Dream big.

Dream big.

That's the message new Rosemore Middle School Principal Rochelle Rankin is sending to both her staff and students this year.

It's one she believes in wholeheartedly, as evidenced in her office, her e-mail signature, and in the handmade jars of diverse candy she decorated with the credo and handed out to each staff member during convocation this year.

"As educators, we have to inspire students to dream big and we can't set limits on what those are," Rankin said. "But we also have to make sure they're dreaming something that's realistic, and then we need to take the steps to help them make their dreams a reality."

She said it's a philosophy she's held for years, and added that with the amount of time a child spends with a teacher each day, the effect can be far-reaching.

"We have a huge opportunity to impact," she said. "We have a huge opportunity to make a difference in their lives."

After nearly a decade as assistant principal in both Columbus City Schools and Westerville City Schools, Rankin said she feels comfortable in her new position -- even though she knows she has big shoes to fill.

"I have heard of Mark Trace referred to as Mr. Whitehall," she said of the former principal who now holds the title of deputy superintendent after serving 15 years at the helm of Rosemore.

She said her transition from Westerville to Whitehall says a lot about what is to come.

"This is a very positive place," she said from her new office last week, where a vase of pink roses -- a gift from the staff -- stood on her desk. "Have you ever just walked into a place and it feels like home? That's how I feel about Whitehall. It's the perfect place to be."

Whitehall Superintendent Brian Hamler said the district made some gains this year, reaching 12 of the state's 24 academic benchmarks with students -- but the district still has a ways to go before earning a better overall grade on its state report card. Students at Rosemore met the sixth-grade math and eighth-grade reading benchmarks and were just a fraction of a point away from meeting the goal in a third subject.

Hamler said he is confident in Rankin's ability to lead the charge.

"She brings a wealth of experience from two of the area's largest districts where she demonstrated success as an educational leader," Hamler said this week. "Mrs. Rankin is a very bright young lady who brings a passion for helping our teachers excel in the classroom. It is clear that student achievement is at the forefront of her thinking."

Rankin said she hopes to galvanize her teachers, whom she said are the key to student success.

"If you could have an inspiring teacher in front of every child, the sky would be the limit," she said. "I really don't feel there are limits on life other than the ones you set."

Rankin earned her bachelor's degree from Ohio State University and her master's degree from Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. She currently is working on her doctorate there.

She lives in Galena with her family after many moves around the United States as a military spouse, she said.