A person smiles for a portrait in front of a brick wall.
Starting July 1, Justin Malone, principal of Jackson-Via Elementary School, will be Charlottesville High School’s newest principal. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amanda Korman of Charlottesville City Schools

Justin Malone, currently serving as principal at Jackson-Via Elementary School, is set to be Charlottesville High School’s new principal come July 1.

This marks Malone’s return to CHS, where he previously served as an assistant principal from 2013 to 2017. Prior to his time at CHS, Malone began his career as a special education teacher in Greene County and advanced to leadership positions within the school division.

“CHS is a special place to me,” said Malone, who beat out 43 other applicants for the position.

The search for a new CHS principal began in November, when Rashaad Pitt resigned to focus on his family and health. His departure coincided with the CHS teacher sick-out, in which around 10 teachers “coordinated a sick-out day” in protest of the rise in student violence within the high school, according to Amanda Korman, spokesperson for City Schools in an email to Dexter Auction.

Kenneth Leatherwood, a former CHS principal who retired in 2012, has served as interim principal since Pitt's departure. 

Dexter Auction spoke with Malone about his experience and goals for the role. 

Dexter Auction: How does it feel to be back at CHS?

Malone: It feels good to be back at CHS, really exciting for me. It's a special place to me. It has been since I first started working there in 2013. And it's held a special place in me professionally and as a part of my family dynamic. Our children were pretty young when I was working there. We would go to the athletic events, choir performances, orchestra performances as family dates and family experiences. The idea of being back so close to it, it's very exciting.

What do you expect to accomplish within your first year as principal?

Malone: I think there's a stability that I'd like to help to make sure is felt and understood at CHS. That same stability is the kind of thing that all schools want, to know that we're functioning in a stable manner. Specifically, what's on my mind right now is the freshmen transition. I want to give consideration to their transition through thoughtful mentoring and establishing a transition mentoring experience over time. I'm also focusing on building out leadership capacity and empowerment of our students to help them become mentors and student leaders. There's ambition around that. It's going to start with how we can make sure we've developed a thoughtful, successful and sustainable program for our incoming freshmen.

What are some immediate changes or actions you want to make at CHS?

Malone: An early priority is to work toward being fully staffed. I don't think I have an up-to-date sense necessarily of what their staffing profile is right now, but a fully staffed building is a significant priority. And then I think more broadly would be building relationships that are fostered through spending time with the staff at CHS, specifically working with our school counseling team.

What else have you done in education? How do you think it will help you in this role?

Malone: I started in Greene County as a special education teacher at Greene Elementary School and then I became a special education coordinator and an administrator at one of their elementary schools. I went to Old Dominion University for my undergrad and master's in early childhood education. I later went to University of Virginia to get my doctorate in education.

Student safety and teacher retention are some of the bigger challenges CHS is facing now. How do you aim to address those in your role?

Malone: Well, the priority is always going to be safety for all the humans that come to Charlottesville High School. So in terms of addressing it, I think that would probably be one of those areas where I would want to review an audit. There would be a constant audit and examination of those features to make sure that we are as safe as we possibly can be. What experiences have we had throughout this whole year, and maybe even specifically since the news hit back in November.

By all accounts, there seems to have been a stabilization of recruitment, a sense of knowing what systems that we have in place, and our sense of accountability for that has improved.

Do you anticipate any significant differences working with high school rather than elementary school students?

Malone: Certainly I've given that quite a bit of thought. I've put my mind in the place of actually thinking about what's similar as opposed to what's different. I think one possible advantage that I have as it relates to thinking about leaving from elementary to high school — I've worked for many years out of high school. And so I have a sense of the scale and a sense of the scope, just in terms of a building having four times as many people in it as we have here. I think that's maybe more of a stamina transition than I think. What's actually been on my mind is less about what's different and sort of like, again, what do I anticipate. I think there are so many similarities and commonalities between elementary school or high schools, and even middle schools.

I'm Dexter Auction's education and families reporter. Reach out to me by email or on Twitter. Also, subscribe to our newsletter! C’mon, it’s free.