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Westfield's Campbell Receives Sprague Administrator Award

Told there was a last-minute faculty meeting Tuesday, after school, Westfield High Principal Mike Campbell quickly grabbed some notes and dashed into the school library.

THE TEACHERS were there, all right, but not for a meeting. Instead, they greeted their leader with enthusiastic shouts and a standing ovation to celebrate his being the recipient of the Nancy F. Sprague First Year Administrator Award.

Along with it, Fairfax County Public Schools named Campbell the 2006 Outstanding First Year Principal. Deputy Superintendent of Schools Brad Draeger presented Campbell with the Sprague award on Tuesday, adding that the School Board will give him a plaque, Dec. 15.

"He sees great solutions where other people see no options," said Draeger. "And he has a contagious, positive spirit that wears very well on the community and the school. He's also managing one of the largest high schools in the nation so, to win this award for a school of this size, is a true testament to his leadership."

Yet Campbell's reaction to the honor was in keeping with his nature and is one of the many reasons why he's so popular at Westfield — he shared it with the whole school.

"This is more a reflection of the success of Westfield High School and of what we've accomplished over the last five years," he told those gathered for the ceremony. "And each of you has been a part of it — teachers, staff, students and community. Thank you to everyone; I appreciate it. This is for all of you, too."

Sprague, who died suddenly in her sleep in November 2003, was the school system's chief academic officer and was known for her strong leadership skills and dedication to maximizing learning opportunities for students. And though Campbell had a tough act to follow — taking over the reins in 2004 from dynamic past principal Dale Rumberger, who opened the school and built a solid foundation — he soon proved to be an outstanding leader in his own right.

"The footsteps and the shadow are now his," said Dana Cimino, PTSA president last year and this year. "He has put into place innovative programs and practices that serve all Westfield students and push them to excel to the height of their abilities. His vision and leadership has earned him the respect and admiration of students, parents, staff and the community. He has truly become the heart of Westfield."

WITH MORE than 3,150 students last year, Campbell added two more subschools to decrease the number of students reporting to each one. That allowed assistant principals and counselors a chance to get to know their students better, while making students feel more connected to the school.

Encouraging student participation and parent involvement, said Cimino, he "conveyed to students that academics are the most important reason for being at Westfield, but you need other connections to make it a whole and worthwhile experience. And he succeeded in gaining the trust of parents and students, alike. They know when they speak, he will not only listen, but act."

Campbell worked with parents and staff on a written plan to close the school's minority-achievement gap. And despite being the largest high school in the state, with a current enrollment of 3,189, Westfield's goal is "excellence in all endeavors." Its SOL, SAT and AP scores have improved and, said Campbell, "We're the only school that's gone up in both math and verbal SAT scores in the past three years — and that's because of the teachers."

But Tuesday, it was their turn to sing his praises. "I've been a Fairfax County teacher for 22 years, and I can't think of a more deserving person [for this award]," said biology teacher Rebecca Sacra. "He's so supportive of parents, students and teachers and is able to balance everyone's interests."

"I think it's fantastic," said special education teacher Anita Short. "I helped write part of the submissions for his award — every department submitted something and one person put it all together. He's approachable and he supports every level of kid at this school. He knows all his faculty personally and makes a point to do that with the kids, too."

Another special ed teacher, Kathryn Whitworth, said Campbell makes his presence known throughout the school and really works hard on the teachers' behalf. Industrial arts teacher William Welch called the honor well-deserved. "He's a very hardworking, conscientious leader in this community," said Welch. "He was put in a little-bit tricky situation because he had to follow someone who was so strong, but I think he's done a tremendous job."

CAMPBELL'S WIFE Becky and sons Chris, 13, a Liberty Middle eighth-grader and Hunter, 11, a Union Mill Elementary sixth-grader, also attended the ceremony. Like her husband, Becky Campbell said the award was about Westfield, itself: "You surround yourself with good people and, hopefully, it carries down to the teachers — and, obviously, it has."

Hugs, handshakes and hearty laughter marked Tuesday's celebration, and theater director Scott Pafumi elicited one of the biggest outbursts from UVA grad Campbell when he presented him with a bust of UVA founder Thomas Jefferson — all decked out in rival Virginia Tech's colors.

"When Mike was promoted to principal [in May 2004], a lot of us took stuff from his office," explained Pafumi. "Then over the past year, we gave him notes saying what we had, but not who had it. I took his bust of Jefferson but, since I'm a Virginia Tech grad, I'm returning it to him wearing orange-and-maroon, jelly-bean eyeballs and a Virginia Tech theater arts button to signify where it came from and who'd had it all this time."

Actually, said Pafumi, "It's been in my windowsill in my office, and he's never noticed it. So now that he got this award, I thought it was time to give it back."

Sully District School Board representative Kathy Smith was also on hand for the festivities. "I think Westfield's a wonderful high school, and Mike's done a good job leading this professional staff here," she said. "It's nice to see the recognition of all his hard work."

Subschool II Principal Pat Williams described Campbell as a "very caring, nurturing principal, responsive to the kids, community and staff. And I think that's what makes the building work. He's just an overall, good guy."

"He's fantastic — a good leader and a people person who has kids' best interests at heart," added Assistant Principal Dave Jagels. "He's visible in the building, in the classrooms, and is a hands-on principal. He's in tune to people's thoughts, open to ideas and always looking at ways to improve things. And I know he's very humbled by the award."

Bob Margrave, English Department co-chair, said Campbell "appreciates people and values their contributions, so Westfield is a pleasant place to work. He gives us the sense that things are possible and your opinions matter. He really enjoys his job, and his positive attitude transfers to the faculty. I don't think I've seen anyone as happy as he was, the day he got the job."

Previously, Campbell was director of student activities at Marshall High and a subschool principal at Centreville High. He's been a Westfield administrator since the school opened in 2000 and became lead assistant principal in 2001. When Rumberger was tapped to head the new South County high school, Campbell was promoted to principal in May 2004.

HE SAID he's enjoyed working with "some really good principals" — Betsy Goodman and Jim Moulton at Marshall, Pam Latt at Centreville and Rumberger at Westfield — picking up advice from them, along the way. "They've supported me, given me assistance and encouraged me," said Campbell. He also praised his assistant principals, lead Assistant Principal Tim Thomas, Director of Student Activities Francis Dall and his "great teaching staff."

Westfield's Instructional Council — department chairs and co-chairs — nominated him for the Sprague award, and Campbell said he was still in shock that he received it: "It's an honor, and I'm just so proud of the Westfield High School community — faculty, teachers, administrators, students. It's a total team effort. If I had to envision my ideal school, Westfield would be that."