In January, a parade of current and former Newport News Schools employees stepped up to the podium at a meeting of the School Board.

Superintendent George Parker had just been fired. Weeks earlier, teacher Abby Zwerner had been shot in her Richneck Elementary classroom by a 6-year-old student.

Many who stood at the microphone pointed to the district's administrators - not just Parker - as part of the reason the shooting had occurred.

"The climate that has been created by the administration is the reason our schools no longer feel safe. It is the reason teachers are unhappy and leaving," said Whitney Johnson, who spent 18 years teaching in Newport News before she left in 2020.

Many echoed Johnson's sentiments, reffering to a lack of support for staff and accountability for administrators.

Amber Thomas was a school psychologist in Newport News for 10 years and a parent of two Newport News students.

"I have worked with some amazing administrators in Newport News, but I've also worked with some leaders who have bred a toxic environment for staff and students," she said at that January School Board meeting.

But the Newport News School Board has decided that a long-time administrator with the division is the right pick to lead it going forward.

Michele Mitchell has been serving as interim superintendent since Parker's firing. She's been with the district for 29 years at all levels, including more than a decade as the executive director of student advancement.

The district contracted with a state group to conduct a national search for the new superintendent. Thirty-five applicants from 24 states submitted, but school board chair Lisa Surles-Law said the homegrown candidate was “the best and most qualified.”

NOTE: Newport News Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO.