When Westfield High Principal Mike Campbell announced in June he was leaving to become principal of Centreville High — near his home and where his sons would attend — his faculty and staff hated losing him.
But they had a successor already in mind, Westfield's lead Assistant Principal Tim Thomas, and wrote a letter of support to Cluster VIII — which would choose the new leader. Last Thursday, July 27, they got their wish when Thomas was named principal, and so did he.
"I was delighted and extremely excited about the opportunity to work at such an outstanding school with great students, outstanding teachers and staff and a tremendously supportive community," said Thomas, 40. "And I think my familiarity with the students, teachers, community and the facility itself will be a tremendous asset to the current and future operation of the school."
Campbell called Thomas a good man who's very capable. "He took my place at Centreville as a subschool principal, then became assistant principal there when I came to Westfield," said Campbell. "And now he's taken my place as principal."
Joking, Campbell said, "I tell people there's a reason; he keeps cleaning up my messes. Seriously, though, nobody is harder working and more dedicated to the teachers and students than Tim. I couldn't be happier for him."
Gainesville residents, Thomas and wife Michelle have four children, David, 6; Diana, 8; Danielle, 9 and Dylan, 11. Thomas was born and raised in Virginia and graduated from Oakton High. At GMU, he received a bachelor's in Spanish in 1991 and a master's in Curriculum and Instruction in 1995.
INITIALLY, THOUGH, he worked in forestry products and, he said, "I still love fishing and being outdoors with my kids." He also did landscaping and landscape design during college and developed a fluency in Spanish, which has helped him tremendously at both high schools. Added Thomas: "The relationships I established with Hispanic parents and students are some of the most meaningful of my career."
Seeing a direct connection between this fluency and teaching, he began a career in education as a Spanish teacher at Centreville in 1992. He taught for eight years, replacing Campbell as a subschool principal there when Campbell moved to Westfield in 2000 as an assistant principal.
"I felt my teaching impacted students, and my people skills and ability to communicate with [others throughout] the building lent themselves to leadership," explained Thomas. "So I took advantage of leadership opportunities that came my way — chairing committees, sponsoring clubs, mentoring teachers, etc."
He transitioned easily, he said, because leadership "focused on students — I still love the classroom and miss teaching." He enjoyed instructing because of the intrinsic rewards: "Making small decisions and seeing the direct impact a teacher can have on a child or group of children."
Thomas saw the positive difference he could make, affecting the rest of their lives, and was pleased to be able to work with a broad range of students. In May 2002, he became a subschool principal of more than 500 students at Westfield, while Campbell was assistant principal and Dale Rumberger, principal.
Excited about the change, Thomas was familiar with the community and teachers and was happy to expand his knowledge of school operations including staffing, scheduling and finance. Then when Rumberger left to open South County High in May 2004, Campbell became Westfield principal and Thomas, lead assistant principal.
As such, Thomas handled finance, master scheduling and management of the Westfield's summit program — an alternative-education arrangement for certain students within the school. He acted as principal in Campbell's absence, requisitioned furniture and supplies and helped with the overall co-management of the building.
"Both Dale and Mike empowered [those under them] and I also like to empower people and mobilize them to be effective within their given capacity," said Thomas. So when Campbell's job came open, he was prepared and ready to apply.
"I SAW AN opportunity and wasn't afraid to take advantage of it," he explained. "I felt confident that the school could benefit from the continuity and stability. I felt I had established myself as a viable candidate for the position, given my positive range of experience within the school, and I'd also established and maintained a positive relationship with school [personnel] and the community."
Thomas called his ability to speak a second language "icing on the cake," and he's happy to also reach out to non-English-language speakers. As he tossed his hat in the ring, he said, "I felt tremendous support from the school, staff and community and was very flattered. It was touching and much appreciated."
Since Campbell's departure, Westfield hasn't missed a beat, thanks to Thomas functioning as the school's unofficial acting principal before the formal announcement. He continued staffing and equipping the building — and scheduling and coordinating whatever needed tending to — in preparation for the upcoming school year and Westfield's expected 3,244 students.
"It's full steam ahead," he said. "It's been a very active summer, with the pending completion of the addition." He's been shepherding through the three-story, 24-room, brick-and-mortar addition that'll provide much-needed classroom space for this ever-growing school and anticipates it to be ready for occupancy this month.
Now that he's at the helm, Thomas doesn't plan any radical changes for the school. "Westfield has distinguished itself as an outstanding institution for learning, and I plan to continue the tradition and uphold the standards of 'Excellence in all Endeavors,'" he said. "It's the way we operate here. We support the teachers, counselors, coaches and administrators and really do try to excel in all endeavors."
However, he added, "I hope to give it a little taste of Thomas — focused on continued collaboration among staff, continued unyielding commitment to students and continued partnership with parents and the community. Effective leadership comes from open communication, honesty and respect."
Thomas also intends to uphold the school's high academic standards, plus competitive and successful art and athletic programs, in addition to "offering students from all backgrounds a variety of ways in which to become involved in and be a part of Westfield."
He believes in "holding kids accountable, making them go a little beyond their comfort level and providing them with support so they can achieve their goals." And he leads by example. Said Thomas: "No job is too dirty and no goal unattainable."
WITH HIS extensive administrative experience and knowledge of the school, he feels "well-prepared to take over the leadership at Westfield High" and is looking forward to the start of school.
Thomas expects the toughest part of his new position will be meeting the demands of the job while being a good husband and father. But he believes his positive outlook and Westfield's capable and talented faculty and staff will see him through.
"I constantly reflect on my leadership and the effect I have on people," he explained. "And what I ask of those around me is that they reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses. Then we can capitalize on our strengths and strive to improve on our weaknesses."
Thomas also anticipates great satisfaction in his post. "I get so much energy from being around kids and teachers, working with parents and taking advantage of resources," he said. "There are so many things of a positive nature about this school and the intrinsic rewards of helping a student make a life-changing decision, recognizing academic achievement and celebrating success in arts and athletics."