A visit with the principal

Leadership: Parents of Centennial High students hope Scott Pfeifer restores stability after a troubled year.

Ellicott City

July 28, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

If first impressions can make or break an introduction, then new Centennial Principal Scott Pfeifer passed the test yesterday before nearly 20 parents who met the administrator tasked with leading the high school after a grade-changing controversy involving high-level administrators.

"We need some stability after the year of turmoil," said Lucinda Miller, a parent of a rising sophomore at the Ellicott City school. "He's very personable, very direct and very approachable."

In June, Pfeifer assumed leadership at Centennial, where an investigation into allegations of grade-tampering by two top administrators rocked Howard County's premier high school. Former Centennial Principal Lynda Mitic retired Jan. 1.

The controversy's aftermath angered and frustrated parents and teachers, while some community members, including the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said racism played a role in the emotional furor over the school board's decision to clear the two black school administrators of unethical behavior.

School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said Pfeifer brings years of experience as a high school principal, most recently at River Hill High School, and as a leader who can achieve results, as well as a reputation for working collaboratively with his staff and the school's community.

"He was the best person for the job," Cousin said.

Yesterday, Pfeifer told Centennial parents that his "overarching goal is to build trust" and to establish a community where "teachers care for students as human beings and who they are as individuals."

"We are in this for the same reason: We want the best for our children," Pfeifer said.

Although the question-and-answer session during the two-hour meeting centered on typical back-to-school issues, such as lack of parking for juniors, class schedules, school security and new hires, the idea that Centennial needs to move beyond the controversy seemed to be the underlying theme.

Connie Anderson, a parent of a rising senior at Centennial, said she came to meet Pfeifer because she was concerned about the perception - highlighted by the grade-tampering investigation - that the school is not welcoming to minorities.

"I'm really interested in getting over the blame," Anderson said. "I'm interested in moving away from that and working for a better school that is welcoming to all student populations."

In addressing Anderson's concerns, Pfeifer said he has met with parent groups, including the Parents' Council of Black Students and the PTSA, to quell some of their concerns.

"We need to hear and listen to where our neighbors are coming from," Pfeifer said, adding that Centennial's administrators, teachers and staff members will undergo diversity training when school begins.

Saying he dealt with similar diversity concerns at River Hill, Pfeifer said his approach will be "open and honest."

Two years ago, Pfeifer oversaw an effort to address racial tensions at River Hill, where African-American parents complained that their children were being ignored, stereotyped and harassed.

After yesterday's meet-and-greet - the third such function at the school sponsored by Centennial's PTSA - parents were optimistic about the coming school year.

"He's going to bring our community back together again and really continue the high tradition Centennial has had in the community," said Diane Standeven, the PTSA's corresponding secretary and a parent of a rising senior.

Pfeifer began his education career in Howard County in 1974 as a teacher at Wilde Lake High School. During his nearly 30 years here, Pfeifer has assumed several roles, including head of the science department at Hammond High School, assistant principal at Howard High and principal at Atholton High.

Pfeifer, whose oldest daughter recently graduated from Mount Hebron High School and whose son is starting ninth grade this fall, was a highly regarded administrator at River Hill High School. He opened the school in 1996 as its principal.

Several River Hill parents praised Pfeifer for bringing different people together to address concerns and being open to different ideas.

"He wasn't in a role of an administrator, and `This is what I'm supposed to do,' " said Angela Ballard-Landers, president of River Hill's PTSA. "He was sincere and really cared about the staff, students and parents."

"That's something that parents and students and administrators at Centennial need," she said. "He's on their side."

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