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MMA's head of school resigns; interim named

R. Craig Jones

By Kim Walter

R. Craig Jones, head of school at Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock since 2009, has resigned, effective immediately.

The school's students and staff were informed Thursday, with it being officially announced on Friday. Jones sent out an email to MMA parents informing them of the change, and giving them information as to why he was stepping down.

"I have decided to make this my last year at MMA, as I prepare to take a new career direction and seek service opportunities unlike any in my previous decades in school leadership," he stated in the email. Jones will remain at the academy through the rest of the school year, and serve as a consultant and adviser.

"I simply want to take on new challenges, to step outside of the box professionally," he said. "And I want to check off a few bucket list items while I can."

Jones graduated from Norfolk Academy, and went on to be a distinguished graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, as well as receive a law degree from the University of Virginia. Before joining the staff at MMA, Jones held leadership positions at Fork Union Military Academy, Augusta Preparatory Day School and Southampton Academy. He also served as the principal at Saint James School, an independent day school in Alabama.

"Right now I'm weighing options," he said on Monday. "I hope to return to independent day school leadership or to begin work as an educational consultant. I can't be more specific because the search processes and "negotiations" are confidential and ongoing ... but I'm excited."

Jones listed highlights from his four-year stay at the school, which includes improvements in academic progress and interactive software, the Alumni Association's return to campus, several renovations, and his legacy of "culture change, positive leadership [and] school spirit."

As for what cadets will remember him for, Jones listed things that a few students said to him when they walked into his office on Monday. They mentioned him playing the harmonica and insisting that the whole school -- faculty and cadets -- join in singing the alma mater every Tuesday, as well as him bringing two dogs named Maggie and REJ to the campus.

"And bringing love and laughter into cadet life," he said, noting that that was the cadets' response.

MMA's Board of Directors named Merlin A. Henkel as the interim head of school. Henkel came to the academy in May 2011 and has served as the director of business operations and chief financial officer. He is also the head coach of the school's baseball team.

Jones said he supports the decision "whole-heartedly."

"I have known Merle since we were kids growing up in Norfolk and recruited him onto the MMA team about 18 months ago," he said. "His experience in business and development will take the academy into the future."

Henkel said Monday that he is very much looking forward to taking on the new position.

"MMA was an easy place to come into," he said. "This was all very amicable ... [Jones] was the one who brought me here, and I've learned a lot from him in a short amount of time. Our history makes this an easy transition."

Henkel said he would uphold Jones's tradition of singing the alma mater, but wouldn't necessarily be playing the harmonica. He would also like to continue the stronger involvement with students.

"As for campus improvements, I think we're kind of at a breathing point," he said. "Honestly, at this time, there isn't a feeling of needing a whole lot of change. We'll continue with the programs that are in place, and our priority, as always, is the kids and their education."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com


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