It wasn’t easy for Ellen Butler. For the past few weeks, she knew something her husband Bruce Butler didn’t — he had been named the 2007 Outstanding First-Year Principal.
But the school system planned to announce the award during a surprise celebration.
“I’m just glad the cat’s out of the bag,” said Ellen Butler moments before her husband’s arrival last Thursday in a crowded media room at South Lakes High School filled with family members, teachers, administrators and students.
STILL, OTHERS wondered if he might have suspected something.
But any doubts flew out the window when Bruce Butler turned the corner. With glazed eyes and a dropped jaw, he took slow and cautious steps into the room. A smile soon replaced his look of astonishment.
“It’s always fun to do this to principals,” said Jack D. Dale, superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, as he stood with Butler. “You’re being honored. Do you know what for?”
“I do now,” said Butler, which caused a wave of laughter. “I guess I wasn’t supposed to meet with the police chief.”
Dale praised Butler for his “hands-on approach,” willing to go the extra mile to maintain high academic success during South Lakes’ multi-million dollar renovations. “I think he’s done a stellar job here,” said Dale.
Butler, who has developed a strong relationship with the surrounding community, was nominated for the award by the South Lakes PTSA.
Since taking the reins a year and a half ago, Butler has held community meetings to solicit feedback from parents to help keep student achievement on track.
According to parents and teachers, morale at the school is as high as it’s ever been despite the renovations, which have not been easy on teachers and students.
DURING THE CEREMONY, Butler credited the greater school community for its support. “For me, this is about everyone here,” said Butler, who started at South Lakes in 1998 as an assistant principal. “You are the ones who do all the work. The sky’s the limit for South Lakes.”
He has led several new programs at the school, including a positive behavior support system designed to instill pride among students. He also helped initiate the Brain Bowl with cross-town rival Herndon High School, which has been another boost to school pride.
Butler, who is ubiquitous at after-school events, is often referred to as the school’s biggest cheerleader — something Dale has noticed through Butler’s frequent lobbying for additional funding.
Dale said he often agrees to the requests, “and my arm’s not even broken.”
Near the end of the ceremony, a member of the South Lakes staff presented Ellen Butler with a bouquet of roses. “Because we know the first year was just as hard for her,” said Debbie Walker, lead administrative assistant.
The first-year administrator award is named for Nancy F. Sprague, an assistant superintendent who died suddenly in 2003.