Following the release of a grand jury report that accused the former superintendent of lying, the Loudoun County Public Schools board dismissed Scott Ziegler from his position and appointed an interim superintendent.
The position will be taken on by the district’s chief of staff, Daniel Smith. At a late-Thursday emergency meeting, the nine-member school board confirmed Smith to the interim position by a vote of 6-1 with two members absent. The only member to vote against Smith’s appointment was Tiffany Polifko, a political conservative and supporter of parental rights who was elected to the board this past November. Beyond stressing that whoever is chosen to be superintendent must be willing to discipline school staff for their mistakes in handling a high-profile pair of sexual assaults last year, she did not provide a clear justification for her vote against it at the meeting.
Following his confirmation, Smith gave a brief speech in which he vowed to work hard for Loudoun County’s students, parents, and teachers.
In April of this year, Smith was chosen to serve as the chief of staff for Loudoun. Prior to that, he worked as a principal in Page County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia Beach City Public Schools, and.
During his first days, weeks, and probably months in office, he will have to deal with a daunting list of issues. Loudoun schoolchildren, like students nationwide, are still suffering from the pandemic and are having difficulties with their academics and mental health. The Loudoun system’s enrollment is down this year compared to pre-pandemic levels; this decline has already compelled officials to cut 400 full-time positions and is expected to cost the district $8.2 million in state funding for fiscal year 2023.
In addition, the Loudoun school system’s contentious disputes over what and how to teach kids about race, racism, history, gender, and sex kept it in the national spotlight for more than two years. And the district is currently dealing with widespread resentment over how it handled two sexual assaults in 2021 that sparked a political uproar on a national scale. For transferring a student from one high school, where he committed the first assault, to a second high school, where he committed the second assault, Loudoun officials have come under heavy fire.
Earlier this year, a special grand jury was gathered by the governor and attorney general to look into how the district handled the assaults. The jury’s 91-page final report, which was made public earlier this week, was damning.
According to the report, Loudoun officials consistently showed incapacity and “lack of interest” in dealing with the assaults, failing to take action despite repeated warnings from lower-level staff members that the student attacker was behaving in a questionable manner. The report went on to say that Ziegler lied to the board in June, claiming he was unaware of any sexual assaults taking place in Loudoun school bathrooms even though he had been aware for weeks of the first assault committed by the student assailant in a bathroom in May.
Smith acknowledged in his speech that many parents and Loudoun residents have lost trust in the district.
At the beginning of the board meeting on Thursday, board chair Jeff Morse announced that Smith will remain in the position for roughly seven months while Loudoun conducts a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent.
Smith has more than 16 years of experience working in education. His first position was as a middle and high school teacher and coach in Kotzebue, Alaska. He graduated with a bachelor’s in kinesiology from James Madison University, a master’s in education administration from Shenandoah University, and a doctorate in education, curriculum, and instruction from the University of Virginia.
He has served on the Virginia High School League Executive Committee for two terms and is a member of the University of Virginia K12 Advisory Council’s board of directors. He received two awards in 2021: Outstanding Principal of the Year for Fairfax County Public Schools Region 4 and Secondary Principal of the Year from the Virginia PTA.
Morse congratulated Smith and offered him luck near the end of the brief board meeting, which lasted less than thirty minutes.