By Stefanie Jackson – Heather Coburn Marsh recently found her old gymnastics uniform in a closet at Northampton High School.
It was a reminder of its new principal’s long history with Northampton County Public Schools, reaching back to her time as an assistant principal, teacher, and student.
She was born in 1970 and has lived in Eastville since she was a year old. Her parents were educators – her father, Douglas Coburn, was a teacher at Northampton High, and her mother, Audrey Coburn, was a preschool teacher known to generations as “Miss Audrey.”
“I feel like I’ve been in education all my life,” Marsh said.
She intends to carry on where former Principal Mike Myers left off, emphasizing building relationships with students, parents, and the community. Myers also built a bridge from Northampton High School’s history to the present through initiatives such as the Athletic Hall of Fame, recognition of alumni, and service awards, Marsh said.
One of her goals as principal is to ensure each student has a plan ready after graduation, whether it’s starting a career or attending a community college or a four-year university.
Marsh is seeking more community partnerships to develop additional career pathways for students, and the high school is offering a wider variety of career and technical education dual-enrollment courses at Eastern Shore Community College.
Last year, a welding class was added, and this year, an electronics class will be added, Marsh said. Northampton’s other CTE offerings include the automotive program, culinary arts, and business.
Marsh wants to continue to develop Northampton High into a school that considers the whole child and tailors its offerings to each student’s individual needs.
Northampton High School has been fully accredited since before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily changed the way Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests were administered and measured students’ academic growth.
The high school’s graduation rate has remained above 90%, even during the pandemic, Marsh noted.
The Northampton school division is small, with an average daily membership of less than 1,300 students, including approximately 750 students who will attend the middle and high school after the building’s upcoming renovation and construction project is complete.
Some people might see the low enrollment numbers as a negative, since fewer students typically mean less state and federal funding, but Marsh takes a different perspective.
The middle and high school’s small student population contributes to a “family-like atmosphere” in which teachers and school staff members make everyone feel welcome, know each kid on a first-name basis, recognize student differences, and focus on each student’s individual needs, Marsh said.
Northampton offers a variety of extracurricular activities, “hopefully something for everyone,” Marsh said. At least four different sports are offered in each of the fall, winter, and spring seasons, which is significant for a Group A school in the Virginia High School League, she said. Other activities offered include the marching band, Scholastic Bowl, forensics (speech and debate), robotics, and an art club.
There is after-school tutoring, including bus transportation, for students who need extra academic help. Participating in after-school tutoring typically does not exclude a student from other activities as it is held only as needed, Marsh noted.
Not only does the variety of activities help students broaden their interests, the opportunities for competition help them build resiliency that will serve them later in life when plans change or fail.
Northampton’s middle and high school offers students multiple layers of support. An additional guidance counselor has been added for a total of three: one each for seventh and eighth grade, ninth and 10th grade, and 11th and 12th grade.
Also in the building is a social worker who can provide students with social-emotional supports and an Access College Foundation advisor, Devin Allen, who helps students apply for scholarships and otherwise “bridge the gap” between high school and college, Marsh said.
Marsh is grateful to those who have helped her reach this point in her career like past Kiptopeke Elementary School Principal Gwyn Coghill and former Associate Superintendent Annette Gray, whose past positions in education also included interim principal of NHS.
Marsh also voiced appreciation for her past teachers such as Randy Parks and Joe Mysko, who made school fun, interesting, and “a place you wanted to be.” She said, “That’s what I’m hoping the school is now and what we’ll continue to grow upon.”
Click on a photo below to view it in full size.