Melissa Saunders, an 18-year employee of Manassas City Public Schools, is heading next door to become the superintendent in Manassas Park.
Currently the director of student achievement in Manassas, Saunders was named by the Manassas Park School Board last week to replace Bruce McDade, who has led the school division since 2010. McDade initially announced his plans to retire in January 2020, but after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, he agreed to stay on for another year.
Saunders has been working at Manassas public schools since 2002, spending her first 11 years in the division as the principal of Metz Middle School before moving into the administrative role.
In announcing the selection, Manassas Park School Board Chair Deborah McIntyre-Yurkovich said the search process netted 29 applicants, nine of whom came from out of state. But McIntyre-Yurkovich said the board was drawn to Saunders’ familiarity with the community as well as her experience.
“I cannot be more excited to announce her as our next superintendent. … She has significant ties and connections to this community and extensive experience working with diverse communities,” McIntye-Yurkovich said. “She exemplifies everything the board and Manassas Park community were looking for in our next superintendent. She is the perfect fit for our tight-knit, diverse community, and we are confident that with her at the helm we will continue to be the little school system that could.”
In taking the reins of Manassas Park City Schools and its four schools, Saunders joins one of the smallest school divisions in the region and one that city leaders regularly say has trouble competing for teachers. Teacher salaries in Manassas Park have been consistently lower than those in neighboring Manassas public schools and in Prince William County.
But Saunders said she is looking forward to the opportunity that a small division affords to get to know students and teachers well. She also said that building relationships with the School Board and the city’s leadership would be important.
“I’m looking forward to learning some of the relationships, learning how to work with the governing body, learning how to create a really positive environment for … the schools,” Saunders said. “And making sure that our teachers are compensated competitively in our market to ensure that we have the best teachers possible in front of our students.”
Saunders holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a master of public policy degree from Carnegie Mellon University. She received her bachelor’s degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Saunders will start her new role July 1.
Manassas superintendent Kevin Newman said Saunders kept him in the loop about her possible move. “She’s ready; she’s ready,” Newman said, while calling it a loss for his own school system.
“I’m very happy for her, sad for the division,” Newman said. “She has a wealth of knowledge and in my three years [as MCPS superintendent] I’ve had to lean on her a lot. … I’ll be talking to her on snow days.”