VINTON–Vinton is well-known as the training ground for many future school and government administrators. Roanoke County School Superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange is one of those who started out in Vinton and moved up to higher positions within the county and beyond. She will be retiring from her position at the end of June after 44 years with the school system.
Frank Stone, who served as principal at Roland E. Cook, East Vinton (now Herman L. Horn), and Hardy Road (now W. E. Cundiff) Elementary Schools hired Lange to serve as the kindergarten coordinator when Hardy Road first opened in 1972.
She had taught for three years in Roanoke City and one at Glen Cove before coming to Vinton. Not only was she the kindergarten coordinator, she taught a full class load.
After four years, when assistant principal Deanna Gordon moved up to Central Office, Stone asked Lange to take her place back in the days before extensive searches and interviews for personnel became the norm.
He made his selection based on her organizational skills, her ability to get along with everyone, and her knowledge of the school and education in general.
“She was just a topnotch person,” said Stone. “Fellow teachers had so much respect for her and the kids just loved her. She used so much common sense; she stayed calm. She was genuinely nice to people and a good listener. She listened to what parents had to say.”
At the time she became assistant principal, she had three children of her own ages five, three, and one, and commuted from Salem.
Kim Colls who teaches at W.E. Cundiff, did his student teaching the year Hardy Road opened and is the only teacher left who was there when she taught and served as assistant principal.
“I remember when I came to Hardy Road that everyone on the faculty was very young including Dr. Lange,” said Colls. “Many of us were right out of school, but Dr. Lange was already the teacher with the good advice and the teacher we all wanted to become.”
Her dedication is evident in one story told about her days as a teacher at Hardy Road, which she confesses is true.
Lange lived on the other side of the Valley and was expecting a baby. It was parent conference day so she drove to school to meet with parents. She called the doctor at the end of the last conference and he said she should “come in.”
When she told Stone she thought she was getting ready to have the baby, he offered to drive her, but she told him calmly she would get everything together and then drive herself to the hospital.
She called the school about three hours later to say “It’s a boy.”
“I had my youngest son at 12:30,” said Lange. “The doctor actually let me call school to tell them I had a baby and wouldn’t be back that day.”
Lange left Hardy Road in 1980 to become the principal at Mount Vernon Elementary, which has since closed to become the Brambleton Center.
She grew up in New Jersey, and came here to attend Roanoke College, not really intending to stay.
“I graduated from Roanoke College and my husband got into the Reserves in Roanoke and went away for active service,” said Lange. “All my college friends left and I had no family. I was teaching in Roanoke City, and the parents were so nice to me and invited me to eat with them at night. After he came back he needed to stay in the Reserves and we started to make friends. Then I had a baby and we never went back. In hindsight, it was a great decision. I raised my family here and I love Roanoke.”
In Roanoke County, Lange has held the positions of teacher, assistant principal, principal, supervisor of language arts K-12, associate director of instruction, assistant superintendent of instruction, deputy superintendent of instruction and then superintendent since 2006. She has served as an adjunct professor. She was invited to participate in the first National Connected Superintendents Summit held at the White House.
She was named Virginia Superintendent of the Year in 2012. In nominating her for the National Superintendent Award (she was one of four finalists), the executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, wrote, “If there ever was a person who has ‘been there and done that,’ it is Lorraine Lange.”
Lange always credits her success to the support of her husband Bill and their children, to the students and staff of Roanoke County “who make me look good,” and to the mentors she has had, especially Stone and Gordon who “shaped her career.”
Lange said that in Vinton “I learned that building relationships with people is the key to a successful life.”
Dana Stevens who is now the assistant principal at W.E. Cundiff, said she has had the “unique privilege of being one of the few, (or only) people to serve under the leadership of Dr. Lange as a student, one of her teachers, and one of her administrators.”
“My class was unique in that the year Hardy Road School opened in 1972, we were the first class to start there and go all the way through a brand new school,” said Stevens. “Dr. Lange was one of my teachers, teaching kindergarten at the time. I remember sitting at a small table working with Dr. Lange, and her ‘instructing’ us on the alphabet. She has always been about giving her students quality instruction and an opportunity to succeed. She was also one of the people who could inspire young students to learn to read, and to love reading.”
“I remember her always being genuinely invested in students and people, as she remains to this day,” continued Stevens. “I remember the personal relationships that she built with all of us. A fine example of this is that upon our class graduating from William Byrd High School in 1985, each of the students who had gone through Hardy Road School from the beginning of kindergarten and finished at Byrd received a personal graduation card from all of their former teachers at Hardy Road. Dr. Lange wrote a personal note to each student. I still have that card to this day. She took time to get to know each and every one of us.”
“As one of her teachers, all of the relationships she had built and her instructional leadership remained the same. She has always been a great supporter of teachers, making sure we always had the tools we needed to help students achieve. I have a personal note she wrote to me after she attended one of the Veteran’s Day Programs that I helped put together at Mount Pleasant. What a kind gesture, yet again an example of how she knew me on a personal level.”
“The Hardy Road days were very special to me,” said Lange. “If it wasn’t for Mr. Stone and Deanna, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They were great years.”
Her retirement will last for only a few hours as she has been named director of the Hollins University Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) and Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.L.S.) programs beginning on July 1.