Melissa White once was a student at Fairview Elementary School. Now she'll be its principal.

As a child attending Fairview Elementary School, Melissa White never was sent to the principal's office.

A little more than three decades later, however, she is going there – but she'll be sitting behind the big desk, not standing in front of it.

White, 46, who was Capital School District's Teacher of the Year in 2011, has come full circle with her appointment May 15 as principal of the Dover school, replacing Marcia Harrison, who is retiring after 12 years at the school. She'll start her new job on July 1.

She'll take on her new title with a mixture of emotion, grateful for the chance but knowing the much-admired Harrison will be a tough act to follow.

"It's a wonderful school," she said. "I'm going to be spending as much time as possible with Marcia so she can pass along some of her wonderful wisdom.

"This is a great opportunity to look at what's been working well and how we can improve on that."

White has a long history in the Capital district, having attended all three levels of school in the district and graduating from Dover High School in 1985. Both daughters are graduates of Dover High – one is a teacher at Towne Point Elementary – and a granddaughter also attends a Capital school.

For the past two years, she has worked as a mathematics specialist in the district office.

But White didn't start her working career as a teacher; she actually began as an accountant after receiving her degree from Wilmington University. She started thinking about switching jobs after a fellow accountant remarked on how well she interacted with others.

"I was told that I wasn't a typical accountant, that I liked people too much," she said. "I was told, 'I don't see you doing this much longer.'"

Taking the plunge, White earned a master's degree in education, graduating in December 2001 and was hired at Central Middle School, teaching in several different areas. Her accounting degree eventually proved to be her ticket into the school's math department.

White finds it ironic that she's been such a success in a subject she really didn't feel comfortable with while in school.

"As a young student, I didn't think I was good at math," she said. "I didn't think I 'got it' as quickly as everybody else."

But that experience actually was helpful once she started teaching.

"I could sort of anticipate when my students would struggle with a particular concept or idea," she said. "I'd think, 'That was me.'"

It's White's opinion that people aren't necessarily born smart, but that they can work to get smart. That means changing the way one thinks and maybe finding a different path to achieve one's goals.

One of her favorite activities is reading about how the brain processes information, how it grows and how people can train their brains to learn a variety of subjects, including mathematics.

"I've always tried to get kids to be problem solvers and to think analytically, to connect a subject with something they've already learned."

White taught at Central Middle for 10 years, calling it "a wonderful experience."

"There was a lot of collaboration and sharing of information," she said. "We'd talk about what worked, what didn't work and how we could re-teach it the next year, making it easier for students to comprehend."

White then moved to her current job as a mathematics specialist in the district headquarters, working with middle school teachers on analyzing data and test scores and writing curriculum.

But all the while she was preparing for a possible principalship by taking certification courses in leadership and learning what it took to become the head of a school.

When Harrison announced her retirement, White submitted her package.

"I was told it would be a really good move for me, the students and the staff at the school," she said.

White plans to spend as much time with Harrison as possible and to meet individually with each teacher and staff member at Fairview.

"I'm a collaborator," she said. "I think we can get a lot more done working together than we can as individuals."

When she's not working, White spends a lot of time with her husband, James. She also loves to read – not just books about mathematics – and enjoys walking.

"I like to do that," she said. "It helps clear my head."

She's also started quilting.

"That's very relaxing," she said, "but you'd be surprised at how much math is involved. You just can't get away from it!"

She takes a deep breath when asked about the future.

"I love to see how children learn and grow," she said. "That's the neat thing about education, seeing them learn and grow.

"That's been a real blessing."