Gentle leader starts anew

Retirement: In an Oz-themed send-off, St. Louis School in Clarksville bids farewell to its assistant principal.

July 03, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When pupils at St. Louis School performed The Wizard of Oz, the play did not end with Dorothy going home to Kansas. Instead, the final scene found her sunning on a tropical beach.

The revised story was a nod to Assistant Principal Dorothy Parker, who retired last month after 14 years at the Catholic school in Clarksville. St. Louis pupils, parents and faculty honored Parker on May 30.

"I thought, after 46 years, it was enough," said Parker, 65, of Baltimore. "Change is good for people - to have someone else's perspective and bring in other ideas. I think that's what life is all about - you sort of pave the way and let someone else move it in another direction."

Parker began her career as a teaching nun. She started her first job when she was 19, fulfilling a childhood dream. "I can remember as a kid playing school all the time," she said. In 1988, as a layperson, she joined St. Louis School, where she has had a deep influence on pupils and fellow educators.

"She helped us be better people because she always told us to be honest, to tell the truth. ... She didn't assume you did something wrong," eighth-grader Dan Evans said. "She believed you. She trusted you."

Faculty members credit Parker's low-key persona for her strong relationship with pupils. "I think it's because she is a very gentle person ... very willing to take the time to talk, doesn't rush them through their problems," eighth-grade teacher Eileen Hogan said. "She has kind of a way of bringing out the best in everybody."

That influence extended to staff members. "She's always somebody you can go to and talk to quietly and discuss things. She almost gets you to solve your own problems," Hogan said.

One of Parker's duties as assistant principal was coordinating the religious program in the school and how religion is integrated into the curriculum. She worked closely with pupils planning prayer services for the school community.

"She's very creative," Principal Terry Weiss said. "Every prayer service or liturgy is like a learning experience for the children. She really explains why we're doing these things and what the symbols mean."

Hogan said Parker helped pupils do things they didn't think themselves capable of, particularly public speaking. "She has helped a lot of very quiet and shy children to do that with so much confidence" at school Masses, Hogan said.

The farewell assembly was supposed to be a surprise, but pupils couldn't keep a secret from Parker. "Very little goes out without Miss Parker knowing because all the kids tell her everything," said Tammy Way, a school board representative who has two children at the school.

The kids cheered as Parker entered the gym and sat in a chair decorated as a throne. Each grade performed for her: songs, poems, an acrostic of her name. The revised version of The Wizard of Oz told the story of Dorothy as a young educator in search of the right school.

Parker squirmed on her throne, uncomfortable with the attention. "I always considered myself a behind-the-scenes person, putting others to the forefront where they can use their gifts," she said.

Gifts from pupils, parents and teachers - including a pair of ruby red slippers - concluded the ceremony. "It's an opportunity for them [pupils] to express their affection for her, because they all love her," Weiss said.

Parker will stay in the Baltimore area for now. She hopes to travel and do volunteer work. "I just sort of plan to let life settle in a little bit and see where it goes from there, kind of enjoy the things that I always seem to put on hold," she said.

"I've really learned a lot from her," Weiss said. "I think one of the things is when somebody brings something to you, whether it's a complaint or a problem, not to make a decision right away. I think her calm and gentle nature is rubbing off on me."

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