The Loudoun County, Virginia, Board of Education appointed its school system’s chief of staff, Daniel Smith, as its interim superintendent Thursday evening, just days after firing Scott Ziegler from the role.
At an emergency meeting, six school board members, including Chair Jeff Morse, voted to appoint Smith, who Loudoun County Public Schools hired in April.
“We’re going to do everything we can to restore trust with the new superintendent, whoever that may be,” said Morse. “With our acting superintendent, and with the next school board, which will be elected next year.”
The move comes two days after the board fired Scott Ziegler from the role after a special grand jury report criticized the school system’s response to two in-school sexual assaults by the same student in 2021. The report said that the school system “failed at every juncture” and administrators missed multiple chances to prevent another assault from happening.
Morse said during the short meeting that he thinks the board was misled.
“Obviously, there was some things in the grand jury report that we were unaware of,” he said. “They caught us by surprise.”
Morse added that there were “significant factors that we were completely unaware of” in the grand jury report.
“There was a complete breakdown of leadership. And we know that on the board, we know that our staff knows that,” Morse said. “We’re going to do everything we can to restore trust.”
During the meeting, Smith said that his priority as the interim superintendent is refocusing the district’s efforts on teaching and learning.
“I will serve the students, families and LCPS to the best of my ability,” Smith said. “I only ask for your patience and support as we work together to rebuild the public trust.”
After the vote, in a message to county families on the school system’s website, Smith said the board will start its search for a permanent superintendent in the new year with the goal to have someone in place around July 1, 2023 before the start of the 2023-24 school year.
Vice Chair Ian Serotkin told reporters after the meeting that the school board will be reviewing the recommendations from the grand jury report next Tuesday, and will be looking to make improvements moving forward.
When asked about appointing Smith, Sandy Sullivan with the Loudon Education Association said the decision is a step in the right direction.
“We think this is the start of a new beginning,” she said. “Where students can have what they need [and] the educators can feel respected and protected and be listened to.
However, others thought the school board did not go far enough. Scott Mineo, founder of Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT), said the entire school board except Tiffany Polifko — the only board member who opposed appointing Smith — should be removed.
“It would be a first step in proving that this guy is serious and coming in and making changes and be restoring that faith back into the community,” Mineo said.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.