Loudoun County, Va. (August 27, 2014) – A bust of William Shakespeare looks over Kirk Dolson’s shoulder in the principal’s office at Park View High School.
A former English teacher, Dolson is asked which of The Bard’s characters a principal most resembles.
“I would say Macbeth because it is the bloodiest,” he said, laughing. Then, as English teachers invariably do, Dolson got down to some more serious analysis.
“Macbeth’s tragic flaw was wanting too much of a good thing. Every high school principal wants the best for his or her school and sometimes we get blindsided by some of the negative things. Or, much like Macbeth, you wanted to control everything and… with the evolution that is education we can’t stay upright and be on that revolving merry-go-round of education and control everything.”
Dolson, who replaces the retired Ginger Minshew as Park View’s principal, is not unfamiliar with Park View and the Sterling community. His first job in education was as an English teacher at Park View between 1999 and 2002.
“It kind of feels like coming back home, because this is where I started my career in Loudoun County… I’ve kept the relationships that I made here… It was where I wanted to be as a principal…
“This is a school that has some deep traditions and some strong successes. What also defines Park View are some of the challenges that we have been given, that we face and that we meet with success. It would be wrong to make the assumption that everything is wonderful all the time at Park View, but it would be wrong to say that about any school.
“The school is defined by its students. The diversity here is very rich. The community and sense of family define Park View. There are still teachers here who opened the school back in 1976. That says a lot about what it means to be a Patriot.”
Dolson comes to Park View after serving as an assistant principal at Potomac Falls for four years. “A lot of the issues Potomac Falls dealt with are very similar to the issues Park View deals with…
“Kids are kids, teachers are teachers and I really don’t see it as much different.”
As principal, Dolson knows exactly the atmosphere he wants to create.
“I’m not a labels guy, not at all. One of the things I want people to know when they walk into Park View… is that they matter… Their perspective matters to me… I’ll try to understand their perspective as best I can. The thing that matters to me the most is knowing that ‘At Park View, I matter.’…
“Every student who walks into the building is your kid.”
Dolson said he’s wanted to be a principal since serving as a summer school administrative intern in 2003. “Being able to affect more kids’ lives than just the 120 or 130 that you would get in a traditional high school setting.”
Dolson compared the roles of a teacher and administrator.
“(As an administrator) your classroom is the entire school, it’s not just Room 2105. When you walk into a classroom as a teacher you don’t have any idea what the kids are going to come in with. You plan for your lesson, but you don’t necessarily know how it’s going to be implemented. If it’s going to be well-received.
“(As an administrator) you have no idea what’s waiting for you. Something could happen overnight. You could turn out your office light and go home and get a call at midnight saying ‘There’s an issue at school.’ You’re always on call.”
Being on call means never having a normal day “or a normal weekend, or a normal Friday night or a normal Saturday. But, you know, that’s the part I think I love the most because you never know what you’re going to get.”
One of his joys as an administrator is receiving e-mails and handwritten notes from former students; often students whom Dolson had to discipline. “I was kind of a knucklehead, but what you said and did made a difference.”
“The important thing to realize is that kids can make a mistake. As an educator or a parent, you hope that they can learn from that mistake. One mistake doesn’t define who you are. A pattern of mistakes might begin to define who you are. Then it becomes our job as teachers to point out those behaviors or those mistakes to a student and ask ‘Is this really who you want to be? This is the pattern that we see and this is where we see you going.’
“Just because a kid is a knucklehead once or twice – or even three times in their high school career – doesn’t define who you are. Quite frankly, I think all of us can look back on the choices we made in life that weren’t the best and here we are.”
Dolson’s mantra to students is one he learned from former Potomac Falls Principal Janice Koslowski “You have a lot of choices to make, make great ones.”
“It’s all about choices and that’s something that’s important to kids. We give them the tools to graduate high school. It becomes their choice if they want to use those tools.”
Sometimes parents don’t see that overcoming a mistake can be a positive, Dolson added.
“They might be concerned about what others will think or this may ruin opportunities for the future. What I like to tell students and parents is that those are things that students really can use as a means to develop their character… Try to take the negative and turn it into a positive.”
Dolson has three children in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS); a freshman at Tuscarora High School and a third-grader and kindergartner at Seldens Landing Elementary. His wife, Kristin, is a stay-at-home mom. “I think she works harder than I do.”
Dolson said he feels confident in his new role, especially since he knows the central office staff well. (He was the LCPS school assistance and remediation programs coordinator for five years.) “Being able to feel like I can pick up the phone and call and say ‘Here’s an issue at my school, how would you handle this issue?’…
“I feel like I have a plentiful amount of people who I can go to and ask for advice and not be looked down upon or shunned.”
And asking for advice is how one avoids mistakes of Shakespearean proportions.