Enthusiastic students give Walter Hill Principal Butch Campbell “high fives” and proudly show him the stickers they’ve earned during classes before boarding school buses every afternoon.
Campbell, 63, has exchanged those “high fives” and shared the students’ accomplishments in his 30 years as principal of the elementary school in northeast Rutherford County. He will retire this summer after 41 years as an educator.
“It’s a wonderful community and a supporting community,” Campbell said of Walter Hill and the school. “We have wonderful children. They’re not all A-plus students but you don’t have to be A-plus to be good.”
After graduating from MTSU, Campbell landed his first teaching job as a social studies teacher and football coach at the all-black Bradley Elementary in 1967, the last year before integration.
“I had some good kids that first year,” Campbell said, naming Leo Martin, Cleo Martin and Bobby Smith.
He credited then Murfreesboro City councilman, the late Robert “Tee-Niny” Scales, with making a smooth transition to integrated schools in 1968.
“We didn’t have militant students maybe because of what he did,” Campbell said.
Murfreesboro’s Scales Elementary is named for Scales and his wife, Mary, a retired educator, city council and school board member.
Campbell transferred to Central Middle School from 1972-78 until he became principal of the then kindergarten through eighth grade at Walter Hill.
The school expanded to more than 1,000 students until he lost 70 percent of his students when Siegel Middle and Wilson schools opened and Walter Hill became a K-5 school with 375 students.
“I want this place to be at the top,” Campbell said.
Teachers, the bookkeeper, secretary and custodians made his tenure a wonderful experience.
Campbell is proud of the graduates who have become successful like Assistant Fire Chief Alan Swader, lawyers, deputies and teachers, past and present teachers and those who became principals at other schools.
During his tenure, Campbell emphasized both educational and life skills.
One of the biggest challenges he’s experienced are the expanded responsibilities for teachers. Besides teaching basic classes, educators must teach values and behavior. With different lifestyles and divorced parents, some parents don’t teach values at home.
“I think I have brought some ideas of integrity, being proud and willing to do what is right even though that may not be what people want to hear, honesty and honor,” Campbell said. “I hope I’ve taught some young people by example.”
Changes in the classroom through his tenure include curriculum with tougher standards each year. For example, lessons teachers taught in fourth grade will be taught in third grade next year.
Teachers are graded by achievement tests.
Does he believe it’s fair to judge a school by achievement test scores?
“Not always,” Campbell replied. “You have to look at any school for the total building, academics, life skills, sports and teaching young people about life skills like competition, accepting defeat and being gracious in victory.”
He doesn’t know if the testing methods are fair but maintains teachers have to be accountable to the principals and students. He believes students get a good return from their teachers.
“It’s (education) a competitive situation,” the principal said. “You’ve got to get the best you can find.”
Teachers Beverly Carlton and Emily Baker are the only two remaining teachers since Campbell joined the staff. Retired teachers Ann Swader and Jean Duncan substitute.
He’s tried to keep an open door policy for teachers, staff and students. After he first started, a teacher disagreed with a comment he made.
“She let me have it with both barrels,” Campbell remembered, allowing him to clear up the misunderstanding.
Campbell doesn’t relish being a disciplinarian but handles each case with care.
He prefers interacting with the children. For example, if they finish lunch early, Campbell and School Resource Officer Jason Urban will supervise students outside on the playground.
“There’s more to education than reading, writing and arithmetic,” Campbell said.
As his greatest accomplishments for students, Campbell cites promoting academics and life skills such as believing in oneself.
“I want them to remember Butch Campbell as a person you could talk to who would make you behave but be your friend,” the principal said.
If he had any regrets, it would be some students didn’t take advantage of opportunities.
When asked what his legacy would be, Campbell simply laughed before answering.
“I hope I was a principal who lead teachers to be involved and help students, provide a quality education and have a good time,” Campbell said.
He and his wife, Janie, who will retire as bookkeeper/secretary from The Discovery School at Reeves Rogers this year, will spend time with sons Chris and Ritch, his wife, Gwen, and their twin daughters, Alanna and McKenna, 14.
He still has three years left on his term on the Murfreesboro City School Board. He keeps the clock for MTSU football and men’s and women’s basketball.
“I’m not going to sit in front of the TV, that’s for sure,” Campbell vowed. “I’m an outside person.”
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Walter Hill Community Reception for retiring Principal Butch Campbell
2 p.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, May 17 at Walter Hill School