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Tohan Knows Middle-School is Special

Rohini Tohan, the new principal of Stone Hill Middle School, can trace her love of middle-school to an observation assignment at Sterling Middle School while she was completing a degree at George Mason University.

“I always thought I wanted to be in upper elementary, fourth, fifth grade. I enjoyed my assignment at the elementary school tremendously. Come to find out, I absolutely loved middle school. That was my passion, and I’ve been in middle school for 25 years.”

While she pursued an educational career with Fairfax County Public Schools after graduation, the four weeks she spent at Sterling as a student shaped her professional life.  

“Middle-school educators are special people. They have to really like that awkward age group. What I like about middle school is that it’s where students are provided the tools to learn self-advocacy skills. You’re molding and helping, allowing them to gain independence, but you’re also providing them the tools to do that.

“No two days will ever be alike. Middle schools are very busy places, but there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment and giving back to the community at the end of the day. You know that you helped a kid navigate some tough situations. You’ve built a relationship. No matter how difficult or exhausting the day is, you have that sense of ‘I made a difference.’”

A former English teacher and department chair, Tohan had this literary analogy of what middle school is like: “It would be a short-story anthology. It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It’s a smorgasbord of a lot coming together.” 

Tohan's last job in Fairfax County was as the assistant principal of Luther Jackson Middle School. At Stone Hill, she succeeds Kathryn Clark, who became a supervisor of teaching and learning with the LCPS Department of Instruction.

“I was drawn to a high-performing school like Stone Hill because of my experience with academically and culturally diverse schools. In my first year, I want to do a lot of listening, do a lot of learning and do a lot of leading alongside the professionals who work here. They’re very dedicated people.”

Tohan sees the climate of the school shifting a bit this year.

“This is post-COVID now. We’re launching a more traditional start to the school year. From that standpoint, I want to focus on our students gaining a sense of true belonging. Make sure that every student who walks through our campus is building relationships – not just peer-to-peer – but having a strong relationship with their teachers.” Tohan wants students to have at least two trusted adults they can turn to in moments of stress.

Stone Hill will take a two-pronged approach to getting students on a more normal social footing. First, the staff is setting clear expectations. “Making sure, as adults, we’re clear in our expectations. We’re holding them to high expectations, but we’re supporting them along the way. The other side of it is that we allow our students to amplify their voice and let us know what they are thinking.”

Tohan wants to have an open dialogue with Stone Hill’s Stingray Leaders, students who relay their peers’ concerns to staff. “I want kids to know that there is a safe space where they can share what they’re feeling and what they’re hearing.”

Tohan has two daughters: one entering her senior year of high school and one entering the seventh grade. “I’m passionate about doing my very best when I’m here at Stone Hill and also I want to do my very best at being a mom to my two girls.”

Having a daughter entering middle school gives Tohan a dual perspective on her role. “I’m living and breathing middle school, everywhere I go. It’s fun, it’s exciting. I feel like my kids are my lens of how I operate. If something is good for my girls at home, then it’s the right decision. That helps ground me.”     

Published August 26, 2022