Ziegler’s Path to Leadership of LCPS Is Unique

 

As Loudoun County Public Schools completes the most unique year in its 150-year history, it moves forward with one of its most unique superintendents.

A year ago, Dr. Scott Ziegler did not see himself leading Virginia’s third-largest school division.

He was then serving as LCPS’ assistant superintendent for Human Resources and Talent Development (HRTD). “I really thought HRTD was going to be a terminal position for me. I really thought assistant superintendent would be the last position I would have in education.”

When then-Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams announced his resignation to become superintendent of the Clear Creek, Texas, Independent School District, Ziegler said he didn’t think the school division could have a successful transition with an interim superintendent from outside LCPS. He therefore applied to be interim superintendent until the position was filled permanently. “I thought I could do some good, at least for six months. I was confident that I could come up with a plan to get the kids back into school.”

Ziegler became the interim superintendent in January and returned students to in-person instruction on April 20. In June, the School Board named Ziegler superintendent.

Ziegler said he undertakes his new role without trepidation. “I’m not afraid to experiment. I’m not afraid to be set back, because that’s how we learn. We needed consistency of leadership. We also needed someone who was willing to be bold, willing to be out front, willing to take a lot of heat from the public, which has been almost constant.”

Ziegler said he understands the impassioned rhetoric that has been aimed at him during School Board meetings and online. “The first thing I do is realize that when people talk about their kids, their passion is going to be intense. I don’t always agree with the way they do it, but I understand their passion. I understand their anger.”

When confronted by angry rhetoric, Ziegler said he considers “The Four Agreements” as set forth by Don Miguel Ruiz.

One: Be Impeccable With Your Word. “I’ve always tried to be transparent with what I was thinking and where the school division was heading.”

Two: Don't Take Anything Personally. “When someone is 10 feet away and shouting, it’s not something I take personally, because I know it’s not about me.”

Three: Don't Make Assumptions. “I always check things out, rather than go on my first inclination.”

Four: Always Do Your Best.

Ziegler said equity will be a major focus as LCPS enters the 2021-22 school year. He added the priority he’s attached to this work reflects conversations with students. “Equity and student voice are things that weigh heavily on me. There are the stories we hear about the times that we fail to provide the best environment we can for students.”

“Some of those stories are really heartbreaking. Kids that won’t eat their traditional or cultural foods at lunch because they’re made fun of. Or they change the way they dress or they’ve been called names and slurs.”

His conversations with students also give Ziegler a great deal of hope. “The fact is that our students don’t understand the controversy that’s going on. They don’t want to be a part of it. They want to provide communities that are affirmative and welcoming to their peers.”

Ziegler said the decision that he struggled with most entering the new school year was whether students and staff would be required to wear masks in school. “Half the community – no matter what the decision was – was going to be angry. Half, they were going to be happy with it.”

Ziegler began his career as a special education teacher in 1992 with the James Barry Robinson Center (a Portsmouth, Virginia, nonprofit behavioral health system). He then became a special education teacher with Portsmouth and Virginia Beach City public schools. He also taught social studies in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. Altogether, he spent 17 years as a classroom teacher.

“I learned about the importance of inclusion for students, what belonging to a community can mean and how that can affect a student’s life,” Ziegler said of his teaching career. “How to make connections with students so they can become successful.”

He added the definition of “success” can vary. “For one student, it could be Harvard. For another student, it could be the military. Greatness could be coming back to the school as a custodian and doing the very best job they could. Not putting a kid into a mold is really important.”

One of his former students comes to mind when Ziegler talks about helping students find personal success. “He was a junior in high school, over 18 already, incarcerated many times. Never passed a class with anything above a ‘D.’ He was not well liked by any of his teachers but he came to my classroom and we made a connection. He really worked very hard and earned a ‘B’ in my class and showed he could be successful. Unfortunately, he was never able to make that connection broader.” (The student died in jail shortly after finishing Ziegler’s class.)

This experience reinforced Ziegler’s dedication as a teacher. “I go back and ask myself, ‘Did I give that student the best experience, the best opportunity that I was able to give them?’ In that case, the answer was ‘Yes.’

“It reinforced my commitment to the idea that things can be different.”

Ziegler also has worked outside of education during the last 30 years, most notably as a non-denominational chaplain for the Virginia Beach Police Department for nearly a decade starting in 1994. Ziegler went on patrols with officers, responding to every call they went to. For a short time he was armed, though he never had to draw his weapon.

“That teaches you a lot about compassion for your community,” Ziegler said of his chaplaincy. “I’ve done hundreds of death notifications. That was a primary job of a chaplain. Crisis counseling after murders, after rapes, after really hard domestic situations. It really teaches you compassion and serving in your community, not just living in your community.” (On a happier note, Ziegler has performed more than 1,500 weddings.)

In December 2001, Ziegler went to the World Trade Center site for about a week as one of many chaplains who went to Ground Zero to help counsel police officers and firefighters. Most of the debris was removed, although what was there was still smoldering. Emergency workers frequently brought bodies out of the debris. “They would ring a bell and all work would stop. They would bring the body out and take it to one of the nearby morgues.”

Ziegler spoke about how seeing scenes of humanity at its worst results in faith and resiliency. “When you see instances of destruction, horror, I don’t think any of that lends itself to faith. That’s the antithesis of faith. Faith comes from seeing what people do afterwards. That’s where faith really comes from. My faith is not based in faith that a deity is going to intervene. My faith is based in humanity intervening. Compassion, care and love for our neighbor will intervene and take over in those situations. That’s what I’ve seen time and time again.”

 

 

 

 

Published August 18, 2021