WASHINGTON CITY – It was a sad day for students and faculty at Washington Elementary as they said farewell to longtime principal Burke Staheli.
Staheli was one of many elementary school principals the school district announced would be transferred to new schools across Washington County. Like other principals, Staheli’s last day was Friday, April 13.
The last assembly
“This is a day of mixed emotions,” said Braxton Bateman, the school’s title one director, as he addressed an assembly packed with students, parents and teachers.
Behind Bateman hung banners on a stage curtain that read “Principal Staheli: You’ve done your best! You’ve been the best! You’ve achieved success!”
“This is a day of recognition and appreciation for the principal,” Bateman said.
As Bateman spoke, Staheli was given a bouquet of flowers and a stuffed toy eagle. Bateman said the eagle – which is the mascot Washington Elementary – was to serve as a constant reminder of the school while Staheli fulfilled his role as the new principal of Riverside Elementary.
Following Bateman’s comments, a slideshow titled “The Sad Day” was shown, and shared images of Staheli’s 13 years at Washington Elementary.
After the slideshow, it was Staheli’s turn to address the assembly.
“I’m sorry for leaving,” Staheli said. His words were matched by sad expressions on the faces of faculty and students alike.
Staheli told the students that aside from the myriad academics the teachers tried to teach them, they were also trying to teach them to be good people.
“If you’re kind to people, it’ll pay back,” he said.
He also told the students nothing would make him happier than to hear their year-end testing scores were higher than they had ever been before.
“I’ll never forget you,” Staheli said, and also thanked the parents for their support and being upset over the switch.
At the conclusion of his words, one student after one began to run up to Staheli and hug him. Many of them were crying.
Members of the Parent Teachers Association then presented Staheli with a plaque and a scrapbook covering his time as the principal.
The assembly then moved outside as students, parents and teachers lined up around the track. Each were given balloons which they let fly as Staheli passed by, either hugging, high-fiving, or dispensing one final piece of advice to students.
Not everyone is pleased
While tears were shed over the farewell of a beloved principal, some faculty and parents were critical of the timing of the school district’s decision to switch principals around.
“It’s bad timing,” said Heather Wade, a lab assistant. She said Staheli had been a great motivator during the students’ preparation for the coming year-end tests, but now that motivation was being taken away.
“We started testing [Thursday],” Wade said. “It’s really affecting the kids.”
Why not wait until the end of the school year? Wade said, and added “It would have been nice to have a [school] board member here to see what they did.”
In the background, students repeatedly chorused “Bye, Mr. Staheli,” mixed with occasional whimpers and wails of sadness.
“This was done with complete disregard for our children,” said parent Jennifer Felter, whose children were huddled around her and crying after saying goodbye to the principal.
Lisa Dinsmore, another parent, said she understood the need to change principals, especially if one had become stagnant.
“But our principal wasn’t stagnant,” she said. “He made a huge impact.”
Including Washington Elementary, nine schools have been affected by the principal swaps.
Words of a departing principal
Despite the sadness he felt over leaving the school he had presided over for so long, Staheli said he would go where the district wanted him. He also said he was surprised by the level of emotion felt while saying goodbye.
“I had no idea it would be this tender,” Staheli said.
Of the outpouring of support and appreciation shown during the assembly, he said “Today I consider myself the luckiest man.”
Staheli said he had done his best to influence the students for the better, and hoped that influence would last from elementary on into high school and beyond. Still, for as much as he hoped to influence the students, they had just as much influence on him.
“They’re more than just names,” he said, and added how he knew a lot about the lives behind those names.
Staheli said he had been reading about the Butterfly Effect – an idea that dramatic changes can be triggered by the smallest of factors. He said he hoped the minor influence he had on students at Washington Elementary would blossom into something great and positive in their lives which would then trigger a butterfly effect in the lives of others, and so on.
“Every adult should have a butterfly effect on a child,” Staheli said.
From the reaction of students, parents and staff witnessed at the farewell assembly, Staheli has indeed had an impact.
Staheli will now serve as the principal of Riverside Elementary. The new principal of Washington Elementary will be Kelly Mitchell, the former principal of Diamond Valley Elementary.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.