Cheerleader in Chief Has Earned Some Fans

Dale Rumberger has been principal at South County Secondary since it was under construction. The Lorton school opened in 2005.
Dale Rumberger has been principal at South County Secondary since it was under construction. The Lorton school opened in 2005. (2004 Photo By Jonathan Ernst For The Washington Post)

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By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

South County Secondary School Principal Dale Rumberger spends plenty of time in the classrooms and hallways of the Lorton school.

But he also can be spotted in the stands at field hockey and football games. He's a regular at lacrosse games, too. And if students are putting on a play or a concert, he's likely to be there.

"He's a fixture at this school," said Elizabeth Bradsher, a South County parent. "He's invested in every aspect of the school. He cheers the teams on, and when it's a nail-biter, he's biting his nails."

Rumberger's dedication to South County Secondary is one reason he was selected as one of 18 area administrators to receive The Washington Post's Distinguished Educational Leadership Award.

As South County's first principal, Rumberger oversaw the school's opening in 2005, hiring teachers and even selecting desks and chairs to order. Five years earlier, he had opened Westfield High School in Chantilly.

He is known for taking the time to talk to students in the hallways, cafeteria and classrooms and meeting with student leaders. Rumberger tells students he expects everyone will take an Advanced Placement or honors class before graduation.

"The role Mr. Rumberger has played at South County, taking a brand new school and transforming it into an already blooming academic powerhouse, has been amazing," Jay Rowley, president of the Student Government Association, wrote in a letter supporting Rumberger's nomination for the award.

Rumberger started his career with Fairfax County schools in 1976 as a drama teacher at Lake Braddock Secondary School. He later was director of student activities at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the district's elite magnet school. He went on to serve as principal at Chantilly High School before moving to Westfield in 1999.

He said he works to push students to excel academically and encourages them to try other activities, such as sports, drama and writing for the school newspaper or literary magazine.

"Extracurriculars give kids an opportunity to stretch and bend and excel and even sometimes fail," he said. "I don't care if it's the academic team or the football team . . . or the band. All of that is growth."

This year, Rumberger helped students launch a partnership with the organizers of the nearby Cold War Museum. The students will conduct interviews for an oral history project to help preserve personal recollections of such events as the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis.

Rumberger said he felt like the "Forrest Gump of principals" when the museum and high school hosted a conference to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Polish and Hungarian uprisings against the Soviet Union and communism. Sergei Khrushchev, son of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, attended.

"Did I ever think the son of the Soviet premier would be talking to my students?" he asked. "No way."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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