A strong leader with good communication skills, which Saylor stressed, is vital in bringing students from Cawood, Cumberland and Evarts high schools together into one facility and making them feel as though they are Black Bears instead of Trojans, Redskins or Wildcats.
With all the opposition the school has received in parts of the county, some are likely hoping for problems, or are at least ready with the "I told you so's" if the transition isn't smooth.
A quality principal is vital to the success of any school, and it's certainly no coincidence that the best schools always seem to have a quality principal, while most of those that struggle from year to year typically have someone in charge who probably should be in another profession.
My guess is the first principal would be best served not to be identified directly with one of the current high schools, to avoid the favoritism charges that opponents of the school will be ready to sling.
That's not to say that there aren't quality people in administrative positions currently in the county. Bob Howard has helped Evarts High School make remarkable progress in a short time as principal and would be part of the administration at the new school if it were up to me. Mike Jones, currently at Cawood and formerly at Harlan and Clay County, also has solid credentials as an administrator, and I'm sure there are others who could also play an important role at the new school.
There are many tasks the principal must complete to make Harlan County High School a success. The first will be discipline. My guess is the parents of the children at the three schools will have more trouble getting along than the students. I don't expect the merger to be any more difficult than bringing together students from Wallins, Loyall and Hall was in the 1960s or Cumberland and Lynch in the 1980s, but it's important for the students to know who is in charge and that there will be serious repercussions for causing problems.
Another crucial role for the principal at Harlan County High School is putting together a quality teaching staff. Discussions I've had with educators in recent months have convinced me that many of the county's teachers aren't being held to a high standard. In some cases, they aren't being held to any standard at all - or at least it seems that way.
Like any profession, teachers deserve no guarantee of a lifetime job if they aren't fulfilling their duties in the classroom, and it's up to the principal to make certain the teachers are teaching. Many of the young people in this county already have enough obstacles thrown their way through poverty or a bad home life to be able to overcome lazy or ineffective teachers.
One local educator, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, recently described teachers who left the classroom to smoke while school was in session and another who allowed students to sleep while the teacher played cards.
Two administrators I've talked with about the problem stressed that principals must spend time in the classrooms, documenting deficiencies and demanding that those problems be eliminated. The documentation also makes it easier to eliminate teachers who refuse to improve.
I don't mean to imply that all, or even most, teachers fall into the category I've described. The majority, from what I've been told by people who should know, do a good job, and some are outstanding.
Finding more of those teachers who excel in the classroom and inspiring others to join them, or demanding if necessary, will be a crucial task for the person selected as principal at HCHS.
It won't be an easy job, and you can be sure all of Harlan County will be watching.
John Henson can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com