By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 27, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
School division’s new leader starts job July 1
PRINCE GEORGE – Last Thursday was a special day for Prince George County Public Schools as the school division formally swore in its newest leader as Dr. Lisa Pennycuff accepted the oath and signed on the dotted line during a special ceremony Thursday evening at their central office.
Joined by her family and fellow co-workers, Pennycuff was unable to hide her excitement for the challenge that lies before her as she shared laughs and smiles with other school division employees, some of which came from other schools or from home on their day off to share in the special moment – which was set in motion years earlier.
Pennycuff joined the school division as assistant superintendent in 2015 as part of a leadership team led by Renee Williams, who was not far from submitting her retirement papers when she was asked to stay on board following the resignation of former superintendent Dr. Bobby Browder.
Williams would lead the school division through the 2018-2019 school year before announcing her retirement in the Spring, completing a career that spanned over four decades in education – with over 30 of those years spent in Prince George County’s educational ecosystem.
Opting to hire from within, Pennycuff was named the school division’s next superintendent weeks later, with longtime school system staff member Dr. Bill Barnes and Moore Middle School Principal Stephanie Bishop being named to leadership positions within the central office. For the school board, selecting Pennycuff as the school division’s next superintendent was an easy one, point to her nearly 30 years of experience in education in the areas of instructional leadership, professional development, and other key skill sets effective superintendents strive to master.
Prior to her accepting the oath, Barnes walked through Pennycuff’s credentials, which includes a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Queens College, a Master of Education in Special Education from the College of William and Mary, Education Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the George Washington University, and a Doctorate in Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership from the College of William and Mary, where she served as a Doctoral Fellow and member of Kappa Delta Pi, the International Honor Society in Education.
Pennycuff also taught in the post-secondary education space, serving as an adjunct professor for the Graduate School of Education at the College of William and Mary, where she taught courses on Instructional Leadership and Administration and Supervision.
Circuit Court Clerk Bishop Knott, Jr. was on hand to deliver the oath to Pennycuff and, after reciting it back and posing for pictures with her family, she opened up about her emotions following Thursday’s ceremony.
“I feel very blessed to be able to follow [Williams] as our next superintendent and I am thankful for the people who made this journey with me,” she detailed. “I could not be more proud to have such a wonderful school division of people to serve with.”
An important element of Pennycuff’s journey through Prince George County Public Schools to her becoming the school division’s next superintendent was working side-by-side with outgoing superintendent Williams, something Pennycuff saw as invaluable resource given Williams’ pedigree as an educator and leader in Prince George Schools.
“Renee has 47 years of experience – 39 years here in Prince George,” she said. “I think that her leadership, relationships, and experiences that she had here helped me to be able to form relationships faster. To be able to be beside her through difficult decisions we have made along the way, it was wonderful to walk with such an incredible mentor and be the assistant superintendent, serving her and the division and to learn from her.”
Even though the school year wrapped up earlier this month, Pennycuff said her priority is to ensure every child in Prince George County Public Schools continues to grow while in the school division’s classrooms.
“We are looking to continue to find ways to help every child meet continuous improvement,” she said. “So, success for each child is growing on where they were from the year before. So, for us, it is looking down to the level of where each student is, what their performance was [and] where it is now to see what value did we add during the time they were here with us.”
Pennycuff continued, “Then, everything else that we do comes into the trial and test mode – try it out, see if it worked. If it doesn’t, come back and try something else until we find what helps every child.”
In a similar vein to local governments and the close relationship much of Southside Virginia shares in terms of boards and commissions, the same holds true for the school divisions as the region’s educational leaders meet and share ideas regularly, something, when paired with Williams’ experience, that served as a tremendous knowledge base to learn from.
“There are assistant superintendent meetings for regional assistant superintendents, and the same thing happens for superintendents,” she said. “We belong to different thought groups, such as the Region 1 group that meets monthly and they share ideas. In addition, each new superintendent is also assigned their own mentor who is a superintendent in the state, with the Virginia Association of School Systems making those assignments. [The mentor] comes out and meets with you monthly and helps you with things you may have questions about and what is coming up.”
“Also, Ms. Williams lives here locally,” Pennycuff continued. “So she will be a continued mentor of mine.”
Several members of the county’s school board were on hand for last week’s swearing in ceremony, including Chairman Robert Cox, Jr. who served on the board at the time of Pennycuff’s hiring several years ago. Reiterating his emotions following the announcement of Pennycuff as the school division’s new superintendent, Cox said he is excited for the future of the school division.
“I think this is going to be a very good transition from Renee and Dr. Pennycuff will take the torch and carry it down the path,” he remarked, adding that he understood the concerns some in the community had about not conducting some form of a candidate search to seek applicants for the superintendent position but, in the eyes of Cox, Pennycuff has proven to be an effective leader in the school division.
“When you have somebody that is here and has been with us for four years and we have had the opportunity to view them at work and see their work ethic, working with Ms. Williams side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder to move the division forward, you can’t ask for a better scenario,” the chairman said. “Renee has been great for us and Dr. Pennycuff is going to be great for us. She has a great team around her with Dr. Barnes with his experience in the county, Ms. Bishop is coming up to help out and that is going to be great for us. It is an exciting time in Prince George County for the school division and where we are going to be heading.”
Pennycuff will start her new position on July 1. At that same time, Williams, following action by the school board this month, will serve as a Transition Specialist for one month until August to aid in the transition to Pennycuff as PGCPS superintendent.