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O’Brien Brings a Wealth of Experience to Brambleton


Chad O’Brien brings his experiences as a teacher, department head, dean, assistant principal, Division I athlete and coach to his new role as the principal of Brambleton Middle School.


O’Brien, who began his new role on September 23, succeeds Brambleton’s inaugural principal, Renee Dawson, who has been appointed as Assistant Director for Career and Technical Education, Community Connections and Computer Science for Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). 

One constant throughout O’Brien’s 18-year educational career is middle school, the place where he feels most at home.

“Middle school kids are so special. The middle school child has an ability to desire structure and support while at the exact same time wanting the freedom to be empowered to make choices, to fail, to learn from the failure to get better. It’s just such a neat age. And the staff that works with them is just like them, they’re so special. They will go to the ends of the earth for a kid. I just love that about middle school teachers.”

O’Brien’s journey to Brambleton goes through Saint Francis University, where he played volleyball, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an assistant volleyball coach. (O’Brien developed an early interest in athletics through his father, who coached volleyball and basketball.) “Being an athlete in general – and especially with a team sport – you have to collaborate and everyone has their own unique needs. Whether they were the star, a support player – whatever role they were playing – everyone has an impact.”

“There’s no hierarchy.”

Setting goals for a team and a school staff have a lot of similarities, O’Brien added. “People come with different needs and it’s a different need every single day. I think being a coach and athlete builds an emotional intelligence.”

“Getting our arrows aligned and having everybody understand that target. What is our goal? Have every individual know what they will need to do to be that vital cog to help us get to that goal.”

Coaching at Penn taught O’Brien the rigors of being a high-performing student athlete. “To work with students at that level and to see how they balance the demands of a Division I athletic program and an Ivy League education was something I will always take with me. Their athletic demands and academic demands were phenomenal.”

O’Brien started his teaching career at New Oxford Middle School, his former middle school in Pennsylvania. Most of his former teachers – averaging 32 years of experience – were still there. They taught him interdisciplinary lessons, with O’Brien working math into visits to the Gettysburg battlefield. (How far would a cannonball travel?) O’Brien said he learned project-based learning before it was popular.

After serving as a math teacher and principal intern at Central Bucks High School East in Pennsylvania, O’Brien came to Virginia. He taught math at Westfield High School in Fairfax County and math at Stone Hill Middle School. O’Brien became a dean at Mercer Middle School, then served as the first mathematics department chair at Rock Ridge High School before returning to Mercer as an assistant principal.

He said he learned a lot at Rock Ridge from Principal John Duellman. “He empowered us. He worked with us to create our vision. What do we envision our math department to be like? Our team was ahead of the curve.”

Taking the principalship after the start of the school year means he'll be doing a lot of listening this school year, said O’Brien. “I don’t want to rush anything. Principal Dawson did a great job. Her team is doing a great job. I want to make sure I honor that; keep that amazing work going. It’s an amazing school. I have to honor that.”

“My style is fact-finding. I’ve got to spend a lot of time on research.”

When he makes changes, O’Brien said they will be made to enhance the safety and support of students. “Every business that works with human beings can always be better. We don’t want to settle on being amazing at what we do now.”

O’Brien said he wants the Brambleton community to know the rationale behind his decision-making. He wants to be collaborative and decisive - “they’re not mutually exclusive.”

“It’s vital to have everyone working together, so we were all in alignment. There are also times where I’m just going to have to make a decision. Everyone can know that I’m going to make a decision based on students first. What’s going to be best for the kids? I can usually find a way to do what’s best for teachers, kids and families but, at the end of the day, the kids are who we are serving.

“Our Brambleton staff and families can count on me to always be honest and trustworthy.  You can’t say something and then do something different. Everything has to be aligned. They have to know if I say it, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Another component of O’Brien’s leadership style is fun. “We have to be serious. We have to be professional. But it’s middle school and our kids have to be able to see us have fun – to see us get pies in the face.”

O’Brien also wants his community, especially Brambleton’s staff, to know he’s family oriented.

“Family is very important to me and I want it to be for staff as well. They have to do a good job for kids, but their family comes first.”





Published October 5, 2021