Webber returns to CMHS

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By Sean Arnold

Monday was Dennis Webber’s first day in the office in his new job as principal of Chiefland Middle High School, but it wasn’t exactly a new setting for the longtime Chiefland educator.

Webber is coming from his position as principal of the Levy Learning Academy, the county’s alternative school center in Bronson, but previously spent time as a teacher, coach, dean of students and eventually assistant principal at Chiefland Middle and Chiefland High School.

He’s been in education for nearly 30 years.

“I’m back home again,” Webber said. “It’s been kind of like a big circle. I’m thrilled to be back, part of a great team.”

Webber succeeds Matt McLelland, who was principal for five years and assistant principal for another four before that. Webber, who started at Chiefland Middle School in the late 1980s as a teacher and coach, served a year as assistant principal at the high school under McLelland before going to the LLA. He was also an assistant principal at the middle school for three years.

“I told him, ‘Matt, I honor who you are, what you’ve done; you’ve done it with excellence,’” Webber said. “Those great coaches that have done great things at major universities, their successors don’t need to come in and turn it all upside down. You just continue to build on what’s been accomplished.”

He’s not coaching anymore, but athletics are never far from Webber’s heart, and many continue to call him Coach Webber. He was the head boys’ basketball coach and JV football coach at Chiefland.

“Quite frankly, I thought I’d always just be coaching, because I loved coaching, I loved athletics, and those were great times,” he said. “But doors started opening up, and when they open, you walk. So here we are.”

Webber grew up in Ohio and arrived in Florida via North Carolina, where he got his feet wet in education as a mentor through his ministry. He’s the senior pastor at Forward Church in Chiefland. His son Bradley Webber, a 1993 Chiefland graduate, is the executive pastor.

“I’m learning to get my hands off things,” Dennis Webber said of his own leadership direction. “It’s easy to say, but hard to do. You find people who do it better than you, and then all you do is improvise and help get things rolling in the right direction and stay out of the way.

“Administration-wise, it’s really taught me the importance of creating a family atmosphere, for your faculty and staff. And then out of that flows a continuity of family on the campus. It definitely happened at Levy Learning Academy over the last four years.

“I’m big on providing a safe environment for faculty, staff and students. That’s not just a cliche. A safe environment in an unsafe world.”

McLelland, meanwhile, joins the district administration staff in Bronson as director of administration.

“I am looking forward to the new challenge, something that’s new to me,” McLelland said. “I enjoy change. I’m looking forward to helping others make their school a better learning environment.

“I’m definitely going to miss the kids. That was a part of the job that was very special.”

McLelland said he’s most proud of CMHS achieving an ‘A’ status for three straight years.

“That was something that showed a lot of the work put in by the teachers and the students,” he said.

Webber said he’s excited by the direction of the school district and recent changes it’s implemented, like adjustments to the alternative school program and the introduction of a new dual enrollment program through the University of Florida.

“I like the vision that our district leaders are laying out in regards to the dual enrollment, the AP classes, and then also having the opportunity to have our (alternative school) kids on campus, to be able to really manage that,” he said. “I embrace that vision.”