LAND O'LAKES — When Vickie Herring started working for the Pasco County school district, Dade City was home to the district offices and Land O'Lakes High School had yet to open.
Herring was a 17-year-old Pasco High School senior, earning credit for a business course by doing secretarial work in the personnel department.
She never left.
"I was going to go to college," said Herring, 56, who has been the School Board's recording secretary for 12 years. "But my (class) coordinator Greta Adams came to me and said, 'The district office needs help.' "
The Pasco district was experiencing its 1970s boom, and it had to beef up the personnel office to handle the growing load of job applications.
"I just liked it," Herring recalled. "I was making money, and I ended up staying."
Thirty-nine years later, she has decided to retire. As she leaves, she's got more time in the district than all but six other full-time staffers.
"I am ready for the second half of my life now," Herring said. "I am ready to relax. I am ready to do what I want to do."
Dozens of other longtime Pasco school employees are joining her at the end of their careers. The retirees leaving at the end of June worked a combined 1,400 years.
Among them are Seven Oaks Elementary principal B.J. Smith, who joined the district in 1980, and Gulf High career specialist Kathy Trapp, who joined the district in 1982.
They marveled at the growth they witnessed during their tenures, and said that despite the rapid expansion the district remained a friendly place to work.
"It's still maintained the feeling of a small system," Trapp said. "You still know people."
Smith, 66, worked for a decade as a high school choral director in two Georgia school districts before moving to Tampa with her husband, Jim, whose home-building company transferred him to Florida.
Holding her master's in guidance counseling, Smith began seeking jobs. She interviewed in Hillsborough County, where she lived, and then made the trek to Pasco.
"I thought I would never get here," she said, recalling how Dale Mabry Highway had yet to be built up to the six lanes it is today.
But her meetings proved fruitful, and she landed a job at Cypress Elementary. She began as a counselor and, three years later, became assistant principal. After a couple of years, she transferred to Sanders Elementary, where she remained an assistant principal for nine years.
"I was in the principal pool for a long time," Smith said.
When John Long became superintendent, she told him she'd like to become a principal. Not too long afterward, she got the call. She saw Long's name on the caller ID and picked up.
"He said, 'B.J. Smith, you are going to Anclote,' " she recalled. "I screamed in his ear."
For the next 16 years, she worked as an elementary principal, first at Anclote and then at Seven Oaks Elementary. Every year she led the schools, they earned A grades from the state.
Smith said she enjoyed discovering talent and helping people achieve their best. Over time, she said, there's been a push to hold both children and adults to increasingly higher expectations.
"You can't measure potential," she said.
• • •
Trapp, 58, spent the first five years of her career at Safety Harbor Middle School. She moved to Ridgewood High School in 1982, after earning her master's degree in counseling. Her husband, now principal at Gulf Middle, was already with the district at Hudson High, so the move made sense.
The school was making its transition from a junior high to high school, she said, meaning she had some of the same students for six years. That continuity allowed the staff to really understand the children and their needs.
After 11 years, Trapp transferred to Gulf High as its career specialist. At first, she said, the work focused on helping students find jobs.
"Now, it's all about helping with post-secondary planning," she said — career or college.
Initially, she thought she might remain in the district a bit longer. When she entered the state's deferred retirement program, school employees were allowed to extend their retirement.
But no longer. So she's ready.
She even pulled a "senior prank," pulling the alarm for Gulf High's final fire drill of the year.
"I've never not worked," Trapp said. "I want to see what else is out there."
She planned to travel to her family's home in Ireland and to get her son married, for starters. As she left school for the last time, though, retirement hadn't hit her.
"Right now, what it feels like is summer vacation," Trapp said. "I don't think it will really hit me until August."
• • •
Herring still had to prepare for one final School Board meeting before she could call hers a career. She said she enjoyed working for the various board members, finding it "interesting" to see how their often very different personalities interacted.
Perhaps her biggest challenge came in transitioning the board and administration to electronic agendas. It took nearly four years to get the system in place and then get everyone trained to use it.
"It did take a while," she said diplomatically. "When we saw all the other districts going paperless, we knew it was the way to go."
Herring worked under five superintendents and several department heads, many of whom plan to come to her retirement dinner.
"She understands the agenda. She understands the board. It's a tough job," said Kurt Browning, the latest in her string of bosses. "She's going to be missed."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.