Parents, teachers and some local officials questioned a candidate for principal of Patrick Henry High School on Monday night on his experience, qualifications and commitment to the job.

Jay Lancaster, a high school principal at George Washington High School in Danville, spoke for about an hour and 15 minutes inside the Patrick Henry High auditorium.

The “meet the candidate” forum was announced last week, though Lancaster’s name was not revealed until the event began. Lancaster is a finalist to replace outgoing Principal Kathy Duncan, who is returning to roles she previously held with the school division: principal of the Roanoke Technical Education Center and director of career and technical education.

Prior to introducing Lancaster to the audience of about 100 people, Roanoke Superintendent Rita Bishop said Roanoke City Public Schools has conducted a nationwide search to fill the position. So far, Bishop said the school system reviewed 21 resumes, held five screening interviews and two second interviews.

Lancaster has served as principal at George Washington High School since 2017 and was previously a principal at Galileo Magnet High School in Danville for six years. Including his previous experience in Danville, Lancaster said he’s been with the division for about 15 years.

George Washington High had a fall enrollment of 1,265 this school year.

In his opening remarks, Lancaster stressed a desire to form a strong community within a school and ensure students engage beyond the classroom.

Lancaster received questions from about 15 speakers. Among them were parents, educators and members of the school board and city council.

Speakers asked questions centered on Lancaster’s experience working in a school with a diverse population, why he sought the principal job in Roanoke and how he would maintain a positive culture in the school.

Multiple speakers asked Lancaster what steps he would take to help retain faculty and staff. Lancaster had said one of the reasons the school system transferred him to his current job was to help with retention.

Lancaster said he follows a philosophy centered on spreading happiness among employees. He said he’s also worked to build a team environment with faculty through communication.

Another speaker told Lancaster she was concerned about turnover in the principal position at Patrick Henry High, and asked if he planned to commit to the school for a long tenure. The next hire at Patrick Henry High will be the school’s third principal in the past two years.

Lancaster stressed that he’s been with Danville for 15 years, and previously worked for only one school division, Pittsylvania County. “I don’t jump from job to job,” Lancaster said.

The candidate said he was drawn to Patrick Henry High because it looks “amazing on paper,” based on its graduation rates and other successes. He said he’s also intrigued by an increase in resources from what is available in his current job — primarily in the form of more staffing.

After Lancaster spoke, Bishop told the crowd she’d keep them informed about the status of the position.

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