Principals Named As Part of AHPS Transition Planning

Principals Named As Part of AHPS Transition Planning
Posted on 10/31/2022

LOW MOOR — In keeping with a strategic timeline that was adopted earlier in October, the Alleghany Highlands School Board has approved three key principalship appointments for the 2023-2024 school year.

Derek Cantrell will serve as principal of Alleghany High School, Karen Staunton will become principal of Covington Middle School, and Josh Craft will be the principal of Jackson River Technical Center. 

The school board approved the appointments on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022, during a called meeting. 

The appointments come as the school board prepares for an orderly transition to the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. Alleghany County Public Schools, Covington City Public Schools, and Jackson River Technical Center consolidated on July 1, 2022, to create Alleghany Highlands Public Schools.

“The naming of building administrators is one of the first and most important steps of our transition plan. The end goal of the plan is to create a smooth transition for students and staff as we unify our populations in the 2023-2024 school year,” said School Board Chair Jacob Wright.

“We feel these talented educators put us in the best position to succeed and we look forward to seeing them succeed in their new positions,” Wright continued.

Under the consolidation plan, county and city students will be merged into a single student body at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. The four existing elementary schools will remain open, but the consolidated division will have a single middle school (housed at the current Covington High School building) and a single high school (housed at the current Alleghany High School building).

The school board’s strategic timeline called for principals for Alleghany High School and Covington Middle School to be named in October 2022, as well as a principal for Jackson River Technical Center. Glenn Spangler, the current principal at JRTC, will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 school year in June. 

Cantrell, who is an AHS graduate, has served as principal of Covington High School since 2016. He was chosen to lead the new joint high school based on the skills he possesses to effectively merge two high school families.  

“We know Mr. Cantrell will work diligently to collaborate with all our stakeholders to help make these transitions successful,” shared Superintendent Kim Halterman.

Cantrell graduated from Ferrum College in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in education. He received a master’s degree in educational leadership from James Madison University in 2012.

He initially worked for Alleghany County Public Schools as a computer lab supervisor at Alleghany High School. In 2007, he was hired by Bath County schools to teach PE at Valley Elementary School. After a year at Valley, he rejoined Alleghany County schools and taught PE at Clifton Middle School, Mountain View Elementary, Falling Spring Elementary, and Callaghan Elementary. He taught PE for eight years in Alleghany County schools until he was named CHS principal.   

Cantrell was honored by the Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism when he was named Alleghany County’s Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013. That year, he was also named Teacher of the Year at Falling Spring Elementary School.  In 2007, he was named the Pioneer District’s Coach of the Year for baseball. 

He and his wife, Johnell, have two children, Jace and Laken. Johnell Cantrell is employed by AHPS as a nurse aide instructor at JRTC.

Staunton has served as AHS principal since the winter of 2021 and she has significant instructional skills that will support Covington Middle School.  

Staunton began her career in education as a library media specialist at Boiling Spring Elementary School from 2006-2012. She transferred to AHS and served as library media specialist from 2012-2016. From 2016 to 2018, she served as an assistant principal at Mountain View Elementary School. In 2018, Staunton returned to AHS and served as an assistant principal/athletic director for one year. She then became a full-time assistant principal and held that position until she was named principal following the appointment of Dwayne Ross as the school division’s director of secondary education.

Staunton was named to head Covington Middle School next year based on her ability to transition middle school students to the high school level. Staunton has the necessary leadership and instructional background to launch a new school in an historic high school building.

“Mrs. Staunton’s depth of understanding of the instructional work of staff around the school division will support her effective leadership. Mrs. Staunton has a strong logistical mind that will greatly assist us in upcoming transitions,” shared Assistant Superintendent Melinda Snead-Johnson.  

Staunton graduated from Covington High School and continued her education at Virginia Tech and Radford University. She received a bachelor’s degree in Communications Studies/Public Relations from Virginia Tech in 1992. Staunton received master’s degrees in Library Media Science from Radford University in 2007 and Educational Leadership from Radford University in 2013.

Staunton is married to Kit Staunton, who is employed by AHPS as a school counselor at Jeter-Watson Elementary School. They have three children, Burke Harris, Conlan Staunton, and Kendall Staunton. 

Craft will move from his current post as principal at Callaghan Elementary School to JRTC. He has served as Callaghan principal since July 2018.

School officials said Craft was chosen to succeed Spangler at JRTC due to his vision for connecting JRTC with businesses, workforce development, and economic development partners.

Halterman and Snead-Johnson indicated their confidence in Mr. Craft’s ability to make connections that are important for the development of student opportunities.  

“Leading a career-technical education (CTE) center that prepares students successfully for careers, college, and other future goals requires innovation and support, and we look forward to Mr. Craft’s work to further the solid footprint of JRTC,” they shared.

A graduate of AHS in 1995, Craft holds graduate and undergraduate degrees from Concord College in Athens, W.Va. He received his undergraduate degree in 1999 and his graduate degree in 2008. 

Craft taught for 12 years at the former Central Elementary School and Clifton Middle School. In 2010, he was appointed principal of Falling Spring Elementary School. After Falling Spring closed in 2013, he was assigned to Clifton Middle School, where he initially served as a teacher. He later became an assistant principal at CMS.

Craft resides in Valley Ridge with his wife, Krista and three kids, Calvin, Gabriel and Mandolin. Krista Craft is employed by AHPS as a second-grade teacher at Sharon Elementary School.

“We are fortunate to have had a strong candidate pool and benefit from the services of our full leadership team each day. We encourage our community to stand with all of our leaders, no matter their role, to support a successful transition for our school division and our community,” continued Halterman and Snead-Johnson.  “The work of all our leaders is critical to the support of our students, and we are equally honored to support all three of these individuals.”

Hiring a firm to assist with the redistricting of elementary school attendance zones is among the next steps on the school board’s strategic timeline.  It has been important to school division leadership to name principals early in the process so that other important decisions can be made to effectively refine the plan for the support of students in 2023-24.  

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