The wait is over and Marsha Manning's office is full of balloons, congratulatory cards and food. Manning, the 7th-grade principal at , has been named the principal of the yet-to-be-named South County Middle School.
"I'm thrilled, excited and honored that Fairfax County Public Schools and Dr. Ivey have that much confidence to give me the opportunity as a leader to open a new middle school," Manning told Patch from her office. "I am humbled by the outpouring of tremendous support from the staff and the county. That's part of what inspires me to do this."
There were 24 candidates for the position, and the decision was made by Frances Ivey, assistant superintendent for Cluster V.
"[Manning] is a very strong leader, and she works well with collaborative teams," Ivey said. "I felt that she had experience at South County Secondary School, but has also had experience as an administrator with a stand-alone middle school."
Dan Storck, the Mount Vernon School Board representative, is happy with the choice. "I'm looking forward to working with her," he said. "She's done a wonderful job at South County, and everyone is very excited. The next challenge will be naming the middle school. Just like if it's your baby or your school, a name lasts forever."
Jane Lipp is the principal of South County Secondary, and has worked with Manning since the school opened. "It's very good news," she said. "We were here when it all started, and we're going to work together to transition to two schools."
South County Middle School will open next fall, but Manning's work will start on Jan. 3. "I'll finish my work here and then move to Gatehouse (an FCPS administrative facility)," she said.
'It's Never Been Work For Me'
Manning was born in Illinois, raised in Florida and attended Florida State University with a major in medical technology. "I wanted to be a researcher, but my senior English teacher, John Stone, was a powerful influence and he just got me excited about English and teaching," she said. "It's just amazing the impact that a single teacher can have."
After college, Manning taught English at Clearwater and Lakewood High Schools in Florida. In 1987, she moved to Springfield with her family and never left. Her first teaching job with Fairfax County was at Washington Irving Middle School, where she taught English from 1990-1999.
"It's never been work for me," Manning said. "I really loved being with the kids. I loved introducing them to reading, critical thinking and learning how to get their thoughts on paper."
Manning received her Master's degree in educational leadership from George Mason University in 1999. "I loved the classroom, but a mentor sat me down and said this was what I needed to do to make a bigger impact in the lives of kids," she said.
Manning worked as an assistant principal at Mark Twain Middle School until 2004. The following year she helped open the brand new South County Secondary School.
"When I sat down with (then-South County principal Dale) Rumberger and we looked at the plan for the school, and we were putting high school students in the same building as middle school students, we knew we were going to have a challenge," she said. "We determined that we would make this an amazing place for students. All the teachers have the same workroom and focused on collaboration. So, we worked on that, hired teachers with that same passion, and it's been an exciting seven years."
The Road Ahead
The 7th- and 8th-grade teachers at South County Secondary will move to the middle school. "A lot of people loved and wanted to keep the secondary school, and that's understandable. You don't always find people who care about you from the time you're 12 years-old until the day you graduate," Manning said.
There will be challenges, including countless meetings with the community, feeder schools, department heads and teachers. "First of all, there will be more space to work with and less distractions. This has been a community of 3,000 students and we'll have about 1,000 students in the Middle School," Manning said.
Manning is married and has three children, three step-children and seven grandchildren. She described her leadership style as hands-on. "I don't spend much time in my office. I like to be out with the kids and the teachers," she said. "I like to listen to all voices and get as much input as I can. I have shared decision-making when appropriate, but I'm able to make the hard decisions when necessary."
The school board will approve the final name for the middle school in February or March. "I know there is a lot of interest in keeping the school connected to South County Secondary School. The history in Lorton is rich and I have been so privileged to be a part of learning about that. It's important for the students to know about that, and I believe the community will come up with a great name," Manning said.
So what is it that keeps Manning in this business? "I love the energy and the challenges, and I love helping kids and families," she said. "Being able to watch the lights go on in a child's mind, to see those 'Aha!' moments makes it all worth it. The most rewarding thing is to watch these kids walk across the stage to get their diplomas and in watching them knowing: there's a story, there's another story, there's another story."