All morning long they came, bearing gifts of flowers and chocolates, bath soaps and colognes.
In a sendoff befitting royalty, the Perkins Elementary community said goodbye Tuesday to beloved assistant principal Pat Archibald, who is retiring after a 34-year career with the Pinellas school district.
Or maybe not.
Like many district employees, Archibald, 68, has been participating in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, or DROP. The Legislature created the program a decade ago to encourage longtime public employees nearing retirement to make way for more junior, lower-paid workers.
Archibald asked former superintendent Clayton Wilcox earlier this year for a one-year extension on her contract. He said he would get back to her, but then he left the district himself.
Archibald says she's still waiting for an answer.
"I would really love to have more time at Perkins," she said. "It just seems there are loose ends that need to be tied up. Maybe that's how everyone feels when they're leaving, but I would just really love more time here."
Perkins principal Bob Lister would love for her to stay, too.
"We've been friends for 20 years," he said, choking back a sob.
"When I had the opportunity to hire an assistant principal back in '91, she was the first person I went after."
Archibald arrived at Perkins at a time when the district was grappling with ways to integrate schools in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
With that aim in mind, the school became a countywide magnet along with three other elementaries in 1993 with the help of a federal grant.
It wasn't long before the school on 18th Avenue S, with its focus on the arts and international studies, was one of the most sought after in Pinellas. Parents such as Ronny Brown, the mother of three small children, credit Archibald for its success.
"She's the life of the school," Brown said Tuesday as she stood in a long line of well-wishers outside Archibald's office.
"We'll miss her friendliness, her personality."
Karen Sleszynski, whose 5-year-old son will enter Perkins in the fall, called Archibald the "heart and soul of the program."
"I just hope this isn't goodbye," she said.
Brenda Duttenhaver, a member of the school's front office staff, said the uncertainty made everything harder as the last day of school approached.
She and her co-workers decided to throw Archibald a going-away party just in case.
"You don't want to not give her the tribute she deserves," Duttenhaver said, "but you don't want to send her out before her time."
Archibald, who flew to New York City to see some Broadway shows with old friends this weekend, decided against packing up her desk until she hears for certain that she won't be returning to the school in August.
And if she does get to come back for one more year?
Then there will be an even bigger party next year, she promises.