By Jonathan Kleppinger
9:51 AM EST, November 29, 2012
Jessamine County's new elementary school will be headed by a very familiar face — the current principal at the district’s highest-performing school.
Wilmore Elementary principal Andrea “Andi” McNeal was named the principal of the new school Wednesday. The school is currently under construction off Union Mill Road and is slated to open in August 2013. It will be the district’s sixth elementary school and has not yet been named.
McNeal, 51, is in her 12th year as principal at Wilmore and said her decision amounted to a personal “calling.”
“It was kind of weird; I’ve never felt this before,” she said. “It was just that I needed to see if what we do here at Wilmore works other places.”
Superintendent Lu Young said McNeal had first expressed interest in the position a year ago and was an ideal candidate who was already familiar with the system.
“We screened all of the applicants, and she was just head and shoulders above all of the applicants for the position,” Young said. “She had 20-plus years experience as a principal and of course has proven what a strong instructional leader she is at Wilmore Elementary.”
Wilmore Elementary scored higher than 94 percent of other elementary schools in the state in last year’s test results, the first year of Kentucky’s new Unbridled Learning system for accountability and assessment. The school is also seeking to become the first LEED-certified existing school building in the state.
McNeal became principal at Wilmore in 2001 when her son, Hayden, was a first-grader. Hayden is now a senior at West Jessamine High School, and McNeal’s daughter, Palmer, is a fourth-grader at Wilmore and hasn’t decided yet whether she will follow her mother to the new school.
“That’s the really bad part about it, that I have no desire to leave Wilmore,” McNeal said. “I love Wilmore; it’s a great place for my children to have gone to school, and we have fabulous teachers and wonderful children. It just was something inside of me — it’s not at all about Wilmore.”
The new school will include children who live in the northeast quadrant of Nicholasville as well as much of rural northeastern Jessamine County. McNeal said that population will be very similar to those she worked with earlier in her career as a principal in Anderson County and in Mt. Sterling — where she also opened a new building.
After forming a committee to name the school, McNeal will work on classroom details through the end of the construction as well as dividing resources from other schools to fill the new building. One of her biggest jobs will be selecting staff, Young said. At its December meeting, the school board will consider a staffing policy that Young said would help coordinate the move of some existing staff to the new school.
“The kids are actually going to be coming from our existing schools, and some of the staff will follow the students,” Young said. “We wanted to make sure we did that in a reasoned way and not run the risk that one school would be decimated of teachers and another school might end up being overstaffed. We’ve tried to work through all of those processes, and Andi will now be in charge of implementing that hiring plan.”
Young said McNeal asked to remain at Wilmore Elementary through the spring and juggle the responsibilities of her current and future schools. Young will help Wilmore’s school council screen applications for a new principal in February and March in the hopes of having a new principal named in advance of spring break, with an official starting date of July 1.
The county school district had gone three and a half years without a principal change; the last new principal was Jim Freeman, who came to West Jessamine Middle School in July 2009. Four current principals in the district have been at their current school for at least 10 years.
“I feel really blessed to have some experienced school principals,” Young said. “It’s not unusual for us to have turnover in our assistant principals, but our head principals have been very steady.”