New principals joining Nelson County Schools

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By Kacie Goode

In addition to a new interim superintendent, the Nelson County Schools district will also see new leadership in some of its facilities. Cox’s Creek Elementary, Old Kentucky Home Middle, and Nelson County High have each appointed new principals over the summer.


Tanya Jury was voted in as principal of Nelson County High School June 5 following a special called meeting of the school’s site-based decision making council. On June 23, Robin Handloser was selected as Old Kentucky Home Middle’s new leader. A few weeks later, the district filled its third vacancy with the hiring of Haley Victery as principal of Cox’s Creek Elementary.

All three women have prior teaching or administrative experience in Nelson County Schools, but are assuming their first principal roles in their careers.

District tension, concerns played role in some vacancies

The three district schools were left without leaders at the end of the 2016-2017 school year after the former principals announced their resignations. NCHS principal Shelly Hendricks and OKH Principal Jaime Smith formally resigned within weeks of each other after their schools — and district leadership — had become the focus of public concern.

Shortly after her resignation, Hendricks cited ongoing issues with Central Office staff and the district’s then-superintendent Anthony Orr, who resigned last week, as her reasons for departure. But Hendricks was also confident in the leadership skills and commitment of her successor, Jury.

While Smith did not comment publicly on his resignation from OKH, the middle school was a major focus of concerns from the community in the months leading up to his departure. Teachers, parents and former district employees attended Board of Education meetings to speak about student disruptions in the classrooms, school safety and a lack of meaningful consequences within the school. With many of the public comments, however, blame for the issues was placed on district leadership, not just school administrators.

Smith was offered a band director position at Thomas Nelson High School following his resignation, according to a notification of position and pay change.

While a formal notification of position change was never presented to Hendricks, a Board of Education Update document from Orr, dated April 14, indicated he planned to meet with the NCHS head principal the following week to “inform her of a demotion to a teacher position.”

The BOE update was reviewed as part of an open records request. In a later interview with Orr, he declined to speak about the intention to demote Hendricks, adding the demotion never occurred.

The resignations prompted public comment about principal departures and turnover in the district. With the hiring of Handloser, Old Kentucky Home Middle is on its fifth principal in seven years. Jury is the high school’s fourth since 2010. Smith had held the position for less than a year, being selected for the role last summer when Orr chose to create principal vacancies at OKH and Cox’s Creek Elementary.

Six of the district’s 11 schools received new principals last year with the vacancies Orr created and other resignations for various reasons.

Diana Smith, former Cox’s Creek principal, was the third to resign this summer and has been replaced by Victery. She was also in the position for less than a year. She did not comment about her departure, but stated in a resignation letter she was leaving to be closer to home and family, and to pursue other employment opportunities.

After the repeated change in leadership was mentioned at a May board meeting, Orr told board members in a BOE update dated May 25 that of the principals who had departed in his seven years, while others left for various reasons, 12 left under “less than ideal circumstances ranging from mutual agreement of poor fit to demotion.” Sixteen, he said, were in their positions for three or more years.

Also in May, when concerns of disruptive classrooms at OKH were brought before board members, Orr made reference to the importance of exposing new leaders to coaching on how discipline and district practices work. In June, Orr informed board members that, while the district had not previously felt comfortable bringing in retired administrators to mentor leaders, he had been working with a retired superintendent and principal who could potentially be available to mentor new principals in the future, an approach other districts offer as well.

New leaders have local ties

While changes in leadership for another school year could be frustrating for families, this year’s new hires bring with them a prior knowledge of the district, the schools and the people they will be working with.

Jury, Handloser and Victery have all worked in Nelson County Schools this past year.

Jury moves up from a role of assistant principal at Nelson County High School, having worked under former Principal Hendricks. Following her selection as principal, Jury told the community her prior experience as an assistant principal afforded her an understanding of “where we are and where we need to go.” She also has a son who will be attending the high school as a senior.

While Handloser didn’t bump up from an administrative position in the school, she comes to OKH as a former instructional coach. She also previously worked as a teacher at the high school, and joined the Nelson County Schools system in 2001.

“I’ve always had a heart for this school,” Handloser told those who attended her selection reception. Not only as a former school employee, but also as a parent of a county graduate who attended the school several years ago.

Victery’s connection to Cox’s Creek comes from her ability to observe the school over the last year while taking part in a leadership program. Prior to her selection as CCE principal, Victery worked as a fifth grade teacher at Foster Heights Elementary School. Although a Marion County native, Victery and her family currently reside in Cox’s Creek and she said she is excited to work with local families.