School is open, but they don't have to go: Retirees celebrate

300 retirees gather for back-to-school luncheon

August 30, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

While Baltimore City students and administrators headed back to the classroom Monday, about 300 retired city principals and administrators reunited to take their minds off a day that was once part of their fall ritual.

The group gathered at The Forum Caterers in Reisterstown for a luncheon with the theme of "School is open, but we don't have to go," an inaugural event organized by retired city administrators.

"We just wanted it to be a big party because we're coming from an environment where we're always around a lot of people," said organizer Mildred Long Harper, who retired as an assistant principal from Benjamin Franklin Middle School in 2007, after 39 years with the school system.

Harper got the idea from a friend in Detroit, which hosts a party for its retired administrators on the first day of school. Harper and a group of administrators, who call themselves the "Stepping Out Group," hoped to replicate the idea in Baltimore and bring together at least 100 principals.

"Obviously, there's a need," Harper said, as she looked at the fast-growing line. Former administrators, who included those who had retired as recently as this summer and as long as 10 years ago, were greeted with Hawaii-themed leis and "Happy Retirement" party hats. Squeals could be heard from the front to the back of the venue, as administrators reunited.

The event included activities such as card games, karaoke, door prizes and backgammon. While some administrators came from as far as Pennsylvania, about 90 percent were from the city, organizers said.

"It's bittersweet for some of us, and we like being together," said co-organizer Yetty Goodin, who retired from the city school system in 2009. She was a principal at Garrett Heights Elementary/Middle School for 17 years and served 36 years in the school system.

"I miss my school, I miss my kids," Goodin said. "I would rather be where I'm passionate, and that's the principal of my school, although I'm happy to be with my retired colleagues."

Jimmy Gittings, the administrators union president, said the celebration stung a little bit for him, as he watched seasoned administrators file into the party. Gittings said that at least half of the crowd represented administrators who have left the system in the past three years.

"I am completely overwhelmed to see individuals that I have seen dedicate 30 and 40 years of their lives together have fun," Gittings said. "What hurts me is to see the experience sitting in this room and not in the Baltimore City school system."

Among the most recent departures from the school system was Eleanor Matthews, who retired as principal of the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence-winning Western High School this summer, leaving the school system after 41 years. Her retirement first hit her, she said, when teachers went back to school last week.

"It's different not having to be there to welcome the students," Matthews said. She reflected fondly on her 29 years — four years as principal — at the school, but said she had "waited for this day" of retirement.

"To stop what you have been doing for 41 years, you just have to look forward to the next phase of your life," she said.

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