SHAFTSBURY -- "It's been a long journey," Shaftsbury Elementary Principal James Harwood said Friday as he reflected on more than three decades he has spent in education. On Tuesday, Harwood informed the school board of his intent to retire at the end of the school year.
Harwood has spent his entire 34-year career in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, the past five as principal in Shaftsbury.
As noted by School Board Chairman Francis Kinney on Tuesday, Harwood has spent his career advocating for children and providing the best possible education.
Harwood's experience in education has been more than a job for him. It has been a passion, an adventure, and an experience full of rewards -- all of which is apparent when speaking with him about initiatives at school, or the students and staff surrounding him.
Harwood began his career as a kindergarten teacher at Pownal Elementary. He then moved on to Monument Elementary and Molly Stark Elementary where he later became assistant principal. From there he was hired as principal of Bennington Elementary before moving on to an SVSU administrative position as the director of compensatory education. After three years in that position, Harwood longed to get back into the schools to work with children and he accepted the post in Shaftsbury.
"Even today, (what I love about this job is) the joy of working with children, individually or as a group," Harwood said. "My whole career has been working with preschool through sixth grade students. They're very honest and they're just fun to be with. They have a lot of energy and I think it just transfers over, as an adult it provides me a lot of energy to be with them."
Harwood said his age and desire to spend more time pursuing his passions outside of school factored into his decision to retire, although leaving Shaftsbury Elementary will be bittersweet.
"I truly continue to enjoy coming to work every day at Shaftsbury," he said. "I probably have the greatest staff one can imagine. I've had the opportunity from teachers retiring ... to hire on more than half of the staff that exists here today and they are just a very professional group and hard working group, but we have a lot of fun."
In addition to students and staff, Harwood said his job has been made enjoyable because of the support he has received from the school board, parents and community.
"Shaftsbury does have a very special place in my heart," Harwood said. "The board that hired me and the board that I'm working for today has been very supportive of education and the ideas myself and the staff have put forward."
Regarding the parents, Harwood said he "can't think of one time here at Shaftsbury Elementary School I have not gotten the support of parents."
In addition to the staff at Shaftsbury, Harwood said he's worked with many great professionals over the years. The most influential, he said, has been his administrative mentor Sue Maguire, who hired Harwood as assistant principal at Molly Stark when she was then the principal. Maguire is now principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, but when the two were in the same school Harwood said he learned from her every day.
Members of the school board as well as a parent in the audience at Tuesday's meeting playfully pleaded with Harwood to stick around a few more years.
"I can only say good things about you, Jim. I know you're definitely here for the kids, and I want you to know we do appreciate it," Kinney said. "It's too bad we can't talk you into one more year."
While he expects to enjoy retirement, Harwood knows he will miss the school.
"I'm going to miss the first day of school ... and every day greeting the children as they walk in and getting a ‘hello' and a smile," Harwood said.
Kinney said Friday he expects to have a conversation with Superintendent Catherine McClure prior to Shaftsbury's meeting in January to discuss how to go about advertising and hiring the next principal. The board will likely discuss it in January.
Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi