skd addison aerospace

Lucy Addison Middle School in Roanoke. 

The leaders of the Roanoke NAACP and the Lucy Addison Middle School PTSA called the school’s community to action Monday in support of the school and its new principal — the sixth in a year and a half and the second this month.

“It’s time for us to move forward in a way that’s helpful and hopeful,” said PTSA President Kevin McNeil, pivoting from harshly blaming Roanoke School Superintendent Rita Bishop for the instability in leadership at the school. McNeil spoke at a press conference at the school Monday evening.

“That’s the man we need to support,” said Roanoke NAACP President Brenda Hale, pointing at acting Addison Principal Jonathan Rosser on his first day at the helm. “We need to support the teachers. We need to support the students.”

Rosser succeeds Anna Unversaw, who resigned last week after three weeks on the job to return home to South Carolina because of a family emergency.

After so much turnover in the job, some parents were skeptical that Unversaw left on her own accord.

“It makes no sense,” said Kim McNeil, Kevin McNeil’s wife and PTSA vice president. “I loved her. I really felt like if she was willing to do the things she was saying, that she was going to be a great fit.”

Kevin McNeil initially turned his ire at Bishop.

“Ms. Bishop never intended to meet the needs of these children. The issue of instability at Lucy Addison Middle School is the latest symptom of poor leadership from Roanoke City Public School’s central office,” he said in a written statement over the weekend.

Monday night, he confessed a 3:30 a.m. epiphany that for all his talk, he had not truly been a champion for Addison’s children, nor had many others.

“We haven’t been for them what they needed us to be,” he said, calling on all members of the Addison community to actively support the students and to get behind Rosser.

“If this school fails, it’s not his failure, it’s ours,” he said.

McNeil and Hale gave voice to a school community craving stability since longtime principal Rob Johnson left in July 2018 to become principal of a governor’s school in Martinsville.

Grafton Young served as Lucy Addison Middle’s acting principal until November 2018, when he transferred to another position in the school division. Bishop said Monday that Young wasn’t a good fit.

Another acting principal, Michele Micael, served to the end of the 2018-19 school year.

This school year began with Andy Wheeling at Addison’s helm, but he left the post for medical reasons in October. Tim Hahn, executive director of student services for the school division, had been interim principal since then.

Bishop and others hoped Unversaw would be the permanent solution. Kim McNeil said Unversaw told her the plan had been to start at Addison this coming fall, but her husband was able to arrange a transfer so they came right away.

“She said it was her Christmas present,” McNeil said.

Bishop said Monday that Unversaw met with her a week ago and said that she had to leave because of what Bishop described as an “acute family matter” and “seriously personal.”

“Given what she was facing, I wouldn’t have stayed either,” Bishop said. She lauded Unversaw as “one of the most talented administrators” she has known.

Noting the school is fully accredited, Bishop defended her record at Addison. She cited her leadership of the team that remodeled the school many years ago. She’s added programming there, and selected Addison to host basketball star Magic Johnson when he came as part of the launch of the system’s new food service contractor.

This year the school has a full-time social worker and a new mindfulness program. She’s currently seeking funding to bring back the aerospace program that distinguished Addison when it was a magnet school, she said.

“We can get that back and more,” Bishop said. “We have to have stability in the parent community and with the students, and to get here we have to have a principal who is there for the long haul.”

Bishop also rejected any inference that she has meddled in the school’s leadership.

“The only way I’ve meddled is I’ve let them leave when they’ve wanted to leave, but certainly I’ve not been micromanaging,” she said. “What would I have done differently? I really don’t know.”

Bishop agreed with others that the school has suffered from the constant instability in leadership.

“These children do not have a chance to build a relationship with the principals, because they’re not there long enough,” PTSA Treasurer Karen Agee said. “They can’t go to them and say, ‘I have a problem.’ ”

Nor do the teachers get a chance to bond with the principal, she said.

Kim McNeil said the whole school community — students especially — feels unwanted, because leaders won’t stay. “If all you feed them is negative, all you’re going to get is negative,” she said.

Bishop and Kim McNeil agree that Hahn’s presence as interim principal has been stabilizing this year.

He’ll continue to provide that stability in a support role for Rosser, the new acting principal, Bishop said.

Rosser, she hopes, will prove to be the long-term solution to the turnover at Addison.

“I’m here. I’m invested in these kids and I want to see them succeed,” Rosser said Monday night.

“We’re going to try to make sure Jonathan is successful,” Bishop said, “and I believe he can be and will be.”

Matt Chittum covers Roanoke City. A Roanoke native, he’s been at the Roanoke Times for more than two decades, having overcome an inauspicious start with a part-time clerical job.

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