Leslie Kinard, the principal of Riverside High School since March of 2021, will return to Ferndale Middle School in High Point as its new principal.
The news was first announced in a press release from Guilford County Schools, on the evening of October 12 immediately after the changes were approved by the Guilford County School Board. On Wednesday morning, Riverside staff were informed at a staff meeting, and a message went out to Riverside parents.
Kinard attributed the change to her family and the long commute.
“Nothing like this is ever planned. I had the opportunity to go back, and opportunity knocks when it will. When opportunity knocks you have to be ready to open the door. And it was one of those things,” Kinard said of her position at Ferndale.
“Part of the reason why I’m leaving is family,” Kinard said. “My sons are in school in another district, and I’m almost two hours from them. It’s really difficult if they need me or have an appointment. That means I leave here, drive two hours, and then because high school doesn’t stop, I usually have to drive two hours back.”
Kinard originally planned on moving her sophomore and junior sons with her to Durham, but ultimately decided against it. While in high school, Kinard had to switch schools, and she admitted that it was difficult for her.
“I struggled to figure out what that work-life balance is,” she said. “I had to decide what would be best for my family, and what would be best for our school. I would never want to give less here, but I also recognize that I can’t give less to my family, because you only have one.
“You guys are high school students,” she said. “You know how it is to leave your friends and those connections you’ve made. They really wanted to finish the year there.”
Nonetheless, Kinard is sad to leave Riverside.
“I love our Riverside students, and I think that has been the hardest part about this decision,” she said. “Getting to know the students here, working with the families through difficult situations, and creating moments of celebration have been highlights of my time here.”
Kinard has faith that Riverside will continue to be successful without her.
“Education is a place of resilience and change,” she said. “I think that as a school, Riverside is going to be ultimately successful. I think it’s just getting the right person to continue the work that has already been started here.”
For many teachers, the shift to a new principal is not an anomaly. Mika Twietmeyer has taught biology at Riverside for fourteen years. She’s already seen five principals come and go. Despite this, the idea of a sixth new principal is intimidating.
“For a year that is a big challenge with the level of morale being very low right now, it is a mix of emotions,” said Twietmeyer. “Ms. Kinard is doing what’s best for her and her family, and hopefully what comes next is best for school. However, the idea of another transition midway through the year is daunting.”
Science teacher Grace Farley agreed. This will be the third principal she’s worked for during her two years at Riverside. “I think that it is going to be a difficult transition for the school because we already had a big transition last year with Ms. Williams leaving, having an interim principal, and going through the long process of trying to find a new principal. We’re going to have to do that all over again.”
Farley also said that this is an especially strenuous time because of COVID, transportation issues, and newer enrollments, so administrative changes may exacerbate existing issues, but she trusts the current team of assistant principals.
“With all the challenges we’re already facing this year […] it’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “I also know that the staff and the admin here are really great people and we’re always thinking about what’s best for the students. So I think we’ll be able to kind of keep things running, keep things going, and keep things positive for the students.”
For Twietmeyer, one of the most difficult aspects of the situation was how she found out. “I woke up to people from Guilford messaging me and asking me if I knew,” she explained. “It didn’t feel like the best way to get that information. It made me confused as to why Ms. Kinard wouldn’t tell us that first before that type of press release.”
On Wednesday there was a staff meeting. “It was such an awkward staff meeting,” Twietmeyer said. “We all knew what was happening, but it took until the last five minutes for the changes to be shared. It seemed like downtown Dr. Dan Davis [Assistant Superintendent at Durham Public Schools] didn’t really know what to say to us. It is a tough moment to tell the staff that there’s going to be changes.”
There is no information about next steps, so teachers are left wondering things like what the time frame looks like, and whether or not there will be a selection committee.
Following the news, students had strong emotions.
“I feel like she’s abandoning us. We’ve had two in the last two years,” said sophomore Jasmine Matthews. “It sucks that we keep losing principles.”
“I was unsurprised when I found out,” said Senior Millie Anderson. “My whole family entirely expected it.”
Anderson cited the high turnover rate at Riverside as one reason she wasn’t surprised.
“No one sticks with us except the teachers,” she said. “It’s almost all new administration this year, and they don’t have their act together,” said Anderson. “It’s very dysfunctional, and that’s really frustrating because it makes jobs for teachers and students so much harder.”
Kinard acknowledged the new team in the front office, but she is confident that her team will rise to the occasion.
“New administration means new opportunity,” she said. “All of the administrators that have transferred out of here have gotten promotions. All of the people have gone on to do great things, and that’s what a school should be. They should be places for people to grow and be their best selves. I think Riverside has created that.”
Multiple assistant principals declined The Pirates’ Hook’s requests for an interview.
Some teachers, however, worry about the administrative turnover.
“It makes me nervous,” Twietmeyer said. “One concern from staff is that we’re unfamiliar with most of the new administration staff we have. And that’s true for students as well.”
This sentiment was echoed by Coluette Brown-Hicks, a CTE teacher. “I think Kinard leaving is going to have a big effect,” CTE teacher Coluette Brown-Hicks said. “A lot of the assistant principals are brand new. They were hired on by her. And so I think it will leave them a little bit in limbo.”
Despite this, Brown-Hicks believes that Kinard taught her team well. “But at the same time, I think that she also is the type of principal who taught her teachers and her staff to be independent, know your job, and know what you’re supposed to do, so we might still be able to be successful,” she said.
Twietmeyer hopes that the new principal will be someone who is already familiar with the school and district.
“It’s going to be difficult to build relationships during this challenging time while already in the middle of a busy semester,” she said.
DPS will either appoint an interim principal and do a thorough search for the next principal, or transfer a current DPS principal from another school to Riverside.
The details of Kinard’s remaining time at Riverside are still unclear, but she said a typical transition takes 60 days.
“I’m still waiting to hear back on the timeline,” Kinard said.
No matter the timeline, she wants Riverside’s students to know that she’s valued her time at Riverside.
“We have such a unique student body there’s so many talents and so many skills, and the potential that they will bring to the Durham community is large and so great,” she said. “One thing that I hope is that our students will continue to strive to be their absolute best selves each and every day. Riverside is a launching ground for students to be the change in the world. I’m really excited that I had the opportunity to meet so many of you guys, because you are going to be future leaders.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” she said. “I loved being at a high school.”
Genesis Smith-Lopez, Gisselle Rivera Roman, Jackie Larios Dominguez, Tyler McLean, William Rodriguez Ayala, Avery Prince and Benjamin Meglin contributed to this story.
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