KNOXVILLE, Tenn — Coming home -- that's new executive principal Tami Campbell's message to the Austin-East High School community. The 1987 graduate is all too familiar with the halls she used to walk as a student.
“I graduated from Austin-East High School in 1987, proud graduate and ironically the day we made the announcement that I would be coming here as executive principal was the same date of my graduation in May," Campbell said.
Campbell plans to bring back the attitude she remembers the school having all those years ago.
“I want to continue to exhilarate and increase the level of rigor that our students have and when they think of Austin- East. I want them to be proud, confident and competent in the preparation,” she said.
The children that walk through the front doors aren't just students to her.
"We are family, we’re a school family, and we take care of our kids,” she said.
Tragedy struck far too often for the school last semester -- losing 5 students in less than 4 months. Campbell's mission is to restore what's good about her alma mater.
"Those events do not define the best of who we are or the best that we can become," said Campbell.
So why would she take this job? She said the school was making news headlines for the wrong reason, students were checking out and, altogether, hope seemed to be lost. For her, it was bigger than all of that.
"Because my heart's desire is that the children that come to Austin-East High School get the same opportunities, access to a high quality, life skills and preparation for whatever they want to do in life," Campbell said.
As she walks the halls so familiar to her, she sent a message that what they've been through does not define where they can go.
"It demonstrates that, in spite of very challenging challenging circumstances, we still can rise. We still can thrive, and our kids want that story to be told," she said.
She's doing everything she can to get back to the things that make Austin-East -- Austin-East.
"I talk to mostly seniors who have experienced, not just last year, but they had experienced this before -- so what they have shared with me is, 'Ms. Campbell, we want to make sure that the kids coming in have a good experience because we had a good experience here,'" she said.
For Campbell, as she embarks on this new mission, it's all about staying true to place that has been home her whole life.
“I understand the community. From it I understand the history, not just the history, but the tradition, also the trajectory where we feel like we needed to go,” she said.
She's doing all she can to fill up the place that, for so many years, gave her the yearning to be more and do better.
“Restoring hope back to our kids and knowing that they can still achieve, and that they can still learn and thrive despite the circumstances for which they don’t control,” Campbell said.
Campbell said she's settling for nothing but the best, and expecting greatness for all those walking through the front door.
“We will be achieving excellence, we will get through this together, we are a family and we’re going to make sure our decisions are actions in our words,” she said.
And with the first day of school just days away, this is more than just a new year, but a new beginning.
"It's afresh start, just a fresh year really, trying to take each new day we get as an opportunity, new grace, new mercy we're going to get," Campbell said.