Since becoming principal of Westfield High two years ago, Mike Campbell has truly enjoyed himself. He already had lots of friends there, the school's piled up awards and achievements and he's loved being at the helm.
So it wasn't easy for him to tell his faculty and staff, Monday afternoon, that he's going to be leaving them to become Centreville High's new principal. And making the decision to go was just as tough.
"Westfield is a great place — a great school and faculty and a supportive community," said Campbell, 47. "The issue was not to leave Westfield; the bigger issue was to go to Centreville."
As of April 1, Centreville lost its principal, Peter Noonan, after his promotion to assistant superintendent of Cluster VII schools. A few weeks later, Campbell submitted his application for the job.
"I've lived in Little Rocky Run — in the Centreville [High] community since 1987," he explained. "Centreville's a great school, too, with great people and a wonderful community. And I wanted to be able to give back to that school and community. I've coached SYA Little League baseball, soccer and basketball, and these are my friends and neighbors [who attend Centreville]."
Besides that, Campbell's two sons will go to Centreville. In the fall, Hunter will be a seventh-grader at Liberty Middle, just up the street, and Chris will be a Centreville freshman. And this, too, also played a part in Campbell's decision.
"My dad was my principal for grades seven through 11, and we lived in the school community in Rockbridge County in the Shenandoah Valley," he said. "And I really enjoyed it."
But before deciding to leave Westfield, said Campbell, he first talked to several principals whose children were in the same situation. He spoke with Cluster VIII assistant superintendent Betsy Goodman, whose son Doug attended Marshall High while she was principal. And he talked with Robinson Principal Danny Meier, whose children go there, and with Jaime Meier, an elementary-school principal whose children attend his school.
And, said Campbell, "Every principal I talked to said the best times of their lives in education were when they were with their sons and daughters in school."
Noting that the job of high-school principal is quite demanding, to do it well, he said, "You need to be at all the activities and events at the school." So him being at Westfield activities and his sons participating in events at Centreville would have been tough for him.
Campbell said it would be similar to being the PTSA president who's "raising money and doing everything to make your school a better place, but your own kid goes to another school. And I didn't want to let that happen. Also, it's kind of scary thinking you've only got your child four more years and then they're gone."
ACTUALLY, moving over to Centreville will be like going home for Campbell, since he was a subschool principal there from 1997-2000. He then left to open the new high school, Westfield, as an assistant principal. And when its principal, Dale Rumberger, left to open the new South County High School, Campbell took over the reins at Westfield. He was named principal there on May 20, 2004.
He's always been popular there with students, staff and faculty. And last December, in recognition of all his hard work, he received the Nancy F. Sprague First-Year Administrator award as Fairfax County's 2006 outstanding first-year principal.
Then Noonan left Centreville, and Campbell tossed his hat into the ring. On Monday morning, he was officially offered the job. He said the news didn't come as a complete surprise to his Westfield colleagues. "They had a feeling," said Campbell. "Although I didn't advertise it, I answered honestly if they asked me [if I was considering that post]."
But it didn't make it any easier to tell them for sure at the staff meeting. "I've worked with some of those people for over 25 years," he said. "Betsy Goodman and I worked together from 1994-97 at Marshall High when she was principal and I was DSA [director of student activities]."
"The two best men at my wedding were [Westfield DSA] Francis Dall and [Bulldog football coach] Tom Verbanic," continued Campbell. "I credit Francis with a lot of my success; he brought me to Fairfax County and lined up job interviews for me. And Tom and I were roommates for four years before I got married."
HE ALSO recalled a 2-year-old girl whose mother often brought her to school in 1981 when he was a teacher at Western Albemarle High. That child is Kylie McKeag, who's now a special-ed teacher at Westfield. In addition, 10 teachers who were with Campbell at Centreville also migrated to Westfield.
So Monday was a "very emotional day," he said, but Westfield's faculty and staff were understanding and supportive of his decision. "It's almost like a family," he said. "We talked about how we opened Westfield and our vision for it. We've experienced a lot of success, and it's directly attributable to the faculty and staff."
As for his biggest accomplishments there, said Campbell, "It wasn't winning that first-year principal award; it was knowing that all the department chairs thought enough of me to nominate me for that."
Westfield's motto and goal has always been "Success in all endeavors — academics, arts and athletics." And, said Campbell, "That's what we did, but it was a team effort. People enjoy going to work here every day. And like Lou Gehrig, I feel I was the 'luckiest man alive' to be able to work with so many good people."
And he hasn't minded a bit following in the shoes of immensely successful leaders, such as Rumberger at Westfield and, now, Noonan at Centreville. "I've found that, when you follow people who've had successful programs, all you have to do is continue them and add to them," said Campbell. "And Centreville's already a very good school."