Although Westfield High teachers and staff wish departing Principal Dale Rumberger well in his post as head of the new high school in Lorton, they can't help but be sad about what they're losing.
"He's the kind of principal that makes teachers want to stay in teaching," said yearbook advisor and AP world history teacher Gary Bender. "He treats you like a professional. He solicits input from teachers and builds the school around it. He doesn't just manage from the top down."
THERE SINCE the school opened in September 2000, Bender said Rumberger lets teachers do their thing and doesn't look for reasons to say no to them. "Instead, he says, 'How can I help you do this?'" said Bender. "I'm very sad to see him go."
Also there from the start, varsity baseball coach Chuck Welch said he's grateful that Rumberger gave him the opportunity to come to Westfield and help begin "such a wonderful school." And he called his principal "hugely supportive."
"This is my 21st year in Fairfax County, and he's the best one I've ever worked for," said Welch. "You just cannot ask for a better administrator. I'm disappointed that he's leaving, but excited for him and for the community down there because he's very good at what he does."
Likewise, head coach Jim Bour — whose girls volleyball team won the 2003 Concorde District championship — is also thankful for the faith Rumberger had in him.
"He gave me the opportunity to work with these young ladies and believed in me," said Bour. "That was very important to me. A lot was expected of me, but he was always behind me, encouraging me, and always there when I looked in the stands. I wish him the best of luck. The other school is very lucky, and so are its parents and teachers."
Parent Kim Davidson has a son in Westfield's junior class and a daughter who'll be a freshman there in September, and she, too, praised Rumberger's efforts. "He's done an incredible job with the school and I hate to see him go," she said. "I just hope he doesn't take too much of the staff with him."
Although the school's so large and contains so many diverse organizations and activities, she said, "He's done a good job trying to keep it all a cohesive group."
Office assistant Barbara Donohue called Rumberger a talented person who "thrives best when he's got a lot on his plate. "His strengths are his ability to communicate and his boundless energy," she said. "His mind is going as fast as he's running, and he has the talent to open a new school."
AS FOR WESTFIELD, she said it has a strong faculty and administration so, "whoever they bring in [as principal] will do fine. But we've got a good faculty because we've had a great leader."
Assistant Principal Doug Wright admired the way Rumberger deals with the students and community and how he brought the school on line. "The people in Lorton will be fortunate to have someone with his foresight to look at their future needs," he said. And while it's a "huge loss" for Westfield, he said, Rumberger leaves a great legacy behind.
Agreeing, Assistant Principal Mike Campbell said, "Dale is the visionary, where I was the nuts and bolts. When I first met him, he was saying, 'This is where I want the school to be, five years ahead.' And the reality has turned out like he envisioned it. Students have a say in the school, and teachers and administrators have a say in developing policy. And his first priority is what's best for the students."
Campbell called Rumberger the perfect candidate for the new school, not just because of his experience as a principal, but because he's knowledgeable about all the facets of school life. "That'll help as they build all the new departments," he said. Nonetheless, he added, "The students, parents, community and faculty will all miss Dale."
Ray Clements, Westfield's safety and security specialist, said he can't think of another person who cares as much as Rumberger does. "He cares about every person in the school and sets high standards for everybody," said Clements. "He reaches into the neighborhoods to help guide and build the kids' character."
Clements said Rumberger doesn't tell parents what to do, but shows them what else they can do to keep their children on the right path: "He's a bright guy and a very good person."
Betsy Chesky is a substitute teacher, a music booster and the parent of a sophomore daughter; her son graduated from Westfield in 2003. And she helped Rumberger with plans for the school's music department, a year before Westfield opened.
"Dale is wonderful, and he was right on the money with his ideas and visions for this school," she said. "The new school is getting the best of the best."
HE WAS even nominated last year for the school system's principal of the year. He was runner-up but, in December, his teachers presented him with a white-satin sash bearing the words, "No. 1 Principal," in black and gold letters.
Government teacher Shawn English said Rumberger always encourages his faculty members to attend workshops and strive to further their own talents. And because he hired administrators who believe as he does, she said, "He laid a foundation that's not going to crumble when he leaves."
Good thing, said past PTA president Lynn Terhar. "We have a very demanding community that has high expectations," she said. "And a school like Westfield will attract some good candidates who want to be principal there."