Loudoun County School Board Appoints Interim Superintendent at Emergency Meeting

ASHBURN, Va.—Thursday night, the Loudoun County school board appointed Daniel Smith as the interim superintendent at an emergency board meeting following its firing of the previous superintendent, Scott Ziegler, who was entangled in scandals of lying to the public and mishandling school sexual harassment cases.

In accepting the interim position, Daniel Smith, chief of staff at Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) since April 18, said, “I accept the challenges that come with my new role. And I look forward to refocusing the efforts of our employees on maintaining and improving a world-class school division.”

School board chair Jeff Morse said the board would embark on a nationwide search for a permanent superintendent to have the recruit in place by July 1 to be ready for the 2023–2024 school year.

Speaking to the press, Morse acknowledged “a complete breakdown of leadership” and vowed to “restore trust with the new superintendent, acting superintendent, and the next school board, which will be elected in November 2023.

“The action that we took tonight is the first step to try and to demonstrate the fact that Loudoun County is eager to solve the problems we’ve addressed and to move on and to get back to education,” he added.

Loudoun County school board chair Jeff Morse (L) and vice chair Ian Serotkin speak to the media in Ashburn, Va., on Dec. 8, 2022. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)

In terms of the timing of firing the previous superintendent Ziegler, Morse said that the board wasn’t waiting for the grand jury report to take action.

“The board has made decisions based on the information available at hand. Obviously, there were some things in the grand jury report that we were unaware of. They caught us by surprise,” Morse told The Epoch Times, refusing to disclose the surprise items.

However, Morse confirmed “the board was misled” by individuals mentioned in the grand jury report. When asked whether Ashley Ellis or anyone else mentioned in the report should be fired, he replied that he wouldn’t comment until the board evaluated the full report.

Morse said he and vice chair Ian Serotkin reached out to Smith for the position because they viewed Smith as “an important stabilization factor” when observing him closely as chief of staff. In addition, Smith wasn’t present during the two sexual assaults in May and October 2021.

Loudoun County school board member Tiffany Polifko (L) speaks as chair Jeff Morse looks on in Ashburn, Va., on Dec. 8, 2022. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)

Smith, 43, was installed in his new position following a 6–1 vote on the nine-member board. Denise Corbo and John Beatty were absent, and Tiffany Polifko voted against Smith’s nomination.

In her statement, Polifko, who was just elected to the board in November, said that taxpayers, parents, and other constituents of LCPS were “lacking severe trust with the current state of affairs.” She said she firmly believed that the acting superintendent should hold the school system and senior staff accountable for the mishandling of two sexual harassments, the subject of a special grand jury investigation, of which the report (pdf) was released on Monday.

The report concluded, “LCPS as an organization tends to avoid managing difficult situations by not addressing them fully. Whether intended or not, this practice conveys to the public a sense of apathy.”

It continued, “The culture needs to change. Stronger leadership would address problems head-on instead of letting them snowball.”

Smith assured the reporters on the night of his appointment, “Absolutely, our kids are safe, and that’ll remain our priority.” He said his priorities would be ensuring that the school division “focused on teaching and learning of our kids.”

In response to The Epoch Times’ question about learning loss, Smith said he would address it and use the remaining federal recovery funds to support the need.

Serotkin, who may become the board chair in January, said, “It’s been a very busy week.” But, according to him, the board has taken “significant and strong actions within 36 hours of receiving the grand jury report.”

He said the school board and interim superintendent might not reach out to the sexual assault victims’ families “given ongoing legal issues regarding those cases.”

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Terri Wu is a Washington-based freelance reporter for The Epoch Times covering education and China-related issues. Send tips to [email protected]

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