Chad Lehman has been Centreville High’s principal since mid-January, and he came with almost 18 years’ experience as a teacher and administrator in Fairfax County schools and the FCPS central office. He’s also delighted to be a Wildcat.
“I found out in December that I got the job and I was excited,” he said. “It’s a wonderful school in a fantastic community. And it’s a great opportunity for me to return to high-school level.”
Actually, growing up in central Pennsylvania, Lehman initially wanted to be a baseball player or a professional fisherman. Then he decided to become an athletic trainer and, in 1997, he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Sports Medicine from Penn State.
“But while in grad school at JMU, I was a teaching assistant and realized I enjoyed teaching,” he said. So in 2000, he received a Master of Science in Health Science, plus a teaching license. Lehman then taught health and P.E. at Harrisonburg High for a year.
Coming to Fairfax County in summer 2001, he taught those same subjects at Chantilly High – including a sports-medicine elective and a student-leadership class – until 2004, when he became the school’s assistant director of student activities until February 2007.
“I liked the interaction with the students, plus the ability to help them learn and help guide their future,” said Lehman. “And while there, I was always involved outside the classroom. As an athletic trainer, I took care of sports medicine for the athletes.”
He coached wrestling and was the SGA sponsor at Chantilly. “I liked being involved in student life and supporting students, both in and out of the classroom,” he explained. “And that’s one thing I like about being a principal – you get to see students in many aspects of their lives.”
IN EARLY 2007, Lehman became an instructional specialist for the school system’s central office. “At the central office, I saw things through a countywide lens and had a larger impact,” he said. “I learned a lot, but I missed being in a school. That’s where the energy is, and you have a direct impact on kids and staff.”
So in 2008, he obtained a Master of Education in Education Leadership from GMU. He wanted to lead, guide and serve a school at the administrative level; and in November 2009, he was named assistant principal at South Lakes High.
“One of the biggest things I learned there was to never give up on students,” said Lehman. “As an assistant principal, you’re regularly working with students who need additional support – social, emotional and academic. They might have family struggles, have limited English and maybe have to work; they have so many challenges. You also learn how complex these large high schools are when you take on an administrative role.” (Centreville’s current enrollment is about 2,570 students).
Then in July 2014, he became principal of Luther Jackson Middle School. “I learned it takes a tremendous team effort to lead a school forward, and it’s important to work collaboratively with the staff to see student growth,” explained Lehman. “We made good progress there, and I was proud of the work we were doing.”
But when former Centreville Principal Dave Jagels left to become FCPS Region 5 Executive Principal, Lehman applied for his post. “It was appealing because I had the itch to return to high-school level,” he said. “What I love about Centreville is that this school serves a real mix of students. There’s a high level of diversity – ethnically, economically and culturally.”
And Lehman’s “inspired and motivated” to work together with the staff for the good of all those students. “Centreville is a great school with a supportive community, and we’re poised to take our programs to the next level,” he said. “We have to continue working hard to keep moving forward because we want to be the best school in the area.”
And while it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Luther Jackson, helping was the fact that he and his family – wife Nikki, a Chantilly High English teacher, and sons Cameron, 6, and Alex, 4-1/2 – live in Centreville. So being the Wildcats’ principal allows Lehman to serve his local community. And, he added, “The job is demanding of your time – particularly with all the evening events – so living here allows me to strike that balance between home and work.”
He said he received a “fantastic welcome,” too. “This school has a caring culture and a hardworking staff that cares about meeting students’ needs,” said Lehman. “So I’ve enjoyed learning about the work happening here and meeting members of the community.”
His three areas of focus are:
“Ensuring we have a positive, caring, school culture where people feel welcome and we’re always respectful;
Having high-quality, tier-one instruction – the day-to-day classroom lessons to engage student learning; and
Encouraging teachers working together to plan instruction, do assessments and talk about student needs. That collaboration becomes part of our school culture and how we operate – and that makes us stronger as a staff.”
SINCE COMING TO CENTREVILLE, he’s been working on a “clear, instructional vision for the school.” It’s important, he said, because, “Next year, all students will have their own laptops. So we have to make sure teachers feel prepared to adapt their instruction based upon the increasing technology.”
Noting that he’s had great mentors who’ve helped him improve his skills, Lehman wants “to establish a school environment where teachers feel inspired by the work happening in this school. And it’s my job to make sure systems are in place to allow that work to happen effectively.”
He said today’s high schools are “like running a corporation – which also makes it exciting. On any day, you’re dealing with discipline, human resources, instruction, budget, plus students’ social and emotional wellness. So you have to build a strong team and stay focused on doing the right work for students.”
Also tough, said Lehman, is balancing everything that must be accomplished for the school’s betterment. “And not everyone agrees on them, so finding consensus on that is a challenge,” he said.
Lehman’s greatest satisfaction is “seeing students succeed in their own way, whatever that is. I love being at graduation, looking out and seeing that pride on the faces of students and their families. And knowing we were a big part of getting those grads to that point is very rewarding.”
Additionally, he likes supporting teachers and other school leaders in their professional growth and development. After all, said Lehman, “We’re educators, and we’re in the business of continuous learning.”