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Arlington Public Schools promotes Gunston, Wakefield principals to new posts

Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins (left) and Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore (right)

Last Thursday, the Arlington School Board promoted two veteran secondary school principals to new positions.

Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore will become Director of Secondary Education while Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins will lead Arlington Community High School.

Their appointments are effective July 1.

Willmore began his career at APS in 1995 as a teacher at the Spanish immersion school Escuela Key. After briefly leaving the school system, he returned in 1999 as a teacher in the Gunston’s immersion program. Willmore became an assistant principal at Wakefield High School in 2002 and eight years later, was named principal.

“I have loved my time at Wakefield and I am very proud of what the Wakefield community has accomplished and what the Wakefield student body and community represents,” Willmore told the School Board during last Thursday’s meeting. “As I hear time and time again, Wakefield is what the world will look like and our students at Wakefield get to experience that now, every day that they come to school.”

In an email to the school community, shared with ARLnow, Willmore said he poured his heart and soul into his work “because I feel strongly that that is the bare minimum of what our incredible students and staff deserve.”

After a 13-year tenure, which he described as an anomaly, he said he asked Superintendent Francisco Durán about changing jobs.

“This was a difficult decision for me to come to, but I feel that this is the right path forward for me and ultimately for Wakefield,” he continued.

The high school experienced difficult times earlier this year after a 14-year-old overdosed in a school bathroom and later died at the hospital, prompting the School Board to act and teachers to voice their fears this could happen again if protocols did not change. In late February, the school launched a confidential online form for people to report unsafe situations concerning a student.

Wiggins, meanwhile, has been with APS since 2012, serving as the principal of Gunston Middle School for the last 11 years.

Before coming to Arlington Public Schools, Wiggins worked in West Virginia as the executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation in the state Department of Education. In West Virginia, she also served as a middle school principal and assistant high school principal. She got her start teaching Spanish in East New York, Brooklyn.

Wiggins earned her bachelor’s degree from Messiah College, her master’s from California State University, Northridge, and her doctorate from West Virginia University.

“I am excited about this opportunity,” she told the School Board. “I’m looking forward to being able to grow, being able to bring lessons learned from my 11 years at Gunston, a passion for school leadership, a relentless drive to improve outcomes… and to work with a community that is highly mission driven.”

She plans to “create absolutely awesome outcomes for students of all ages that go to Arlington Community High School” and continue partnering with Amazon.

The tech company previously announced a permanent home for the school in one of the planned buildings in its second headquarters. Those plans are on hold, however, after Amazon hit pause on the second phase of construction amid continued layoffs for the company. The new facility would likely be part of the first building to go up in phase 2, once work begins.

Gunston has a Spanish immersion program and, during her tenure, Wiggins said, the school grew by several hundred students, added a Latino parents group, piloted standards-based grading and adopted some equitable grading practices.

“I do believe our history shows that we are changing educational outcomes for students,” she said. Some parents, however, told ARLnow the pivot away from letter grades confused them and the grading style could change again next year.

Earlier this year, a long-term substitute at the school came under fire for, allegedly, forcing a Black student to “pick up cotton” as part of an in-class game, WJLA reported.

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