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Farewell to two fine educators
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Updated: 05/29/2013 08:00:14AM

Farewell to two fine educators

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The approaching end of the 2012-13 school year also marks the end of long careers of two Bartow-based educators who have had a tremendous impact on the school system and the young people it serves.

Ron Pritchard, principal of Bartow High School since 2000 and assistant principal for 10 years before that, will retire from BHS at the end of the school year next week.

Although he will become principal of the East Area Adult School in Auburndale until the end of the calendar year, his departure from BHS marks the end of an era for Pritchard and the school.

His tenure at Bartow High was a bit of “deja vu all over again;” Pritchard graduated from the same school in 1970.

During his tenure as assistant principal and then principal, Bartow High School became a three-part institution: the traditional BHS, Polk County’s first International Baccalaureate school, and the quasi-military Summerlin Academy.

That all three schools, each with its own headmaster, work in harmony is testimony to Pritchard’s leadership. The BHS IB program was recognized a few weeks ago as No. 2 in the nation. Summerlin Academy is a trail-blazing venture in education whose students sign on for a regimen of stricter discipline and order than most teens choose to embrace.

Pritchard is not a “behind-the-desk” administrator. He constantly tours the sprawling campus in a golf cart, or quietly observes his faculty from the back of classrooms, ensuring that the level of instruction meets his standards and expectations.

He maintains close ties with the community, to the advantage of both the school and the citizens it serves.

Pritchard, whose selection as principal was supported by a petition effort of the faculty 13 years ago as well as by community leaders, has recommended one of his assistant principals, Emilean Clemons, to be his successor. It is a recommendation that has merit, and we hope it will be considered by the new school superintendent.

Whoever succeeds Pritchard will take the reins of a school that is well run and highly respected by the community.

Also exiting the educational stage will be John Stewart, a former Polk County school superintendent who came out of retirement in November 2012 to become interim superintendent upon the resignation of Sherrie Nickell.

Stewart was one of Polk’s last elected school superintendents. After 12 years in that position, he served as a deputy commissioner in the Florida Dept. of Education, deputy superintendent of Pinellas County schools, and executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Assn.

Surprising nobody who knows him, Stewart did not return to Polk County schools in a caretaker role.

He took the reins of the school district at a time when budgetary shortfalls were measured in the tens of millions of dollars, and listened not only to his staff but also to teachers, parents, and taxpayers in deciding how to cut expenses.

When parents of high school students voiced objections to a proposal to reduce the school day from seven periods to six, he heard them, and looked to other areas for savings.

After touring a number of schools, he decided to scrap a new numerical grading structure in elementary grades and return to the traditional letter grades of A to F, which teachers, parents, and students have understood for eons.

Reporting on faculty reaction to the numerical system, he said, “They didn’t say it was a bad thing. They said it was a terrible thing.” Again, he listened.

Newly selected School Supt. Kathryn LeRoy will step into a school system that works well.

Like Ron Pritchard at Bartow High School, John Stewart is leaving an organizational enterprise that is better for his service.

We wish them both well.

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