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Time for goodbyes

They have been keeping secrets for weeks.

Cottage Grove Elementary School staff and students have been busy putting together a special send off program for Principal Rick Houston, who is retiring after 40 years as an educator. He has been the school's principal for four years.

If Houston heard fourth-graders singing "What a Wonderful World" or kindergartners doing "rap," he would never catch on that it was part of a tribute for him, they reasoned.

Students, staff members, and Carolyn Hoffman, office coordinator and the chief conspirator, talked in hushed tones about the send off they were planning.

Elementary school principals are expected to do many things in addition to managing schools -- activities no one told them about in graduate school. To reward students for achieving goals in reading or fundraising, they volunteer to allow themselves to be duct-taped to a wall or, as in Houston's case, be decorated with Silly String.

Students and staff members gathered in the gym last week. They were very quiet as Houston was escorted into the gym while band students played a fanfare.

After parading down a red carpet to a throne, kindergartner Clarissa Heavner came forward to put a crown on Houston's head. The crown was borrowed from first grade classes that use it to designate a student as "King of Quiet."

With a "We will miss Mr. Houston," as a backdrop, students performed songs, recited poems they wrote for the occasion and offered a slide show.

"You have touched our lives," said sixth-grader Matt Oxdal.

Houston, who came to the district as a teacher evaluator, was principal of Crestview Elementary School before being assigned to organize the opening of Cottage Grove Elementary.

"I will remember his kindness and ability to organize," said Assistant Supt. Linda Rull. "He has an ability to develop personal relationships with students and staff members."

"I'll remember his gentleness with kids," Hoffman said. "He's kind and caring. At the same time, the kids know he means business. He made a family out of this staff."

"I knew something was up because I had to be out of the building this morning," Houston said, recovering from his tearful thank you after the program.

In retirement, he plans to play more golf and go fishing, and he wants to be a bone marrow volunteer.

He also renewed his principal's license in case he decides to become an interim principal. "I'm not closing any doors," he said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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