The way Mike Campbell figures it, his retirement will last all of 24 hours. Centreville High’s principal is leaving the school, this summer, and heading for a new job with Huntsville City Public Schools in Alabama.
"I will retire from Fairfax County on July 1 and start there, July 2," he said. Campbell will take the helm at one of the city’s five high schools and, in Alabama, school begins Aug. 1.
He’s worked 31 years in Virginia and 29 years for Fairfax County Public Schools. "You need 25 years in the county and five years in the state to retire," said Campbell. "But I wanted to stay through this school year because my son Hunter’s a senior [at Centreville] this year and will graduate."
His older son, Chris, also a Centreville grad, is a sophomore at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., playing baseball and studying math and special education. So, said Campbell, "Both my kids will have graduated and will be in college, so now is the opportune time to retire."
He and his wife Becky married and moved to this area in 1987. Campbell taught health and P.E. for 10 years at Fairfax High, while being an athletic trainer and coaching three sports there. He then served four years as Marshal High’s athletic director.
A resident of Little Rocky Run by then, he’d drive past Centreville High every day while it was being built. "I thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to work there someday,’" said Campbell. "It was my dream. I applied there in 1994 for athletic director and didn’t get it, but Principal Pam Latt hired me as an assistant principal. She told me, ‘I think you’re going to be a principal someday.’"
And he was. After four years at Centreville, Principal Dale Rumberger handpicked him to open Westfield High with him as an assistant principal. He held that position four years, becoming principal when Rumberger left to open South County High.
Campbell was Westfield’s principal for two years and was honored by FCPS as First-Year Principal of the Year in 2004. But when Chris was about to enter Centreville as a freshman and the principal’s post there came open, Campbell left Westfield so he could lead the school his sons would attend. He joined the Wildcats in 2006 and is now in his sixth year there.
He’d already planned to retire when the 2011-12 school year ended and, for the past two years, a headhunter from a search company had been contacting him about principal job openings in places such as Chicago and New Jersey.
But, said Campbell, "I wanted to retire in an economy where I could make the most of my money and in a place where I wanted to live — in the South, fairly close to water."
Then came the opportunity in Huntsville. He’d never been in Alabama before but, when he went there in December for his interview, everything clicked.
"They have a beautiful beach, Gulf Shores, and the cost of living’s great," said Campbell. "I could buy two houses there for the cost of one here. They offered me the job, Dec. 4, but I wanted to bring my family there to check it out."
So the first weekend in January, he and his family attended a cookout with school-system officials and administrators in Huntsville. "There’s a new superintendent there, and he and I got along really well," said Campbell. "And my family loved the area." So Campbell made his decision — but it was an educated one.
"The climate’s warmer and, the more I researched it, the more I began thinking fate was telling me to go there," he said. "For example, three weeks ago, the brother of my assistant principal, Carla Hogan, was hired as U.S. public defender for the City of Huntsville. And people there refer to themselves as the ‘mini Fairfax County.’ Like Northern Virginia, they separate themselves from the rest of the state."
Huntsville is also nicknamed the Rocket City, since NASA’s located there. And, said Campbell, like Fairfax County, "It has lots of engineers and government employees. It’s got great demographics and has the fourth-lowest tax bracket in the country. And it’s listed by Forbes as one of the best places to retire."
He also enjoyed meeting and talking with the people there and found them friendly and welcoming. "I’m from a small town in the Shenandoah Valley, and the people in Huntsville reminded me of them," he said. "They’re warm and genuine, and that’s very appealing."
"I love the Centreville/Clifton area and the school, job and people here," continued Campbell. "My kids were born and raised here, and I cherish the friendships I’ve developed over the years. But I just turned 53 and I feel I’m still young and energetic enough to start another career."
For awhile, however, he and his wife Becky will have a long-distance marriage. She’s the SGA advisor at Chantilly High and still has four years before she can retire. "She’d lose a lot of benefits and money if she left early," said Campbell. "So we’ll keep the house here and just fly back and forth."
Meanwhile, another quirk of fate will give him a roof over his head in Alabama. "Dan Mellies, a former student of mine and baseball coach at Centreville, is on the police force in Huntsville," said Campbell. "He and his wife just built a new house and will rent me their old one until we decide where we want to live."
However, he’s already decided which college football team to root for there. "They told me I had to choose between Alabama and Auburn," said Campbell. "Roll Tide!"