ST. PETERSBURG — After 30 years in the Pinellas County school system, Sue Boyd is ready to drive into the sunset — in a huge RV blasting Jimmy Buffett tunes.
The Azalea Elementary principal will retire at the end of the month, which makes closing out this school year an emotional roller coaster.
"I've been at Azalea for 11 years," said Boyd, 55. "Times were very, very different then."
Boyd came to Pinellas County in 1980 as a physical education teacher at Lakeview Elementary. She was at Lakeview for 10 years before being hired at the new Rawlings Elementary in 1990. She stayed there until 1998, as PE teacher and assistant principal. Then she was principal of Fuguitt Elementary for a year and a half before going to Azalea in 2000.
The St. Petersburg Times talked to Boyd about her long career.
You could have stayed for several more years. Why leave now?
Commitment to my family. I want to have some time for myself before they need me to take over the care of my sister. … I have a handicapped sister I will eventually be a guardian of. I knew my parents needed me to be her guardian. Now they have five more years before I need to assist them.
What's the best part of your job?
There were three big highlights for me. One was converting Lakeview Elementary into a fundamental school. I was part of the team that did that. The second one was when I was at Rawlings as assistant principal. We won the Governor's Sterling Award. At the time, Rawlings was the first school in the state to have won that. The third one, when I was taking over Azalea. I knew that (former superintendent) Dr. (Howard) Hinesley wanted me to keep the penny shining. We went from a good school to a great school.
What's the worst?
About a month and a half in as principal at Fuguitt Elementary, a little girl was killed at the bus stop. I was a rookie principal. It was arrival time. So not only did the little girl run into the road, get hit by a car and was pronounced dead at the scene, a school bus had pulled up and it had 47 kids who witnessed it. That was the saddest and most challenging time. … It became a juggling act of getting kids the right kind of counseling, trying to bring some normalcy back to the school, trying to be helpful to parents, and in the midst of all that, trying to look back and say what we could have done differently. … I grew up very fast that day. I was no longer principal of the school. I became a leader of the school.
In the 30 years, what are some of the biggest changes and challenges to education you have seen?
Biggest challenge is that you are required to do so much more with so much less. I think that happens to all Americans now, you have to tighten your belts. Schools have to do that, too. There is a heightened level of accountability … to meet the high bar in No Child Left Behind and, at the same time, funding has gone down. The number of resources are becoming less and less. The other challenge is … we have students that have parents who are working two jobs or who come from single families. So we don't have a presence in the home like I did. Now we have children who come in without manners and social skills, and they have huge disrespect for adults in general, not only teachers but police, firefighters, a Publix employee. We not only have to teach them social skills, but we have to teach them how to read and write. Some of the kids come to school with so much baggage. We have to work around that to reach their brains.
They are also smarter in a lot of ways. The kids of this generation have to be entertained quickly. Everything, like the iTouch, iPad, they get instant recognition and gratification by the touch of the screen. We have to compete with that and that is a big challenge.
What would you miss most?
I'll miss everything, even the challenges. I start the day with a "good morning, Azalea," and I tell my kids and my staff to "fake it till you make it." You got to have a good attitude. … I wake up every morning wanting to go to work. I'll miss those days when you see their faces light up, and the days that they 'slime' you when they raise money for a walkathon. If they reach their goal of earning $4,000 for PE equipment … they get to slime me. (Students get to toss buckets filled with vanilla pudding tinted with green food dye at the principal and other administrators for reaching their fundraising goals.) It's a nasty, yucky day, but they get so much joy out of it. I am going to miss the carnival and the pool party, and all the things where they get to have fun and still be kids.