Fairland Middle School chief gets ready for new opportunities

Published 9:56 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ROME TOWNSHIP — It’s not an end to something at all. Instead it more like a change of venue. That’s how Mike Whitley looks at his upcoming retirement as Fairland Middle School principal

“It’s another chapter in my life,” Whitley said. “I’m not a person who can sit on the porch and watch life go by.”

For the past 13 years, Whitley has lead the staff and students at the middle school, drawing on his years as not just a teacher but also a coach.

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“One of the things that has helped me the most is an athletic background and the organizational skills,” he said. “The fact that you are coaching, you analyze what you have done and come back and correct it and put it to the test again.”

His first job after earning his elementary education degree at Marshall University was teaching sixth grade at the Fairland district along with the duties of assistant football coach at the high school and middle school track coach.

During that period, he also went back to Marshall to earn a certification to work with students with learning disabilities.

“I have always had an interest in working with kids who have challenges and struggles,” Whitley said. “Some kids who come through will be fine in life. They have families, resources and intelligence. Then there are those who don’t have all of those things. Those are the kids I hope I have had a bit of influence on.”

As much as Whitley enjoyed the give and take of educating youth in the classroom, he also envisioned taking on a deeper leadership role at the Fairland district.

That is why in 1985 he went back to Marshall again to work on his master’s in administration.

“I always felt that was a place I wanted to be,” he said. “It was something I felt I could do. It is a challenging position and I like challenges.”

Whitley had already gotten his feet wet as an administrator working as a substitute assistant principal at the high school. But after more than a decade in the job, Whitley still never spends a day being bored.

“One thing about this job is that every day you walk in here, you don’t know what is coming,” he said. “You become involved with families, trying to help families, people faced with challenges. You don’t go in having all the answers. You acquire knowledge as you go through the process.”

As a next door neighbor former Chesapeake schools superintendent Dan Russell watched Whitley grow up. The principal’s success doesn’t surprise Russell.

“He comes from a good family,” Russell said. “He was a good kid. He cares about kids.”

It’s promoting the school’s academic program and finding leadership and community service opportunities for the students are accomplishments he is most proud of as he looks over his career.

“But this is not my accomplishment as much as it is my staff,” Whitley said. “I am very fortunate to have worked with committed teachers.”