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Ready or not, veteran principals will depart

Most of the educators say they would prefer to continue working for a little while longer.

By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002

For three Hernando County schools, the 2002-03 school year will mark the end of an era.

That's because three of the county's most experienced principals are planning to retire at year's end. For them, the coming school year, which begins Aug. 12, is their last go-around.

At Hernando High School, Elaine Sullivan is marking her final year in the principal's office, a station she has held since 1986. Leaving with her will be Jane Padgett, her longtime assistant.

At Powell Middle School, Cy Wingrove is scheduled to retire at the end of the year. He has been Powell's principal since 1988.

And at J.D. Floyd Elementary, the only principal the school has ever known, Janet Yungmann-Barkalow, will retire. She has been there since 1986.

Their simultaneous departure is no coincidence.

Each entered the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP, when it debuted in 1998. The program enhances retirement benefits for veteran employees but locks them into retiring within five years of joining the program.

For Sullivan, Padgett, Wingrove and Yungmann-Barkalow, the deadline comes at the end of this school year. Otherwise, each of them would stay a little longer, they say.

"I'm too young not to work," said Sullivan, who is 57.

Sullivan and the others say they would be tempted to stay on longer were it not for their obligation to retire under DROP. Some expressed hope the Legislature might change the DROP program -- to allow stays beyond five years. It is an idea that been bounced around in Tallahassee but has not occurred yet.

"When I signed up for this, I was ready," said Padgett. "Now the reality of it is here. I thoroughly enjoy this."

Sullivan, who graduated from Hernando High in 1963, has worked in the county's schools since 1970. For her, this year promises to be a bit different.

"It will make it special because you savor all those things that are so much fun -- like homecoming and graduation," she said. "It's hard. It's been such a part of your life. But I'm working just as hard."

For Padgett, some nostalgia is already creeping into her routine.

"I think about that every time, that this is the last go-around for this," said Padgett, who is 65.

At Powell, Wingrove made the mistake of telling his staff last year that he would be retired as of July 1 of this year. Soon, it became clear that he had miscalculated his DROP date by a year and that he was actually due to retire in 2003.

Wingrove has taken some ribbing for the mistake. But he says he still enjoys the job and would stay on if the law allowed. "I'm not going to just hang on. When I have to force myself to go to work, I'll walk off into the sunset," he said. "It's still fun coming to work, and I still work late."

For his final season at Powell, Wingrove will manage roughly 1,240 students -- the largest student body he has had.

For Yungmann-Barkalow, even talking about leaving J.D. Floyd is tough.

She is the school's original principal and retains several staffers from that first year in 1986. They have shared weddings, baby showers, births and tragedies. Leaving such ties behind won't be easy, she said.

"We've learned to live with each other," said Yungmann-Barkalow, who will turn 62 later this month. "You respect each other. You know they have good days and bad days, and you can work around that."

Another veteran administrator, Ken Bonfield, is retiring at the end of the year, even though his DROP date has not arrived. His career spans 30 years and includes stints as an assistant principal at Springstead both now and when the school first opened.

He was also the first principal at Powell Middle School, managing the school until Wingrove took over. Unlike the others, Bonfield is eager to call it a career.

"I am anxiously looking forward to my retirement, he said.

Bonfield, 56, said Springstead had just 450 students when it opened in the mid 1970s. This fall, its enrollment could top 2,000.

"Back then, you told the kids something and they basically did it. You tell the kid something today and you get, "Why?' It doesn't matter what you tell them. It's, "Why?' The kids then were more responsive. Today, they question everything you say," Bonfield said.

"It was a lot kinder, gentler student back then."

In a county with just 17 schools, the retirement of three veteran principals in one year is somewhat significant. Add the retirements of Bonfield and Padgett and toss in at least two more assistant principalships with the opening next year of Nature Coast Technical High School, and suddenly there's a great demand for administrators.

"It's a whole windfall," said Barbara Kidder, the school district's supervisor of human resources.

Nationwide, an army of school administrators is on the verge of retirement. One estimate says 40 percent of the country's principals will retire by the end of the decade.

In Hernando County, the school district has tried to cultivate its own crop of future administrators. A pool of potential candidates who meet the educational qualifications even get extra training to prepare them for potential openings.

Already, nominees for the assistant principal jobs at Nature Coast have been made. Once this year ends, the remaining nominees in the pool will be put to the test.

"It's going to be a challenge for sure," Kidder said.

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