On her last day at St. John's Lane Elementary, Principal Yvonne Harrison had planned to say goodbye to her students, faculty and staff just as she had for the past nine years: quietly and without fuss.
But she got a big surprise Friday, when more than 750 students, staff, parents and former colleagues presented her with songs, gifts and 1,000 carnations and roses.
"This was incredible," Ms. Harrison said later in her office. "Today was my day to go in and out of the classrooms and quietly say goodbye. I don't think I've ever been so surprised."
In the fall, Ms. Harrison will take over as principal of Deep Run Elementary in Elkridge, replacing Principal James Pope, who will assume Ms. Harrison's position at St. John's Lane.
Ms. Harrison has been principal of St. John's Lane Elementary for the past three years, and she was assistant principal for six years before that.
During that time, she has overseen the creation of a number of programs and made lifelong friends among students, staff and parents.
"She's one of the kindest people," said PTA President Valerie Linaburg, who has a son in second grade at the school. "That's one of her strengths. She cares about each and every one of the kids."
Her composed demeanor also has touched teachers and staff at the Ellicott City school.
"She's very quiet-spirited, very calm and open-minded," said Stacy Atwater a first-grade teacher who met Ms. Harrison a year ago. "If she gives you suggestions, it's always for your own growth."
Ms. Harrison also has won over students with her quiet, but firm attitude.
"She's nice and she's kind," said David Kim, 10. "She helps you reach your goals, work hard and stay on task."
On Friday, the school paid tribute to Ms. Harrison as she sat in a rocking chair on the school playground.
About 750 first- through fifth-graders performed "We Are The World" in sign language, then formed a line to lay red, white and peach carnations and roses in her lap.
Many students hugged Ms. Harrison and whispered "Good luck" or "I'll miss you" as they greeted her. The scene was reminiscent of a mother saying goodbye to her adoring brood.
Ms. Harrison said she had worked hard to create a family-like atmosphere at the school.
"I wanted to make sure the children received a good education . . . and had a safe and orderly environment," she said. "The children know their needs are going to be met here."
Under Ms. Harrison, the school created a number of programs that she says were designed to foster student volunteerism and family togetherness.
They included food drives, a partnership between students and senior citizens at an Ellicott City retirement community, and a program that encourages parents to work with their children on class assignments.
Not everything has gone smoothly during Ms. Harrison's tenure.
For example, the 40-year-old school has been struggling with crowded conditions, which put it nearly 170 students above its official capacity of 663 in the school year just ended. The school is expected to be 215 students above capacity in the fall.
In March, the Board of Education considered -- and rejected -- a proposal that would have shifted the school's boundaries to reduce crowding. The board decided that the opening of a new northeastern elementary school in 1997 would provide more permanent relief.
That decision drew protests from some parents, who had supported redistricting. In the meantime, the school has coped with the crowding by bringing in portable classrooms and by adding teachers to maintain a teacher-student ratio of 1-to-25, Ms. Harrison said.
"The staff has been terrific with overcrowding," Ms. Harrison said. "It's been difficult, but relief is coming in 1997."
Parents said that even during the turbulent redistricting debate earlier this year, they never lost faith in Ms. Harrison.
"We always stood behind her," said Ms. Linaburg, the school PTA president. "Not one of the parents had any questions about the quality of education."
And Ms. Harrison hopes to make a smooth transition from St. John's Lane to Deep Run.
"A lot of me will be left here and a lot of me will go to Deep Run Elementary," she said.