Last day of school through principals’ eyes

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 | 7:35 p.m. CDT; updated 11:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Parkade Elementary Principal Betsy Baker says goodbyes after school let out for the summer on Tuesday. After 12 years as principal at Parkade, Baker is retiring. "Today has been a lot harder than I thought," Baker said.

COLUMBIA — Betsy Baker plans to spend more time with her three grandchildren. Vickie Robb is traveling to England. Debby Barksdale will teach elementary education at MU, and Tarry Parrish will focus full time on her herd of Black Angus.

They are among five principals and one assistant principal retiring this year from the Columbia Public School District. For them, Tuesday’s final day of the school year had particular meaning.


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“It’s always hard to watch the kids leave,” Betsy Baker said as she walked around saying goodbye during an afternoon kickball game at Parkade Elementary School. “Most of them I’ve known since they were preschoolers.”

Baker, who has led Parkade for 12 years, spent her final day practically at a jogging pace as she went from classroom to classroom thanking the students for their going-away gifts.

“When I look at them, I will think of you,” she said, referring to her presents. The children were excited about her uncharacteristically royal-blue fingernails, a nod to one of Parkade’s school colors.

“They make me joyful every day,” Baker said of the children. “They are phenomenal little people and will be in my heart forever.”

They seemed to feel the same way about her. At the students-versus-staff game, Baker’s arms were full of children wanting hugs. She will be succeeded by Amy Watkins, Assessment for Learning coordinator at Rock Bridge High School.

At West Boulevard Elementary School, Vickie Robb cheerfully greeted students as they lined up to watch a slideshow of school pictures from the past year. She and Assistant Principal Peter Stiepleman, who will succeed Robb, teamed up to keep the lid on the level of noise and excitement.

Robb praised the children for quieting down, and she encouraged them to be kind to each other. “We never laugh at each other,” she told them. “We show appreciation. Enjoy this, and let’s be kind in our enjoyment.”

One of her most memorable experiences at West Boulevard occurred on her first day as principal four years ago. It was one of the school’s first writing celebrations, during which the children line up their papers on the gym walls and walk around reading each others’ work and leaving encouraging comments.

“It was an ‘Aha!’ moment where they saw what great authors they could be,” Robb recalled.

After the slideshow, Robb teared up as a pair of fifth-grade girls read a poem titled, “We Won’t Go,” expressing how the teachers and staff at their new middle schools won’t understand what it was like to be at West Boulevard.

Other principals retiring this year from Columbia Public Schools are: Debby Barksdale, Benton Elementary School; Linda Klopfenstein, Midway Heights Elementary School; and Nyle Klinginsmith, Jefferson Junior High School.

At Lange Middle School, Assistant Principal Tarry Parrish walked through a war zone of waterlogged sponges and scrambling students. She laughed when she saw a teacher with a towel hanging out of his hat.

“It takes a special teacher to teach middle school, it really does,” said Parrish, who has been assistant principal at Lange for five years. “You still have to have a little kid in you.”

Parrish, who will be succeeded by Connie Dewey, a math teacher from Gentry Middle School, has taught every grade from kindergarten to college in her 33-year career. The thing she most looks forward to is not waking up at 5:15 a.m.

“Seven-thirty would be a nice number,” she said.

Parrish will spend a lot of time on her 140-acre farm that is home to 50 head of registered Black Angus cattle. She also has her car dealer’s license and plans to attend automobile auctions to buy for other people.

She spent Tuesday watching students participate in “Play Day.” As they rotated among the game stations, she surveyed their soaked forms.

“This is a good ending to a last day,” Parrish said. “Everybody’s having a good time.”

Missourian reporters Elise Catchings and Deidra Holder contributed to this article.

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