A little after sunrise Tuesday, North Stafford High School cheerleaders waved pom-poms near the school’s front entrance, the marching band pounded on drums and a couple of adults guided traffic with large foam hands typically reserved for football games or pep rallies.
The festive atmosphere continued inside the school off Garrisonville Road, where the teacher-led 2:15 Band—a name that signifies the end of the school day—performed on a stage in the cafeteria as students mingled before class.
It was quite the first impression for Scott Kizner, 60, who officially became the superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools on Saturday. Kizner plans to drop by every Stafford school in the coming weeks, but North Stafford marked his first stop on the opening day of the 2018–19 school year.
North Stafford High School’s student leaders organized the festivities before they knew about their important guest.
“You’re not getting a dog-and-pony show with us,” North Stafford Principal Daniel Hornick said. “This is how we do business.”
Fredericksburg City Public Schools also kicked off the school year Tuesday, but most other Fredericksburg-area systems started in mid-August.
The second stop on Kizner’s itinerary was Stafford Middle School, where he took his first selfie of the morning with a student. Later, he listened as Principal Mark Smith told students over the intercom: “I am your host for this 180-day thrill ride.”
In an interview with The Free Lance–Star, Kizner—who spent eight years as superintendent of Harrisonburg Public Schools before accepting the Stafford position—said he plans to be in schools every day. “That’s the best way to learn.”
In Harrisonburg, for instance, he ran into a custodian who told him a dumpster was too far away from the school. That interaction led administrators to move the bin.
“In my world, am I really figuring out where the garbage should be? Honestly, no,” Kizner said with a laugh. “But in his world, and I have to always remember … when somebody comes to talk to you, that’s the most important thing to them. You can never lose sight of, I’m here to work for others.”
Kizner said he applied for the Stafford job for a variety of reasons, including the system’s great reputation and what he called the challenge of leading a larger division. Stafford has about three times more schools than Harrisonburg.
Stafford’s location between the state capital and Washington is also ideal, because one of his three daughters is a special education teacher in Arlington County while another is an attorney in Richmond. His third daughter is doing a teaching internship in Rockingham County.
He and his wife, Lori, recently moved into a home in North Stafford.
Professionally, Kizner faces several challenges, including the disparity between teacher salaries in Stafford and Northern Virginia. In neighboring Prince William County, a teacher with four years of experience makes approximately $50,000 per year, about the same as a Stafford teacher with 15 years on the job.
Kizner said school systems can offer other perks in an effort to retain teachers. Harrisonburg schools, he said, cannot match the teacher salaries in Charlottesville or Albemarle County, but it has a generous tuition-reimbursement policy that, in some cases, pays the entire cost of a teacher’s continuing education. “We put our money where our words are, and I think people value that,” he said.
Some employees, particularly veteran teachers, have been unhappy with recent pay-scale adjustments in Stafford. This year, for instance, teachers with 13 or more years on the job received the minimum 2.5 percent raise, while less-experienced teachers got up to 7.5 percent. Former Superintendent Bruce Benson described the larger pay increase for newer teachers as a “market-based” raise to put their salaries more in line with those of similarly sized school systems.
Kizner says he’s not totally familiar with prior pay-scale decisions, but that he prefers “not to have a school culture where teachers feel like they are comparing themselves to other teachers.”
“We all acknowledge that everybody needs to move up,” he said.
He added later: “I like to avoid the situation where we think certain teachers, based on the nature of their credentials, might have a greater challenge than other teachers. I just think teaching is a remarkably challenging profession, and we need to honor it.”
Kizner is the first Stafford superintendent with a Twitter account, which he says he will use to highlight positive happenings in schools. He usually does not interact with students or teachers on Twitter, but he did seek out and personally meet a North Stafford student who wished him luck on the social media platform.
Kizner said he chose North Stafford High as his first stop because “it was important to go to a school [with] a lot of diversity.” Last year, about half the school’s students were black or Hispanic.
“I’m here for every single child,” Kizner said.