Upon graduating from high school and finding their way into the wide world, most students wouldn’t want to see themselves working in a town they grew up in. Even more so, it might be a hard sell to convince them that teaching at their alma mater is the right career path. For Eric Steimel, now former principal of Lejeune High School, his alma mater became a focal point of his life. Teaching there was an obvious choice.
“There I was, 21 years old, teaching physical science and biology,” Steimel said of his first teaching job at LHS in 1984. His tenure as a student at LHS had helped him see a future in education, something that came largely from the faculty.
“Before Lejeune (High School), on a good day I was an average student,” Steimel said. “I didn’t care much for school and school didn’t care much for me. When I got to Lejeune I found the teachers took a lot of interest in what I was doing.”
Steimel sees that interest in students as a constant throughout his time at LHS. The faculty is qualified and genuine.
“They (teachers) are well educated and take care of their students,” Steimel said.
Following his own time as a teacher at LHS, Steimel became an assistant principal at the school in 1992. He became the principal at Brewster Middle School on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune not long after before spending a short time as an instructional systems superintendent. Then, in 2010, he was back at LHS to take the reins as principal.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Dana Sutherland, assistant principal at LHS. “They were waiting for his leadership.”
“I was excited to be here,” Steimel said.
Since then, the school has continued a standard of excellence. Steimel attributes a spike in advanced placement testing to the faculty at LHS.
“When I was a student, there were about 15 exams taken,” Steimel said. “Last year, students took 204. The faculty has been very aggressive about pushing it. It’s not unusual for students to have 25 to 30 college credits from AP tests after graduating.”
Sutherland also noted that over 66 percent of students have maintained a grade point average above a 3.0 and two of Steimel’s senior classes, the Class of 2017 and Class of 2018, graduated every single student. The Class of 2018 even challenged him to get a tattoo of their year which Steimel proudly bears on his forearm.
Another aspect which Steimel takes a measure of pride in is the spike of LHS’s Marine Corps Junior Officer Reserve Training Corps (MCJROTC). He played an integral role in getting the measure passed, thanks in part to then-principal Brenda Johnson and retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Ronald Richard, former commanding general of MCB Camp Lejeune. Following a walk-through of the school, Richard was stunned that LHS did not have a MCJROTC program. Steimel passed along his proposal for the corps to start up.
“What we didn’t know was that one of his former duty assignments was working with JROTC programs,” Steimel said. “The skies just opened up.”
Now, the JROTC program at LHS has become a pillar not just of the school but of the community as a whole. Steimel recalls receiving calls from military dependents thanking the school after Hurricane Florence as MCJROTC cadets went about the base community cleaning up yards for those with deployed spouses and small children. The program has also stood out on a national level with high praise on their general skills as cadets.
“In 35 years of service, you get to see all the good things students do,” Steimel said. “If a student is bad, that is probably a reflection of the leadership they received or did not receive.”
The leadership aboard MCB Camp Lejeune has certainly had a positive impact on LHS, per Steimel. Following a November fire at the school, he recalls being out until nearly midnight alongside Sutherland. Along with them was Col. Scott Baldwin, Deputy Commander, MCB Camp Lejeune-Marine Corps Installations East.
“He met us in the parking lot and asked ‘what do you need?’” Steimel said. Baldwin was also one of the first to conduct a walkthrough of the school. Steimel also recalls the nearly 50 Marines cleaning up the school following Hurricane Florence and how quickly LHS students were back in comparison to those across the area, as much a testament to students as to the installation and faculty.
“It showed the resilience of the students,” Sutherland said.
Now, as an avid outdoorsman, Steimel will have time to pursue other endeavors. Still, reflecting upon a tenure with such a strong focus on academic success, imparting discipline for students and wisdom for faculty as well as marked growth among extra-curricula’s and scholarships awarded, Steimel echoes something he has told every graduating class he has spoken to.
“Once a Devil Pup, always a Devil Pup.”