From Student to Proud Principal: Meet the New Columbia Elementary School Leader who Once Walked the Halls as a Child

What's Happening
August 03, 2021

If you look closely at a faded copy of the Columbia Elementary School yearbook which sits on the desk of new principal Michael Astudillo, a little boy with an impish grin stands out.

“That’s me, right there,” Astudillo said, pointing to his first grade photo on page 14 of the 1983-84 year book.

The new principal's photo appears in a page of a yearbook from when he was in first grade
Columbia's new leader is pictured above as a first grader in this school yearbook

Forty years on and while the hair has changed, the smile remains the same as he recalls how  this school was a second home to him. Now, on his return as leader, he hopes to create that same home away from home atmosphere for the current students.

“Columbia Elementary School was, and still is, a welcoming community that feels like home,'' he said. 

“As a student, I felt a vibrant culture of caring, hardworking, and spirited staff, fellow students, and parents.

“This place embraced me and my family. It felt warm and safe and I loved the fact that I could be myself and take risks and learn.”

Even though those choices meant he sometimes ended up in the principal's office, he joked.

The principal sits with a class of students
Since his appointment last month, Astudillo has enjoyed getting to know some of his new students.

Astudillo joined as principal last month and is using those fond memories as the basis for his leadership strategy at the school.

“This is a school that has always helped children grow and learn and I plan to continue that tradition.

“I want the students to look at me and see a person that has been physically in their shoes, in their community and rode a bike around the same roads and swam in the same pool.

“As a male in a position of leadership, I want to be a role model for boys who perhaps don’t have that at home.”

Principal Astudillo sits at a desk in a kindergarten classroom where he was once a student
Principal Astudillo squeezes into a chair in the very same kindergarten classroom where forty years earlier he began his school journey.

He also hopes to strengthen ties with the Annandale community, already reaching out to the local  branch of the Chamber of Commerce .

The new principal moved to Annandale in 1982. His parents arrived in the US from Colombia in South America in the 1970s and chose to raise their two children in Annandale, enrolling Michael in kindergarten.

He threw himself into life at the school and in fifth grade,  became the student council vice president before he went on to attend Holmes Middle School, graduating from Annandale High School in 1995.

After college, Astudillo worked briefly in the private sector before he moved into the teaching profession and has now worked for Fairfax County Public Schools for 17 years.

“I look forward to the many conversations I will have with current students and community members. I hope to share my story, my experiences, and most of all that with hard work and grit, dreams can and do become a reality.”

You can learn more about his story by watching this NBC4 report.