Time sure has flown for Lacoochee Elementary School reading specialist Polly Jackson.
"It seems like I just started," Jackson said Monday, after she finished reading a book to a group of fifth-graders.
In reality, though, it's been 39 years since her first day teaching fifth-grade math in a Pasco Elementary classroom without air conditioning. She's seen thousands of kids, dozens of colleagues and myriad changes to education during her tenure. But now she's retiring.
"The years have gone so quickly," Jackson, 60, mused.
Sherrie Case, who has run the Pasco school district's accounts payable division for nearly 37 years, has seen time speed by, too.
"I actually didn't even apply for a job," Case, also 60, recalled. She was visiting her father's hardware store in Dade City when "the director of federal programs happened to be in there and saw me and said, 'Would you like a job?' … I thought, 'I'll do this for a little while,' and then 40 years later, here you are."
Among 117 Pasco County school employees retiring this month, Case and Jackson have served the longest. They both recalled a much different time when they began working here.
"We had just 17 schools. Chester Taylor was superintendent," Case said, taking a short break from training her replacement.
The schools weren't integrated. Checks were still typewritten. Computers? "You had no computer system whatsoever," Case said.
What about the schools?
Class sizes exceeded 30, and teachers taught single subjects. The desks were mismatched, and the books were chosen by each teacher, not by the district curriculum department.
"It was my first classroom, and I loved it," Jackson said.
Things changed over time, both in the classroom and on the business side of the equation.
Case, who oversees all the district's non-payroll checks, recalled being able to keep all the outstanding bills in a desk drawer. Now she has a filing cabinet filled with them. One of her goals is to move to a more digital, less paper intensive system for handling invoices and payments.
She wants that to be her legacy — and it looks likely to be implemented in the next few months.
Jackson marveled over the improved technology available to teachers. Interactive "smart boards" have replaced chalk boards. Children have access to the Internet and computers in every classroom.
"They're wonderful, wonderful tools," she said. "They open so much to the children."
The key, though, remains instruction, Jackson added.
She created a Story Dads Day at Lacoochee simply to make sure that students understand that reading is important to boys and men, and not just girls and women. Begun in 1987 with 10 volunteers, the program now brings in more than 50 men from the community to read to every class in the school.
Jackson counts it among her proudest accomplishments.
And why did she choose to retire? The state's decision to use FCAT scores, rather than a teacher's judgment, as a key deciding factor in whether to retain third graders convinced her to enter the state's deferred retirement program five years ago.
Lacoochee kindergarten teacher Carol Boyett, whose daughter grew up with Jackson's daughter, said she will miss having her friend around the school.
"She brings so much personality and knowledge and wisdom," Boyett said.
School Board secretary Vickie Herring, who commutes to work with Case, said she didn't look forward to her longtime colleague being gone, either.
"For years, I've gone to her with questions and she guided me," Herring said. "She always had an answer when I called her. She better come back and see us."
Both women expect to spend some time involved with the school system even after retirement. As Jackson put it, after all this time, "you can't walk away and never look back."
But they have some other more immediate plans first.
Case intends to catch up on long-delayed reading and DVDs: "I have not read the Harry Potter series, and I have that." She also has lots of family time planned.
Jackson has an Alaska trip scheduled, and she plans to check out the fall foliage in New England later in the year. She's got grandkids to tend to, and she also wants to take photo lessons, begin playing the piano again and complete some craft projects.
"It's exciting," she said. "It's a new way of life. I know I'll have a lot of adjustments. Right now, I still think a lot of about the things I won't be doing. But it's a new adventure."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.