COLUMBIA — Twelve kids gathered Wednesday morning around a large, hissing tree in the Grant Elementary School playground.
Principal Beverly Borduin stood among them, closely inspecting a cicada with a little girl.
A moment later, she was across the playground to greet students near the four square court.
“Hi, Sam, how’s it going?” Borduin said, waving to the boy.
As she spoke, a line of more than a dozen children passed by, many grabbing her blue cardigan and embracing her tightly.
On that same day, Borduin made a stop in Grant's busy cafeteria, recently renamed in her honor. Earlier, she escorted children out to the bus, before helping a student in the office with his schoolwork.
Borduin is a resourceful and popular principal who chooses to be among students rather than in her office.
Now, after six years as Grant principal and 29 years with Columbia Public Schools, she is retiring.
She has taught every grade from first through seventh, while working at Grant, West Boulevard and Blue Ridge Elementary schools since 1982. Borduin helped build the *Eco Schoolhouse at Grant, her students have consistently scored well in MAP tests, and she has watched hundreds of them succeed.
“I have some in medical school; some are outstanding teachers,” Borduin said. “I see some working at gas stations and restaurants. Some have gone on to Harvard and some to junior college; they’re as different as anyone can be.”
She has gained the respect of Grant’s staff by becoming the principal she always wanted as a teacher.
“I wanted the principal to help us all be the best we could be in terms of learning and achievement and make that what we work on together,” she said.
She leaves the district as an accomplished educator with a reputation for constantly searching for new and effective teaching techniques.
Throughout her career, Borduin has witnessed many changes in the public school system as the city has become bigger and more diverse.
“We’re more focused on what we can do for the children that are not achieving the way they need to be,” she said. “At Grant School that’s been about double-dose instruction. All of us take turns teaching. Our music, art and P.E. teachers have all helped.”
The commitment to quality education has not changed over the years, Borduin said. “We have outstanding people working in the district and they stay interested in working here. We’re very family oriented.”
Kindergarten teacher Ken Greimann came to Grant around the same time as Borduin and is also retiring this year.
“Bev maintains a very open door policy,” Greimann said. “It’s very seldom that you walk past her door and it’s closed. She’s always available as quickly as she can be.”
“You can’t teach well without strong relationships,” Borduin said. That’s why she knows all 310 Grant students by name.
A large part of her teaching philosophy is to maintain contact with everyone, from students and parents to support staff.
“I do the paperwork at night and on the weekends because that’s when the children aren’t here,” she said. “For me to concentrate on achievement and supporting teachers, I need to be with them.”
Music teacher Pam Sisson said Borduin is often found in the classroom.
“She observes at all times,” Sisson said. “She writes her observations to us and treats every subject the same. She makes me feel like all of them are equally important.”
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions,” Borduin said. “If you go in it saying ‘we’re all in this together, we’re going to get better together,’ then feedback is just a part of the process.”
She has also worked to improve funding for Grant so her teachers can be more effective.
“A lot of that was through grant writing,” Borduin said. “There are extra opportunities we need to give kids and that costs money.”
She said Grant’s new principal, Kris Matthews, has to keep in mind the child’s, teacher’s and parent’s perspectives to help everyone stay connected to learning.
“If you put your focus and work and your inspiration and perspiration all together for learning, good things happen for our kids,” Borduin said.
A commitment to learning has always been a part of her. When she was a kid, her younger brother struggled in school and couldn’t read.
“The teachers said they couldn’t do anything more,” Borduin said, referring to her brother. “Even as a little kid, I said ‘Well, that’s not good enough,’ so I taught him to read."
She worked her way through Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and then taught adults in town how to read. She later followed her husband, Chuck, across the country to places such as Memphis and Paterson, N.J., where she continued teaching.
The couple ended up in Columbia, where her husband is a professor of psychology at MU.
“We made an adventure out of it,” she said. “We had a great time.”
During her 18 years at Grant, Borduin has become a beloved figure.
“She’s the best educator I’ve ever worked with,” fifth-grade teacher John Nies said. “She always does what’s best for the children,”
“I got to know her well,” said Greimann, whose daughter Heidi was in Borduin’s class at Grant. “I came to find out she is very organized but also likes being down in the trenches with the kids.”
Nick Gage has a kindergartner and first-grader at Grant.
“What strikes me is she’s always outside. No matter what she’s always there,” he said. “It starts the day off in a powerful way.”
After this school year, Borduin said she has few concrete plans.
Her daughter, Lauren, runs track for Georgetown; she'll be a senior next year, and Borduin wants to watch her compete.
Her son, Russell, is pursuing an advanced degree at the University of Texas at Austin, and she plans to visit him, too.
“Perhaps I’ll write a book or two, something that will connect with teachers,” Borduin said. “I might start painting again, too.”
She said she will continue to support public education in some way, maybe through volunteering.
“I believe Grant school is a really special place,” Borduin said. “It’s a place where kids and faculty love to come. It’s a joy to be here.”