UPDATED: Prince William County Schools Superintendent Steven Walts will retire effective July 1, when his current contract expires, Walts said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Walts announced his retirement to school board members via email Thursday morning and then shared the news with some school division staff during the annual Equity and Excellence in Education conference, which was held virtually on Thursday.
Walts appeared on video with his wife, Kathleen, their teenage daughter and the family's two dogs to make the announcement, according to a source close to the school division.
The announcement took the school board by surprise, the source said. Walts later issued a formal statement announcing his retirement at about 3:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 13.
Dear Prince William County Public Schools Community,
In his statement, Walts said he was making the decision and the announcement now to ensure the school division has time to select his successor.
Walts said he strived always during his 16 years at the helm of the school division to put "students and staff first!" He said his “proudest achievement” during his tenure was his recommendation, made during his first year, that the school division transition to full-day kindergarten for every student.
“The budget was good that year, and we were able to complete this initiative the very next year. This doubled the learning time of our youngest learners, ultimately helping every teacher at every grade level,” Walts wrote. “We have also slowly expanded pre-kindergarten opportunities.”
Walts also noted that all of the county’s 100 schools were accredited without conditions during the last school year and that the graduation rate increased during his tenure from 83% to 92.4%.
Walts also touted the school division’s work toward closing the achievement gap, with recent passing rates on state tests showing that “students … with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and English learners, as well as Black, Hispanic, and White students, surpassed the state average in all content areas.”
“As a part of that academic success, we achieved incredible results with our English learners and, over the years, our immigrant students became some our highest achievers, including valedictorians and salutatorians,” he added.
Walts noted several other achievements under his leadership, including rising SAT scores, the opening of the Governor’s School at Innovation Park, the opening of more than 20 new schools “on time and on budget,” hiring nurses for every school building and expanding career and technical education programs as well as high school specialty programs.
Walts further noted that all school buildings were fully air-conditioned during his tenure as was the school division's fleet of more than 900 school buses.
Walts credited “our amazing teachers, support staff, and administrative leadership” as well as “loving, engaged parents and guardians, a great community and county and state government” with contributing to those achievements.
“I value each and every one of you!” Walts wrote.
“My wife Kathleen and I thank you, as parents, for the privilege of providing our daughter, Delaney with an incredible educational experience beginning in kindergarten and finishing this year as a senior in high school. We sincerely appreciate what you have done for our daughter and for every other child in our school division,” he wrote.
In a separate statement, School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef said the school board is beginning a nationwide search for a new superintendent.
“I greatly appreciate Dr. Walts’ more than 15 years of leadership and service as the superintendent of the Prince William County Public Schools,” Lateef wrote. “The school board will be working non-stop during this process to identify the best possible individual to carry on the important job of directing our schools at one of the most challenging and critical times in our history.”
Lateef said Walts will be remembered for “a significant increase in the on-time graduation rate” as well as for establishing full-day kindergarten and building 25 new schools “all during a period that saw student enrollment nearly double.”
“I wish Dr. Walts and his family well as he transitions into a well-deserved retirement,” Lateef said.
Announcement follows lawsuit, Twitter investigation
Walts' announcement comes at difficult time for the school division and Walts personally. The school division is preparing to begin the school year on Sept. 8 with nearly 100% virtual instruction through the first quarter due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Walts and the Prince William County School Board are also being sued for $2.3 million in a defamation of character lawsuit filed in July by Ryan Sawyers, a former school board chairman who resigned in February 2018.
The lawsuit stems from a video Walts made in May announcing he was suspending his Twitter account amid allegations that his use of the account to send private messages to students was a violation of the school division's social media policy.
The school board hired two firms to investigate the allegations and heard a report on the findings in July. The school board has yet to release any information about the investigation or its findings.
The school board also met in July to review Walts' performance over the last school year but did not take a vote on his contract, which was set to expire at the end of this school year.
Walts made a public attempt to extend his contract in June 2019, but that effort failed in a 4-4 tie vote.
Reach Jill Palermo at email@example.com