For new Prince William County Public Schools Superintendent LaTanya McDade, the first few months on the job will be all about listening.
McDade began her tenure Thursday, taking over for Steven Walts to lead the state’s second-largest school district, with over 90,000 students. She comes from Chicago Public Schools, where she worked for over 20 years, starting as a middle school teacher and most recently serving as chief education officer.
In a statement Thursday, McDade said she plans to spend her first 100 days as superintendent listening and gathering information from students, staff members and teachers.
“I am honored today to begin my tenure as your superintendent," she said. "I look forward to working alongside our students, families, communities, and staff to recover, accelerate and re-engage to build an equitable, inclusive and transparent culture that supports the growth and development of our brightest minds."
McDade has been touted by colleagues for making more challenging advanced courses available for a wide range of students in Chicago. When she was announced in March as Prince William’s next superintendent, she talked about the diversity of Chicago’s school district, the third biggest in the country with 638 schools and over 340,000 students.
During her tenure, the district’s graduation rates and college enrollment increased while dropout, suspension and expulsion rates dropped. At the same time, the district built the biggest international baccalaureate curriculum in the country. In March, she spoke about the value of challenging all students.
The daughter of immigrants from Belize, she said a priority would be to meet the individual needs of students coming from very different backgrounds. McDade is the first Black person and first woman to serve as superintendent for the county’s schools.
“Chicago is one of the [most] diverse cities in the nation, and we have schools where in one school over 36 languages are spoken, and that’s similar to what we’re seeing right here in Prince William,” she said in March. “What it boils down to is that every single school has to have the support, resources and the staff to meet the needs of every individual student … at the local level; that’s where the work really happens. The magic happens in the classroom.”
Per the plan laid out by Walts, students will be back in classrooms five days per week in the fall, with an option for students to remain virtual if their families decide to do so. With most students remaining online for all of the 2020-2021 school year and the pandemic upending family life for many, grades and reading assessments showed significant drops.
“Coming off a once-in-a-century pandemic, the last 16 months have been challenging for us all, and the herculean efforts of our teachers and staff have made a difference in the lives of our young people in profound ways that will serve many of them well into adulthood,” McDade said in the statement.
McDade will earn a starting annual salary of $310,000, according to her four-year contract agreement with the school board. Starting later this month, she’ll begin working with the school board to lay out goals and objectives for the division, with the board assessing the division’s progress toward those goals as well as her job as superintendent every year.