Ashburn, Va. (September 4, 2014) – Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder.
Simply stated, John Duellman, the first principal of Rock Ridge High School, missed the creative chaos of a school building during the year he planned for Rock Ridge’s opening on September 2.
“It’s gotten me hungrier to be back among students. The other day (Flight Night) when we had a full, crazy building, running around and making decisions…that’s what I’ve been waiting for. That kind of managed, crazy chaos that an awesome high school supplies. It’s what I’ve been waiting for.”
Not that Duellman hasn’t experienced some chaos with Rock Ridge’s condensed construction schedule. “It’s been crazy. It’s been fun. The energy of the community and the energy of the staff has really helped this push along to the finish line.”
What waited at the end of the crazy trail was well worth the journey, Duellman added.
“It’s humbling to come into a building like this. I do the classic ‘I’m not worthy’ thing. How was I so fortunate in my career to have this opportunity? I try to impart that to our staff and students; how fortunate they are…to be part of something this great. It’s the most exciting thing. I’ve enjoyed every single minute of it, even the stressful parts. Granted, there have been stressful parts. For a building to go from dirt to this in 15 months, it’s nothing short of a miracle.”
Rock Ridge will draw its student body mainly from Briar Woods High School with a lesser number of students coming from Broad Run and John Champe high schools and Stone Hill and Eagle Ridge middle schools. Leaving established, successful schools is never easy. Duellman said the Rock Ridge students he’s talked to are unanimous in the reason they’re happy to make this transition.
“The word is ‘opportunity.’
“‘I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to try out for a sport I thought I’d never try out for. An opportunity to run for class office when I never thought I would. To start a club from ground level, to start a school from ground level; to take leadership roles.’ They’re grasping it. They’re excited about it.
“That’s what I feel, the excitement of the kids. The opportunity in life – in the short time period that high school is – to grab and go for it. It’s fantastic.”
Rock Ridge will open with just under 800 students, half its capacity. Duellman said this will allow for emotional growth to be followed by later growth in the number of students attending the school.
“What it allows you to do is get that personalized feel. What I’ve said to teachers from day one is ‘Make sure everything has that personalized feeling. Whether it’s how we greet them in the hallway or greet them in the classroom to the instruction.’”
The Phoenix is Rock Ridge’s mascot. Duellman defined what characteristics a Rock Ridge Phoenix should have.
“A Phoenix is defined as a risk-taker; somebody who takes educated risks. They aren’t afraid of a challenge. They aren’t afraid of failure. If and when they do fail, they learn from it. They get back up and they rise up.”
Helping students rise is a handpicked faculty Duellman has chosen during the past year. This staff has all the characteristics their principal wanted in a faculty.
“I’ve got it all. I’ve been very fortunate to find experienced teachers, people who have been leaders at other schools, people who have been recognized at the local and state level for the things they’ve accomplished. I have people in doctoral programs. I have all of the above.
“I have diversity on our staff, which I am very, very proud of. It’s always my goal that our staff reflects the community we are in; we’re not far off. That’s something to be proud of.”
Duellman comes to Rock Ridge after serving four years as the principal of Mercer Middle School. Before that he served as an assistant principal (2002-2009) and English teacher (1997-2002) at Potomac Falls High School.
Duellman and his wife, Amy (a professional swim coach) have three sons (attending J. Lupton Simpson Middle School and Sycolin Creek Elementary). His family gives him something especially important, Duellman said. “Something I impart to our faculty all the time is perspective; finding balance in our lives. It’s hard to do right now, opening the building…Kids and family help you maintain perspective on what’s important…
“I have a great time with my kids.”
With sports and fishing expeditions, Duellman’s private life can sometimes be just as chaotic as his professional one. “That’s the crazy chaos that I have at home and that I embrace here at school. I enjoy every minute of it.”