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Head of his Class

David Switzer always knew he would lead a school one day.

Ardrey Kell High School Principal David Switzer (above, left) celebrates with his family at a surprise assembly at the school, where Switzer was announced as CMS Principal of the Year.

Ardrey Kell High School Principal David Switzer (above, left) celebrates with his family at a surprise assembly at the school, where Switzer was announced as CMS Principal of the Year.

Growing up in a family where public service was held in high regard, leadership in the community was a no-brainer career choice for the Ardrey Kell High School principal. His father was the executive director for the Charleston Housing Authority in West Virginia and his mother an English teacher and now middle school assistant principal – so Switzer has leadership in his bones.

“I knew all along that I would be a school leader,” Switzer said, but it was John Bowles, 13-year-old Switzer’s summer baseball coach, who really made the difference. “He instilled in me how to interact with people and how to present myself. He really set the tone for what I wanted to do – I knew I wanted to work with kids and schools.”

Switzer’s years of leadership and work have paid off – he was recently named Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Principal of the Year. Nominated by his peers and interviewed by a team of
other CMS leaders, he said the award was unexpected, but incredibly appreciated. Now, he’ll go on to compete with other award recipients from the southwest region of the state for a chance to be named Regional Principal of the Year. Regional winners from across the state will then compete for 2014 State Principal of the Year, which will be announced next spring.

For Switzer, living a double life has been the game of his education career. Currently a lieutenant colonel in the North Carolina Air National Guard, Switzer has spent the last 25 years in service to the United States. He joined the military in 1989 and in 1993 was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, completing his C-130 Navigator Training and beginning his career in flight. After four years of flying missions, he transitioned to the West Virginia Air National Guard in 1996, working toward his ultimate goal of service in public education.

Switzer holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Concord College in West Virginia and a master’s degree in educational administration from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He began teaching social studies at Myers Park High School in January 1997, where he stayed until 2000, consistently driving back and forth to West Virginia for military training. In 2001, he opted to take a break from the classroom to spend a year in sales.

But it was clear Switzer wasn’t finished in public education. After a year sabbatical, he wanted back in a school, opting to hit graduate school in 2001 as a North Carolina principal fellow at UNC Charlotte. Then in 2003, with two months of graduate school left, he was called to active duty as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, finishing his degree via email. He served four tours in the Middle East, concluding in 2005.

Upon returning, Switzer was named assistant principal at Northeast Middle School, and less than a year later, became principal of the school, where he served until April 2010 before being called again to active duty to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Switzer also had transferred to the North Carolina National Guard to stay closer to home for training.

Returning just months later from duty, he was named principal at Ardrey Kell High School – a move he wasn’t expecting, but one he appreciated.

“I loved Northeast; I didn’t seek the move,” Switzer said, adding it was hard to leave a job where he didn’t have a chance to officially say goodbye to students. “I knew my career path would eventually lead to high school and beyond, though.”

Now, for the past three years, he’s helped encourage and build community at Ardrey Kell with feeder schools, churches and other organizations in the surrounding area, and he couldn’t be prouder.

Switzer often is cast as a military guy, he said, but while the military has had an obvious influence on his life, education has always remained his first passion.

“It’s great to do everything I’ve done (with the military),” he said. “It allows me to value people – people are important, which means relationships are important. Organization and processes are important and the military has enabled me to deal with stress.”

That’s why he’s been a successful principal, he said, and why he’s proud to be part of the Ardrey Kell community.

“It’s an honor to be acknowledged for all the hard work we’ve done. It’s a community push and often, things go unnoticed. This is a great opportunity to be able to show all the wonderful things Ardrey Kell has accomplished.

This award gives me that platform to really celebrate students, staff, parents – really everything in this community.”

Switzer and his wife, Kim, a tutor at Smithfield Elementary School, reside in the Ballantyne area with their two kids: Anna Marie, 11, and Joshua, 9.

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