For One Principal, Goodbye And Hello

School Board Chairman Mary
School Board Chairman Mary "Mollie" Danforth, left, and secondary programs chief Margaret Walsh welcome Mel Riddile to T.C. Williams. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2006

The next principal of Alexandria's T.C. Williams High School is the current head of Fairfax County's J.E.B. Stuart High School, Alexandria school officials announced yesterday.

Mel Riddile, who was recently named principal of the year by MetLife and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, will take over from John Porter in July.

Holding a Titans T-shirt as he was introduced yesterday, Riddile, 55, invoked his working-class youth in Burgettstown, a western Pennsylvania industrial town of Polish and Italian immigrants. Noting that both T.C. Williams and Stuart have highly diverse student populations, he said, "I never looked for an opportunity to leave that kind of school, because that's the kind of world I grew up in."

Riddile stressed the importance of giving children of all achievement levels the opportunity to take as many Advanced Placement courses as possible. He said that he would emphasize literacy and that he is a fan of technology initiatives such as T.C. Williams's program to issue laptop computers to each student.

The search for a new principal for T.C. Williams began more than a year ago, when it was announced that Porter, principal there since 1984, would become the district's assistant superintendent of public affairs. But months went by without a replacement being named, and Porter agreed to stay in the post for another year.

The change comes at a turning point for the school, which is being rebuilt and is set to join a recent trend in which large high schools are divided into smaller learning communities where students get more individual attention.

Riddile, who said he will be retiring with a pension from Fairfax schools, said T.C. Williams's new building was an element that attracted him.

"To open up a new school like that, that's always been my dream," he said.

A former football linebacker at the University of North Carolina, Riddile has been a school administrator since 1974 and worked for the Fairfax school system for 25 years. In the 1980s, he worked for a company called Straight Inc., a controversial tough-love drug abuse rehabilitation program for adolescents.

At Stuart, he has been lauded for reducing absenteeism and raising reading levels and SAT scores. He is known for initiatives such as a program that places automatically dialed wake-up calls to chronically late students.

In Fairfax, news of Riddile's departure came as a surprise.

"I guess they made him an offer he can't refuse," said Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier, who added that he had no inkling of Riddile's plans.

"It's certainly a loss to us," he said, noting that under Riddile's stewardship Stuart High School had been featured in a National Geographic article on immigrant students and had hosted a visit from President Bush. "T.C. is getting a national figure."

Riddile's new salary will be $133,000, which is $5,600 more than his current salary and is commensurate with what Porter would have earned had he stayed. Porter's new position has been expanded to include overseeing food services, transportation and facilities.

Porter applauded the appointment. "I feel really good that Mel's coming in, and I look forward to working with him in the transition time," he said.

Patrick Welsh, a longtime English teacher at T.C. Williams, added, "Teachers are excited that he has national stature, and he will have the independence to run the school as he sees fit."

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