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Melissa White jokes that the trip from her home to Stonehouse Elementary School is one of the longest commutes she has had.
The new Stonehouse principal lives closer to Rawls Byrd Elementary School in James City County, and that closeness has defined her relationship with the Williamsburg area.
White grew up in Williamsburg and attended Williamsburg-James City County Schools. She said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher. After graduating from Lafayette High School, White studied education at Longwood University.
During her time at Longwood, White trained to work with students from nursery school through eighth grade, but found she was most interested in working with younger students.
With that dream in her mind, White’s first job was challenging. She was hired for a job as an eighth-grade science teacher in Hampton, which was close to her home at the time, but far from her expertise.
“It was hard at first, but I stuck with it and ended up loving it,” White said.
White spent four years in Hampton before moving to a new position in Smithfield. Dissatisfied with her commute, White started to think of home again.
She applied for a job in WJCC schools and was offered a position at James Blair Middle School in 2006 and stayed there for four years.
In 2010, the school division opened Lois S. Hornsby Middle School and shuttered James Blair to convert it into administrative offices. Right around that time, White said she started to consider moving into an administrative position.
She enrolled in the College of William & Mary’s School of Education and began working toward a degree in educational policy, planning and leadership.
After receiving her degree, White applied for an administrative position in WJCC and was hired as an assistant principal at Rawls Byrd Elementary School. The job was special for two reasons: It was her first administrative position, and Rawls Byrd was where her father had gone to elementary school.
White said she enjoyed her time at Rawls Byrd, buoyed by her own connections to the school and its reputation as a neighborhood school. After three years at Rawls Byrd, White applied for and was hired at Stonehouse.
White’s career to date has focused on younger students, and she is continuing that trend at Stonehouse.
“I’m certified to work with students from eighth grade to nursery school, and I just love working with them,” she said. “They’re still excited at that age.”
Building off a practice she started while at Rawls Byrd, White said she makes an effort to get to know her students outside the walls of her office.
“I do lots of moving around the building, going into classrooms or into the cafeteria at lunchtime,” she said. “I also try to meet with them at other things. A lot of the students at Rawls Byrd swam, so I would make an effort to go to their swim meets.”
White said she approaches her job through a student’s eye, but she also relies on her staff and their experiences. While she was at James Blair, White worked with teachers she had as a student, and got to learn the other side of the classroom.
White said she sometimes misses the classroom, but she hopes to be at Stonehouse for the long haul.
“Fifteen years from now, hopefully I’m still in this office,” White said.