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Once a retiree, principal pleased to be back in school

Inverness Primary School principal Teretta Charles was once retired, but it didn't last. When she came to Florida with her husband, Jim, from New York for their retirement, she tried golf lessons, but didn't like them.

So she began volunteering in the school system. Soon she took a position as a fourth-grade teacher at Crystal River Primary School. Then the school's principal suggested she fill the assistant principal position at the school.

Charles did that for one year and then became principal at Inverness Primary School.

Now in her 37th year in education, Charles has filled a variety of positions. She started as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher in Los Angeles in 1961. During her 26 years in California, Charles was a teacher, principal, and, at one point, the assistant superintendent of schools, second in charge of 55 schools and 55,000 students.

Now she oversees about 770 children and loves it. "The position I like best is principal," she said, "because you are directly interacting with students and teachers and it's the pivotal point where a difference can be made."

At Inverness Primary School, "the most exciting thing that's going on is the instructional program," said Charles. "Our aim is clear, the staff is clear on the aim, and so are the parents, and so are the students."

She was referring to data-based instruction, the use of data and observations to be very precise about how to best teach each student. The program is supported by learning centers, technology and mentors.

"I am passionate about every student's improvement, achievement and social growth," she said.

In between California and Florida, Charles was a principal in Long Island, N.Y., for eight years. When she and her husband decided to retire, they attended a home show and made appointments with builders from Pensacola to Sarasota. They started at the northernmost appointment and made it only as far south as Pine Ridge.

They were snowbirds for several years, Charles said, before they finally decided to make the move permanent.

Jim Charles retired from the federal government and is a musician and avid golfer. "He's a fine singer," Charles said. He's so good, she added, that he was once on Broadway in Guys and Dolls and was the understudy for Robert Guillaume. "We're very close friends with him," Charles said.

She and her husband have four sons, two from her previous marriage and two from his previous marriage. James Charles Jr., 33, is a technologist with AT&T. Kevin Terrell, 33, is a senior computer analyst. He is the father of the couple's grandson, Sy.

David Terrell, 25, is an investment broker in Beverly Hills, Calif. Christopher Todd Charles, 30, is in New York.

"We are a very strong family," said Charles. "We are a very Christian family."

In her free time, Charles said, she, too, is a musician, "I'm a pianist," she said.

She speaks Spanish and French and she swims every day. "I don't paint anymore," she said, "but I should."