COLUMBIA — On Thursday, Dan Boatman hugged, high-fived, hand-shook, said thank you and then goodbye.
His focus was on the students, the Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School principal said.
The morning’s fifth-grade graduation churned up memories of each student as he awarded them a gray diploma and told them he was proud, Boatman said.
On the auditorium stage, he said the graduates possessed "strong character" and a spirit of service. One final note before they sailed into the future: Don't forget to check the lost and found.
Thursday was the last day of classes at Columbia Public Schools this year. Students at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School celebrated graduating from kindergarten and fifth grade and presented report cards to their parents at early dismissal.
Alpha Hart Lewis also marked the day by saying goodbye to Boatman, who is resigning after leading the school as principal since it opened in January 2010.
Blue Ridge Elementary School Principal Tim Majerus will take over at Alpha Hart Lewis, and his former position will be filled by current Blue Ridge Assistant Principal Kristen Palmer.
The past two years at Alpha Hart Lewis have been full of growth. Soon after opening, the school exceeded its capacity of 630 students. In the 2010-11 school year, 731 students were enrolled, according to a School District presentation from November 2011. Boatman said student enrollment this year was around 650 students.
In 2011, almost 77 percent of Alpha Hart Lewis students were on free or reduced-price lunch, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Around 35 percent of students across the School District qualify for the program.
During the beginning days of Alpha Hart Lewis, the school atmosphere had to be built from the ground up. Teams of teachers worked to design the school's procedures. How would students get to and from class in a safe, orderly manner? What about recess timing or organizing kids on the playground?
One informal policy Boatman started was instructing teachers to position themselves along the hallways, so each student saw at least five smiling adults before they reached class in the morning.
Fifth-grader Cheyenne Hertzing came to Alpha Hart Lewis two months ago and said she liked the effort.
“When you’re walking in the door, you’re tired, and when you see the teachers smiling at you, you’re happy,” Hertzing said.
Boatman is leaving the school to look for a different position in Columbia Public Schools next year. He said he wants to finish his dissertation at MU and spend more time with his four children: Mora, 11, twins Bryce and Bennett, 8, and Maren, 2. He said the long hours were frequently keeping him away from home.
“When you’re only watching your kids sleep, that’s a problem,” he said.
Boatman concluded the last faculty meeting of the year by thanking his colleagues. Many teachers wiped tears from their eyes.
During the first-graders' lunch, cafeteria supervisor Doris White said she was sad to see him go. She said Boatman was responsive to her questions and comments.
“When I heard he was going, I said, ‘No! I can't believe it,’” White said.
Fifth-grader Keiara Cribbs said Boatman was “a great principal.”
“He takes his time to talk to people who are being bullied” and check up on students, she said, including herself when she had problems with another student.
At the 1:15 p.m. dismissal, Boatman wore aviator sunglasses and held a walkie-talkie as he directed parent pick-up traffic in front of the school. Students came up and gave him one last hug. He leaned down and hugged them back.
“Have a good summer, OK?” he said.
Supervising editor is Dan Burley.