week as they get ready to start the school year.

Virginia Bell

Coming from a high school to an elementary school might be a whole new world, but Bell believes she has the experience to ease the transition

Bell is coming to Burns Park after working as an assistant principal at Huron High School for the previous 9 years. She has been in the Ann Arbor schools for about 17 years, working as a substitute, long-term substitute, physical and health education teacher, and a curriculum coordinator for K-12 health and physical education before going to Huron.

She said her biggest task will be learning the elementary school curriculum, but she believes she’ll be able to lean on the Burns Park teachers to get her through the learning period.

“The experts right now are the teachers and I’m going to have to learn from them what the curriculum is,” Bell said.

Allowing teachers to do their jobs is Bell’s biggest goal. She said she has personal goals, like engaging the school’s community and learning the elementary curriculum inside and out, but those things will come with time.

Until then, Bell said she wants to provide whatever is necessary to teachers so they can pass along knowledge to students.

“(If I can provide) not only the professional development, but the physical things that they need, they’re going to be successful,” she said. “The success that we’ve had so far, we’re going to move forward on that.”

Charles Davis

Davis isn’t asking a lot of the Carpenter community. All he wants from students, staff and parents is excellence.

While this is Davis’ first permanent principal job, he served as the interim principal at Haisley Elementary School when Mary Ann Jeager, who recently retired from the school, was on medical leave. Davis has also taught at Ann Arbor Technical High School and Abbot Elementary School. He also has a master’s degree in educational leadership, something he thinks will serve him well in his new role.


Charles Davis

Courtesy of Charles Davis

He said having a culture of school pride is extremely important to him and he’ll be trying to cultivate that atmosphere by focusing on student achievement.

“I want people to know how great Carpenter is and the change we’ve made,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of wonderful traditions here and we’re trying to be more visible.”

Davis said one of his main goals is to tackle the achievement gap at Carpenter. He said Carpenter is a diverse school and he thinks coming in as an African-American man, he will try to be a role model for students.

Davis said he wants to draw on his past success with the achievement gap as a teacher by increasing expectations on students and encouraging teachers to have close, strong relationships with students.

“I know as a teacher that building strong relationships with students and going that extra mile will tear down a lot of those barriers that teachers may have with certain students,” he said. “Once a kid knows that you truly care and you have high expectations, students tend to try and reach those.”

Bill Harris

Usually, the natural progression of jobs in a school district will see a principal become an administrator. Harris, the former assistant director of special education for AAPS, is taking the opposite route by going to Eberwhite.

Harris has been involved in the school’s community for a number of years as a parent, but will now be running the school. He said that’s a unique quirk that will help with the adjustment to the new job, as well as the school at large.


Bill Harris

Courtesy of Bill Harris

“I’m very much a relationships-oriented and focused person and we do a lot to build building relationships with staff, with kids, with parents, and that’s at the center of what we do,” he said. “I’ve already gotten some of those relationships started and there’s going to be another opportunity to build on those, with a little bit different twist.”

Harris served as the assistant director of special education for AAPS for the last 4 years. Before that, he had taught at Scarlett Middle School for 10 years and spent a couple years teaching at Pioneer High School. He has taught a mix of general education and special education throughout his career.

Harris said his experience at different levels of the school system will allow him to bring a forward-looking view toward running Eberwhite.

“I’ve been working with middle school students over the last several years and by going to the elementary level, I can think about what will help our kids get to that middle school level,” he said.

Natasha York

York never thought she would become a principal but once she began to consider taking the job at Thurston, she realized she would be a natural fit.

York taught in a private school in Texas for 2 years before coming to Ann Arbor and teaching 2nd, 3rd and 5th grades over the past 8 years. While she’s never sought out leadership roles, she’s definitely held them — she served as the teachers union representative at Carpenter for the last 7 years and was on a number of committees in the district.

It was all of this past experience that led York to think that becoming a principal might not be her dream, but it was where she belonged. Now that she’s a principal, she’s not forgetting her teacher roots. She sees her main role as allowing teachers to do their jobs.

“The people who know the most are in the classroom,” she said. “The people who know the most are with the kids all day long; all I can do is support them.”

While she’s nervous about coming into the new community and taking on an increased position, York said all she wants to work with all of Thurston to develop a vision for the future.

She said she’s been amazed at the school’s culture and environment and has been welcomed by everyone she’s met. It’s a feeling she wants to continue as time goes on.

“I do want people to feel good about what they do, but I’m the stranger,” she said. “I need to become a part of the family. They don’t need to become a part of mine, I need to become a part of theirs.”

Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

I am happy to see a new elementary principal who was an elementary teacher. I hated that my children's former elementary principal was from a secondary education background. He did not understand how young children learn and the importance of play and recess at the lower levels. Good luck all of you!


Thu, Aug 25, 2011 : 10:59 p.m.

There's A LOT more than recess that principal didn't/doesn't understand! The fact that he is still there is a mystery to many.

J. A. Pieper

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:21 p.m.

What about Roberta Heyward, who is the new principal at Bryant Elementary School? Yes, she was interim when the previous principal retired during the school year, but she is a new principal in this district!

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

As pointed out by another follower: "Charles Davis was an interim principal too, and you profiled him." So, yes, I would still like to know the difference between Mr. Davis, interim principal, and Ms. Flynn, interim principal.

Somewhat Concerned

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Good luck to all of them, especially the phys ed teacher. What does that say about what is valued in our schools?


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

What phys ed teacher? Charles Davis taught 5th grade at Haisley. Bill Harris was assistant director of special ed, and had taught special ed and general ed before that. There was no mention in this article of a phys ed teacher that I saw.

Basic Bob

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:29 p.m.

It says he should be easier to replace in the classroom than a good math teacher.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:34 p.m.

"Usually the natural progression of jobs in a school district will see a principal become an administrator" Isn't a principal an administrator?

Basic Bob

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:34 p.m.

Only in Ann Arbor. Principals who can't do their job (or make a fatal mistake) are "promoted" to the special assignment room and reclassified as administration.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

A2taxpro: Bullying is simply not dealt with effectively in the ann arbor school system. I have had to move my children as well. I see it as an all talk, no action mode of operation. Something desperately needs to change to enable our children to feel safe at school.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 2:07 a.m.

They are probably too busy shoving the Glenn Singleton "equity" material on everyone to have time to deal with bullying.

J. A. Pieper

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

As a teacher in AAPS I agree with you, and would have a hard time keeping my kids in this school district. It seems the district philosophy is to sweep it under the rug, like it is impossible for AAPS to have this type of problem! As teachers we are told that every child has the right to an education, and the bullying is something we just have to live with in our classrooms. Sadly, it makes for a horrible year for the other class members, the teachers, and totally frustrates parents. Even when we have asked for professional development on this topic, the request has been ignored. Wouldn't want to have it get out that other schools in AAPS need to have this training...


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

I truly hope Kit addresses the issue of bullying at Open.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 5:27 p.m.

I'd like to get this in the main comment stream, because facts still have some importance. "DonBee" says: ---"We have 2x the administration cost in AAPS than Plymouth-Canton, according to state filings AND Plymouth-Canton has more students." Actually, in 2009-10 (latest comparable data available), AAPS spent $20.9 million on administration, while PCCS spent $16.2 million. Hardly twice the amount. PCCS does have more students, but AAPS has more buildings: 20 elementary, 5 middle, 1 K-8, 3 comprehensive HS and 3 alternative HS for AAPS; 16 elementary, 5 middle and 3 comprehensive HS plus 1 alternative HS for PCCS. The PCCS high schools share a common campus. -----"There were a number of sessions 2 weeks ago to interview to hire several new Superintendent level staff." Yes, that was to replace the Depty. Superintendent for Instruction and the Asst. Super. for Elementary Education who reports to the former. There is also a director of Instructional Technology who needs to be replaced, having moved to WISD. These are not new positions. -----"The movement of principals from the high schools to the grade schools could have filled all the principal slots." Really? Do tell. There were 5 retirements/departures at the elementary principal level, but only two assistants eliminated at the HS level. -----"Only 1 internal candidate was considered across ALL of the assistant/deputy superintendent slots." Perhaps so. But with so many retirements, are you surprised? Plus this gives the new Superintendent the opportunity to choose her own team, much as Todd Roberts reached out to recruit Robert Allen from Flint to be the CFO of AAPS. My point here is that your conclusion, that admin costs will just go up, doesn't hold water if you care about reality.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Wed, Aug 24, 2011 : 4:26 a.m.

I don't have a special "relationship," I simply asked. Still don't know where you find evidence of a separate "bond office" still in operation; I can find no reference to it in the FY2010 annual financial report, for instance. "Grade principals" is not my term, but it has been used elsewhere. But you appear to be talking about them as though they were distinct from the assistant principals, when in fact they are the same positions. Each HS now has one principal and two assistants. That would make 9, unless you also count the athletic directors (which I fail to understand). Is three on-the-ground administrators in a large HS too much? Especially with the new teacher evaluation requirements being promulgated by Lansing? I don't currently have a child in HS, but I can imagine that counselors are taking quite a load. Their numbers are shrinking, however, due to cuts: there are only two per middle school now, compared to three in past years (one per grade). I mean, sure, we could have one superintendent supervising every classroom in the district. It would be cheap. But it would make no sense. Blanket arguments to cut "overhead," without acknowledging the critical role administrators should play, are simply without merit.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:14 a.m.

Mr Norton - I am glad you have a relationship to get information not generally available to the public. The last budget document and audit documents both show the bond office still open. As to one riot one ranger - no I don't but principals in the high school are not part of the behavior program now in place, unless someone or something gets way out of hand. In fact to the students - according to my children and others - they are almost invisible in the high schools - it is the counselors that actually seem to deal with students who have issues. On a per student, per building or other metric you want to use AAPS spends more on overhead. I am working through the numbers from the 2009-2010 FY1014. My comment about per building was in response to your comment about more buildings - an argument that holds no water, since AAPS outspends on that metric too. My comment was overhead was based on both the school's published budget and the state FID database inputs that AAPS keyed in. As to assistant principals or grade principals with 4 grades in the building - calling them grade principals makes no sense, but I will go with your term, rather than the one I heard used at the meeting the other day. We still don't need them and the 3 athletic directors who are also part of the AAAA and consider principals for the purpose of pay levels. So we still have 4 principal equivalents in each high school building - making a total of 12 principals for the 3 buildings - about 8 too many. Cut those jobs and 18 to 20 teachers could have been retained.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

According to MDE Bulletin 1014 (where my data comes from), AAPS spent $19.6 million on total administration in FY2008. That's a far cry from the $13 million you cite - and thus makes for a much less dramatic number. Yes, PCCS has fewer buildings with more students. But as far as building administration is concerned, it's the buildings that count. So unless you support the idea of principal sharing, which so many residents rejected, we will end up with more building principals. These admin numbers include all administration: building principals, office staff, central office staff, central administrative staff, etc. So the cost "per building" is not what you suggest. Apparently, you also subscribe to the "one riot, one Ranger" theory of management - you suggest that high schools do not need any assistant principals and that one principal can handle the entire administrative load. The assistant principals were the "grade principals" you refer to; there are now only two per HS. Finally, I have pursued the question of the bond office with administrators and school board members. They reply, convincingly, that this office has long been closed. What is the "latest public information" you cite and why would you rather keep harping on that rather than asking for current information?


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

There were sessions on Assistant and Deputy Superintendents for Instruction, Special Education, Elementary Education, Director of Instructional Technology. There were more, but I don't have a view into those interviews. Yes they only eliminated 2 positions, that was an administration decision, there are more that could have been eliminated (e.g. all the grade principals at the high schools). There are also still principal level people in the bond office, that has supposedly been all spent now, these positions still remain based on the latest public information. The district does not have a program to train and promote internally, so it spends more to find outside candidates. In several interviews there were 11 or 12 candidates interviewed. That is great, but the fact that only 1 was from AAPS is bad. As to the numbers - Thank you for pointing out the new year is available. I am a year behind. Interesting that the admin costs in AAPS have risen so quickly from prior years. For example in 2008 the numbers were $13 million, so in a 2 year time period the district increased admin costs by $7 million dollars. Yes, AAPS has more buildings - by my count from your numbers a total of 6 more in AAPS. While dealing with less in the way of total student count. Both the admin cost per student and per building is higher in AAPS. I find the spending of $640,000 per BUILDING for admin to be high. Don't you? This is one area where little or no light has been shined. I expect with the raise for the superintendent that the AAAA will come to the table for raises when their contact is up for renewal.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 3:40 p.m.

Congrats to Ms. York. Having known her over the years while she was a teacher, this is great news that she's taking a leadership position as a principal at Thurston. Best of luck Na-ta-sha!


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

Welcome new principals. I hope you do a great job. Welcome to the era of additional overhead, as we chase teachers from classrooms and drop busing. BUT, we always have room for more administration in the district. Wait until the new assistant superintendents and deputy superintendents are announced. Hip Hip Hurrah for more overhead!


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 1:52 p.m.

Steve, Yes, administrators do tend to argue that they need more administrators. It's a common problem. The issue here is that critical positions get refilled quickly. Unnecessary positions, on the other hand, don't. They get moth-balled for those moments when someone is just a few credits shy of retirement and needs a solid from an old friend to make their 30.


Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 3:05 a.m.

Mr Norton - Teachers and classroom personnel, absolutely - administrative overhead and athletic boondoggles no way!

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:32 a.m.

Well, Todd Roberts had strongly argued that the position be filled again. It's interesting that so many people feel that AAPS is doing a bad job educating students but also do not want them to hire people who can improve things.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 6:58 p.m.

Steve Norton said: "A deputy superintendent for instruction position had been unfilled for many years ..." Hmm. And AAPS didn't collapse? Your description makes it sound like the position (which went unfilled for "many years" and was subsequently filled for one year by someone headed for retirement) wasn't actually necessary. Seriously, how necessary is a position that can go unfilled for years?


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

Mr. Norton - We have 2x the administration cost in AAPS than Plymouth-Canton, according to state filings AND Plymouth-Canton has more students. There were a number of sessions 2 weeks ago to interview to hire several new Superintendent level staff. The movement of principals from the high schools to the grade schools could have filled all the principal slots. Only 1 internal candidate was considered across ALL of the assistant/deputy superintendent slots. So the administrative cost will stay HIGH.

Steve Norton, MIPFS

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 4:22 p.m.

These appointments were made ultimately to replace principals who retired at the end of last year. One or two of them are administrators who were surplussed from the high schools when both Pioneer and Huron dropped from three assistant principals to two. A deputy superintendent for instruction position had been unfilled for many years until last year, and now must be filled to cover a retirement. That person (Leann Dickinson Kelly) had been assistant superintendent for elementary education, and her permanent replacement must be hired. The only arguably "new" position here is the DS for Instruction, which I think most people would agree is crucial in a district working to improve education for all our children. And it's still a net of one less post, given the two positions eliminated at the high schools. So what's your point?

Tony Livingston

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 1:36 p.m.

It seems like it was announced that John Reece from Pioneer was going to be principal at Haisley. Where is he going?

Charlie Brown's Ghost

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

Going to Forsythe as an assistant. Maybe.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:26 p.m.

I would think Bill Harris will be a huge asset to the new school he serves. And best to the new principals, remember to treat families with respect...


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

Kathy Scarnecchia was at one time a student at Haisley.... Welcome back to the old stomping grounds...


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

Why didn't you profile the new Haisley principal? Kathy Kathy Scarnecchia (assigned to Haisley, special administrator working on the U of M Partnership program, former principal at Mitchell) should be one of the 9 new principals. Haisley welcomes a talented person as Kathy to the school. Improvements in school climate and student discipline are much needed. Several lower elementary students are not returning due to bullying that was never dealt with at the school and left for private schools. Parents are frustrated by a lack of attention to student-school safety. We almost removed our child as well but thought we would try one more year under the new principal to see if there is a change. Our child was bullied several times and the former principal never dealt with the situation. I am at the school daily with my child and never saw the former principal in the halls interacting with students. Hopefully, Haisley will now deal with the bullying problem in 1-3rd grades. Lack of supervision on the playgounds has also been a significant problem.

Urban Sombrero

Tue, Aug 23, 2011 : 12:45 a.m.

@A2taxpro.....All 3 of my kids spent time at Mitchell while Kathy Scarnecchia was principal there. I cannot stress enough how wonderful she was. She was always a very visible presence there, very hands-on with the kids and, I swear, she knew every single child in that school, who their parents were and also extended family, if they were also involved. She was great to deal with and is very strict when it comes to bullying. I am willing to bet she'll be an amazing addition to Haisley. We miss her a lot at Mitchell, even though we love Mr. Broom, who is also fabulous.

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:53 a.m.

Hmm. I think the principal at the Open School is also new. Kit Flynn may have been a fill-in for the previous person in that position, but I believe she has never been a full–time principal. Why was she not included in this story?


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

Regarding the previous excuse as to Ms. Flynn's absence from this profile, she was only the interim principal for January of this past school year. All of the new principals this year were shifted or "hired" from other positions within the district anyway so the "this one but not that one" criteria seem both specious and arbitrary.

J. A. Pieper

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 10:24 p.m.

I added a post concerning this same topic, as Roberta Heyward is the new principal at Bryant Elementary. She was an interim last year also, but should have been highlighted in the article.


Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 8:43 p.m.

Charles Davis was an interim principal too, and you profiled him.

Jen Eyer

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 7:47 p.m.

Jon: Kit Flynn wasn't included because she did serve as interim principal last year.

Smart Logic

Mon, Aug 22, 2011 : 11:43 a.m.

I wish you the best of luck, administrators, and hope you can enact a positive change in the schools and students.