BERNIE’S BACK: Former MVHS principal returns in the interim to the school he loves

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Mt. Vernon High School Principal Bernie Campbell greets student James Bluethmann in the hall during a class change.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

FORTVILLE — Mt. Vernon High School students are returning from fall break with a new principal.

Former principal Bernie Campbell — who led the school from 2009 to 20016 — has taken over after former principal Casey Dodd left to pursue opportunities outside of education.

Campbell’s first day on the job was Friday, Sept. 30, the last day before students left for a two-week fall break.

The former retiree said he’s only serving for the interim until the school board can find a long-term replacement. “I‘m either there until January if they find the right person to take over or the end of the school year,” he said.

Regardless, Campbell is just happy to help out the school he loves.

“For 32 years Mt. Vernon was there for me and gave me a wonderful life, so I’m happy to be able to give back and help out,” he said.

Campbell spent his entire career working at Mt. Vernon High School — from 1984 through 2016 — first as a business teacher and tennis coach and later as assistant principal and principal

He knows the school he’s leading today looks much different from what it did when he first joined the staff nearly 40 years ago.

“For starters, enrollment has increased from about 700 to around 1,400,” he said.

Plus, Campbell said the school environment and culture has been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Look at what my students and staff have gone through between when I retired in 2016 and today. It’s a completely different world, and I have to keep that in mind,” said Campbell, yet he already feels a connection to this new generation of kids.

“I may not know them but I care about every single student who comes to Mt. Vernon, and I know my staff does too,” he said.

“I want to make sure the seniors have a great senior year going out, and I want to make sure that when I leave here, regardless of when that time will be, that someone can say ‘job well done.’”

Campbell said he has his signature two-handed backhand in tennis to thank for landing his first job with the school district in 1984, just a few months after graduating from Ball State University.

“They needed a tennis coach and I fit the bill, while the other (applicant) didn’t,” said Campbell, who is as self-deprecating as he is beloved at the school he’s served for more than 30 years.

He said among his most cherished memories is handing each of his four children their diplomas when they graduated from Mt. Vernon.

“That was probably the highlight of my career,” said Campbell, who has been married to his wife Barbara for 24 years.

The longtime educator said his wife was supportive of him coming out of retirement to take the job, especially since it gave him something to do.

“She works full-time from home and I’m the house manager, so I think she thought (the new job) would get me out of the house during the day,” joked Campbell, who enjoys cooking, doing jigsaw puzzles and buying and selling baseball cards online.

Campbell said it was a twist of fate that led to him returning to his old post this year.

He and his wife opted to sell their longtime condo in Hilton Head — where they typically spend their winters — and Campbell got the call from Mt. Vernon Superintendent Jack Parker the day after the deal was done.

“I believe everything happens for a reason — that God has a plan for us all — and that was my calling. I thought if I’m being given the opportunity to help Mt. Vernon then I should listen,” he said.

Campbell first served 10 years as a teacher and coach at Mt. Vernon High School before being promoted to assistant principal. He was promoted to principal in 2009.

As a teen growing up in northwestern Indiana he played tennis throughout his four years at Merrillville High School, providing the experience to eventually coach at Mt. Vernon.

“I picked up a racket when I was maybe 6,” said Campbell, who has since traded in tennis for the more laid-back, recreational game of pickleball.

As for Campbell’s predecessor, Parker said this: “Mr. Dodd served Mt. Vernon well during his tenure as teacher and administrator in multiple buildings and we appreciate his time serving our students and staff. We respect his decision to resign and pursue other opportunities outside of education, and we wish him the best in his future.”