Chapel Hill High School Principal Charles Blanchard announced his retirement on Feb. 2 in a community message. His last day will be April 1.
Valerie Akins, who has over 30 years of experience as a teacher and principal, will take his place as interim until a new principal is chosen. She served as an interim assistant principal last year atGuy B. Phillips Middle School.
Blanchard, who began to teach at age 22 and has worked as a high school principal since 2006, said he made the decision to retire over winter break.
“It's sad to leave, but I'm excited,” he said. “I really have spent so much time away from my children. I'm excited to be able to be a dad and be a husband.”
He turns 50 in March, making him eligible for retirement in North Carolina. He served as principal at CHHS for nearly five years, leading the school through a construction project and virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
CHHS will now enter a transition period, moving from Blanchard to Akins and ultimately to a new permanent principal.
Andy Jenks, the chief communications officer for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said he is confident the process will go smoothly.
“I think our staff and students and families are resilient and the transition is going to be as smooth as possible under the circumstances because there's a strong foundation in place,” he said. “Principals have an enormous impact on the success of schools, but they also don't do it alone.”
Jenks said the school will take community input to see what qualities the community wants in the new principal.
There will be virtual meetings, discussions with the school system's human resources department and a community survey to hear different perspectives, according to Jenks. There will also be staff meetings and individual conversations to decide what is best for the school.
“It's more than just posting a job description online and seeing what kind of resumes we get,” he said. “We really want to involve the community so that during the search and interview process, we're making as close a match as we can with what the staff, students and families are looking for in their next principal.”
Eric Nally, a social studies teacher at CHHS, said there will be a period of sadness among students and staff over Blanchard’s departure. However, he said he is confident in the school district’s ability to find a new principal who will work well with the school.
Rachael Cruickshank, the president of the CHHS Parent Teacher Student Association, said that it will take some time for the next principal to settle in.
“I don't think you can replace Mr. Blanchard at all, and I think it's just going to be a process where we have to realize that things are changing, and we have to adapt with that and be flexible in our expectations of the person that's coming in,” she said.
Both Nally and Cruickshank hope to see the qualities that Blanchard had reflected in the new principal. To Nally, this includes someone who advocates for teachers’ and students’ needs and understands the culture of the school's community.
Cruickshank said she appreciated Blanchard’s involvement in the school community, including staying after school to attend student sporting events and helping organize events. She also hopes for others to continue his facilitation of staff projects and ideas, such as a recent collaboration between art teachers and students to paint a mural in the school.
“I would like to see other principals that are coming in be that supportive of the current staff and allow them to have dreams and goals for the kids and not squelch the learning process,” she said.
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