It may be uncommon to see a young principal, fresh from just four years in the classroom, but it isn’t out of the question.
After four years of teaching history and government at Lincoln County High School, Bartow native Dustin Lambert was ready for a change of pace.
“Sometimes you see the bad of administration and sometimes you see the good,” Lambert said. “I’ve worked under good administration. I’ve worked under bad administration and I’ve always felt, as a teacher, your influence is sometimes limited – the influence you can have over a school or the decision making process. So, I worked closely with the principal on the leadership team in Lincoln County High School and became really familiar with administration.”
Lambert pursued a master’s degree in education from Salem International University and set his sights on becoming a principal.
“I just felt like I could make a difference,” he said. “I know that’s kind of cliché and that’s what everyone says, but it’s so true. You see education in a different perspective. You see education from a different level. It’s a whole new playing field now, and I like that I can see it in that regard.”
While he is going to miss being in the classroom, Lambert said he was ready for the next chapter. A chapter he didn’t realize would begin so quickly.
Lambert came back to Pocahontas County this summer as coordinator of the Energy Express program and found himself as the new principal at Marlinton Middle School.
During a visit to the board office, Lambert noticed the posting for MMS principal and decided to apply.
“I had been encouraged by my principal to apply for positions, no matter what it was, didn’t matter if they said ‘no’ in a heartbeat, just the interview itself was experience, so he encouraged me to get interview experience,” Lambert said. “I had no idea the committee was going to go in this direction. It happened so quickly which has caused some of the overwhelming nature of it. I was not expecting it, but I’m so humbled. I am so humbled by this opportunity. I really am. It’s wonderful and I’m grateful to the board of education and the hiring committee.”
It’s been a whirlwind of a summer as Lambert found himself balancing Energy Express, moving back to Pocahontas County and preparing for a new year at a new school as the new principal.
Aside from the somewhat hectic nature of the transition, Lambert said he is ready for the new year and hopes to gain the school’s and the community’s trust.
He wants to open the lines of communication and instill that a strong relationship between the parents and the school will make each student’s educational experience successful.
“I believe one of the most important stakeholders in education is our parents and we have to get them into the school,” Lambert said. “I do have a very strong goal of finding avenues of getting parents into our school on a routine basis so we don’t just build a wall where there is a divide between the schoolhouse and the house, the home.”
Lambert wants to strengthen communication through the PTO and parent involvement programs at the school.
“One of my ultimate goals is to get parents more involved in the educational process because if parents value education, I believe their children will value education,” he said. “I really believe that.”
Lambert also wants to focus on improving attendance and find ways to get students to invest in being at school.
Prior to his official first day as principal, Lambert said several members of the staff sought him out to introduce themselves – an easy feat when he was at Marlinton Elementary School for his “summer job.”
“They’ve come to me,” he said. “I’ve had several teachers come in MES here and just say, ‘hey, this is who I am. We’re really excited you’re here with us, and we just wanted to introduce ourselves to you.’ I knew some of them from the time I was a substitute teacher, but I never worked with them in the capacity of education, full-time.”
Lambert is looking forward to meeting the entire MMS staff and working together to make 2016-2017 a great school year.
While some may be hesitant to work with such a young principal, Lambert is the first to say he feels capable and ready to be a principal. He may look young, but he has the wisdom to carry a school.
“I know I’m extremely young to be a principal,” he said. “I’m honored, again, to be in this position and I do feel like I’m fully capable to do this job. There have been some people who are doubting, but I want to prove them wrong, show them that I do have the abilities and I have the degree and the education to do this.”
It may be easier to convince the adults than the students, as evidenced by one of Lambert’s interactions with a boy at Energy Express.
“I sat down to eat with him at the lunch table and he was excited about me eating with him,” Lambert recalled. “He said he had an older cousin at the middle school and I said, ‘you know your older cousin is getting a new principal, right?’ He stopped eating and said, ‘yeah, but we don’t know who it is.’ I said, ‘well, you’re looking at him.’ He stopped what he was doing and I’ll never forget what he said – ‘you’re a grownup?’
“I will never forget that as long as I live,” he continued. “That’s one of the best comments so far in my experience of being a principal already. I’m a grownup, yes I am.”
After convincing everyone he is indeed an adult, the next step for Lambert is to convince everyone he is now a Copperhead.
Despite the fact he went to Green Bank Elementary-Middle School and was a Golden Eagle, the “rivals” of the Copperheads, Lambert said the school and the community has already embraced him with open arms, making him feel right at home.
“I’m transitioning from Barboursville here to the Marlinton area and people have been so generous to offer moving help,” he said. “People have asked if they can help me get moved into my office. The teachers and staff here have just been wonderful. They really have. The other principals in the county have been such an asset to me already.
“Joe Riley [former MMS principal] has been such a support of this from day one,” he continued. “He’s such a wealth of knowledge. He really is. He’s been at that middle school for nine years. He knows that school like the back of his hand. Why would I not rely on him?”
While he is from the county, Lambert never spent a lot of time in Marlinton and he is looking forward to learning more about the area and learning to combine his Golden Eagle roots with his new Copperhead branches.
“For me to be a Copperhead now instead of a Golden Eagle is a whole new world,” he said, laughing. “It’s a whole new perspective for me. I’ve got the orange on. It’s actually my favorite color so it works out well. The whole school is in orange so it works out great for me. I’m just really excited to see this side of Pocahontas County.”