By: Mike Astudillo
I’m humbled and honored to share that back on July 1st of this year, I was appointed as the new proud principal of Columbia Elementary School in Annandale, Va. This long-standing Annandale landmark first opened its doors in 1967, and I’m excited to have been selected as only the ninth principal in the school’s history. I am even more excited to share that I am serving in this role as a 1989 graduate: almost 40 years ago, I attended Columbia from Kindergarten through 6th grade (back then it was K-6) and then I went on to Holmes Middle School before graduating from Annandale High School as a proud member of the class of 1995. Not only am I product of Fairfax County Public Schools, but I’m also a proud product of the Annandale Pyramid of schools.
When I saw the opening for the principal position at Columbia advertised, in full transparency, I was caught off guard. I had been considering applying for schools on the western half of the county because I reside in Loudoun County with my wife and three school aged children; however, when I saw the announcement posted for Columbia, the memories and feelings of nostalgia came flooding in. As a student, I felt a vibrant culture of caring, hardworking, and spirited staff, fellow students, and parents. When it came time to decide whether to apply for the position, those feelings made all the difference.
As a proud first generation Hispanic American, I stand here today as an example of the American dream fulfilled. My parents moved to the United States from Colombia, South America, in 1971 and they didn’t speak a word of English at the time. Their goal was to settle somewhere that would provide gainful employment and provide quality schools in which to raise a family. After my sister and I were born, my parents landed at 6409 Holyoke Drive, right off Old Columbia Pike. My sister and I benefited from growing up in a community rich with diversity, learning about multiple cultures every day while practicing Spanish language skills at home and learning English at school. This became my home; growing up in Annandale was the starting point for me both personally and professionally.
After being a student in FCPS for 13 years and now serving as an educator in FCPS for 17 years, I have come full circle, and I’m excited and ready to give back to Columbia as the lead learner. I look forward to the many conversations I will have with current students and community members. I hope to share my story, my experiences, and most of all that with hard work and grit, dreams can and do become a reality. I’ve always felt like building relationships is at the core of everything we do as educators, and I can’t wait to make these connections with families who may be beginning a very similar journey to the one I have enjoyed.
As an instructional leader, being visible and present to kids and families is important to me. Parents and community members will see me out and about and rarely in my office. I’ve always seen my staff as these important people beyond the role of teacher in our building. I see them as a mother or father to their own kids, as a caretaker to their own family, or as a caring member of their own community at home. I’ve always felt like if we treat staff with respect, empathy, and decency, they will lead the important work every day.
I also consider myself a visionary leader because I work hard to listen to students and staff so that we work collaboratively together to create ideas and solutions for needs around our school. I enjoy working on creative projects and programs to meet the students where they are, by name and by need. Given the recent challenges with the pandemic, I firmly believe there is no better time to be creative and innovative with our approaches to teaching and learning.
Back in 1988, after Columbia’s renovation was completed, I remember nervously standing on the brand-new stage facing the new gym floor in front of hundreds of kids, giving my first speech in public as I ran for the office of SCA vice-president. Years later I spoke in front of nearly 10,000 people at George Mason University at a high school graduation as a commencement speaker with poise and confidence. I have so many stories like this about how my educational journey to be a leader in FCPS started because of my experiences at Columbia Elementary School.
I hope that my journey will resonate with the students, staff, and families at Columbia today. I’m very excited about this thrilling, once in a lifetime experience—to come home to Columbia!
Mike Astudillo, Proud Principal
Columbia Elementary School
6720 Alpine Dr, Annandale, VA 22003
Phone: 703-916-2500 . www.columbiaes.fcps.edu
“It’s a great day to be a Columbia Cougar!”
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OPEN HOUSE & MEET YOUR TEACHER August 19: 4-5 PM
BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT
The Lead Learner at Columbia Elementary School, Principal Michael Astudillo
First Grade at Columbia Elementary School