Loudoun County Public Schools’ new superintendent Aaron Spence said he decided to make the switch to Loudoun because after being in Virginia Beach City Public Schools for nine years, he was ready for a new challenge.
“I can’t think of a better place than Loudoun County,” he said in an interview Monday. “It’s an incredible school division. It has its challenges, but it’s the highest-performing school division in the state with incredible groups of educators, wonderful students, deeply committed families and parents. Loudoun deserves to be a nationally recognized school division.”
He said he plans to make that happen by building on the positive aspects of the division, listening to every voice, putting students first and improving communication and transparency.
“Transparency seems complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s communication, communication, communication,” he said.
He said there needs to be a world class communication program built around key stakeholders and the media. He said two-way communication is important and that he wants to build on it.
“We need to know what people need and what they want and be responsive to that. We need to hear from the people we serve, what their hopes and aspirations are for their children,” he said.
He said his first six months in the job will be devoted to listening, and he will hold listening sessions like ones held by Acting Superintendent Dan Smith but also smaller ones that include key leaders in the community, business leaders, parents and other key stakeholders. He said he wants to listen and learn from the community and hear their experience. Spence said there is so much about the division that sets it apart, like resources that are available to students and the commitment to developmental opportunities for learning and to preparedness for after students graduate.
Spence said he wants to bring the voices to the table that aren’t always heard and get their perspective, instead of only hearing from the extreme sides.
“Everyone’s point of view has value,” he said. “It’s the superintendent’s job to avoid politics and find what we agree on, then tamp down on where we don’t agree and move forward. Most people in the middle will agree and appreciate that. Those on the extremes will also appreciate it.”
He said no matter which side they’re on, there are a few things parents can agree on all the time when it comes to their children. Those include student safety, knowing that children are learning in thoughtful and engaging ways, and making sure children feel like they belong and feel a sense of connection with the teachers and staff.
Spence, a father of six, said it will become very clear early on to Loudoun that his politics are children.
“I’m not a Pollyanna, I know some issues are super divisive and maybe intentionally political perhaps, and there are some wicked challenges and sometimes you can’t fix it. But you can hear everyone, and they will know how and why you made that decision,” he said.
Spence also noted that he feels it’s important to be honest and admit when you make a mistake.
“Superintendents aren’t saviors, it’s not my job to fix the problems, it’s my job to work with the community to solve the challenges,” he said.
Spence said his job is also to make sure meetings happen between stakeholders who bring up an issue and the administrative team.
“People have to see that they’ve been heard, and when they see ‘I’ve been heard’ and you are making an action plan, that is how you build trust and overcome divisive issues,” he said.
He said it was “premature” to say what changes he was going to make in Loudoun before getting here, but said he would be taking time to assess the situation and see how things are run and where changes need to be made once he gets here.
He said he plans to use his experience as an educator for the past 30 years and as a superintendent for the past 12 to do that in Loudoun.
“I think I have a demonstrated record of good judgment and sound judgment,” he said. “I’m known for my integrity and my desire to lift people up and make people better. That is going to be my focus from day one and every day.”
Spence said he wants to build on the division’s reputation as being a great school and to change the negative perception of it, which he said is not fair to the teachers, parents, students or community.
“I know that the community, the School Board, the teachers and the educators want us to move past the negative conversations about LCPS and help us see the good that is happening every day in the school division. I made a promise to work to build trust and build relationships,” he said.
He added that he wants to highlight what is being done on a day-to-day basis to change the negative perception of the division by emphasizing the bright spots so every student who walks through the doors of a school knows they are getting a world class education and that they are prepared for the workforce or college when they graduate.
Spence, his wife and two kids at home—one a rising sixth grader, the other a rising high school freshman—plan to be in Loudoun by the end of summer. Until then, Smith will stay in the role of acting superintendent.
Spence said he’s been in contact with Smith, whom he knew and worked with in Virginia Beach when Smith was a principal at a high school in the division and Spence was superintendent.
“We’ve been having great conversations already. I’m very appreciative of him and his work to build bridges and address concerns and I’m looking forward to coming in and continuing to build on that,” he said.
Spence said his family is anxious to get to Loudoun and get settled and are excited to learn more about the county, to ride bikes on the W&OD trail and to discover the mountains and vineyards. He said not only has Virginia Beach been his family’s home for the past nine years, but he grew up and graduated from high school there and his parents and brother live there.
“It was a really difficult decision. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t believe it was the best move for me and my family,” he said.
Asked what he wants the Loudoun community to know, he said to understand how grateful and excited he is for the opportunity.
“I want them to know I am going to work harder than anybody and do everything I can to ensure LCPS is the best school division in the world and that we are going to be a safe place for kids. I want to make sure kids know when they come to school that they are safe, that they are going to learn something important and that they have a deep sense of belonging. I won’t rest until every classroom in every school in the division looks like this,” he said.