Howard-Ellis principal to retirePublished 12:13am Saturday, September 12, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
On the wall in her office, Barb Garrard, principal at Howard-Ellis Elementary School has a piece of needlepoint hanging that reads: “The best you can give a child is your time.”
Time and dedication is exactly what Garrard has been giving to children over a 41-year career in education, 25 of those years spent at Howard-Ellis.
Garrard, will retire after the Christmas break this year. And taking her place, is one of her previous students and her current partner in Howard-Ellis’ operations, assistant principal Michelle Ausmus.
This year, as students rushed the open doors of the classrooms at each of the school’s two buildings, Mrs. Garrard was a fixture in those elementary school halls, like so many days that will inevitably follow.
“When I do something now, I think, this is going to be the last time that I do this … (It was) my last first day,” she said.
From her days as a student in one of Niles’ two room school houses, she continued her career here save for a short time in Washington D.C., where she also taught. Originally, she said from her office Thursday, she’d wanted to be a nurse.
But she changed her mind and her second choice has stuck.
During her time within the Niles Community School system, Garrard has served as assistant principal at Ballard Elementary school and taught at the former Westside and Central schools, before heading to Howard-Ellis.
“It’s been a wonderful profession,” Garrard said, looking back. “I wouldn’t have changed a minute of it.”
She’s seen students grow out of their elementary school desks, into middle school hallways and high school graduation – and perhaps one of the most significant transitions – she’s seen them return to Howard-Ellis as parents.
“I’m seeing second generations,” said Garrard.
“And they have such good memories of Howard,” added Ausmus.
Over time, both Garrard and Ausmus have been able to see the changes that have taken place inside schools in Niles and across the country over the years, the rise of technology and even, a bit of a change in the students themselves.
“I think they’re better, our kids here,” Garrard said. “I think every year they’re better. They know so much more than what we did as children.”
As for the teachers, “the training is so much better,” said Garrard.
“It is a hard, hard profession,” she continued. “I think anyone going into the teaching field has to have a passion for it or they won’t succeed.”
That passion, which has carried Garrard through her career is shared by her counterpart. Ausmus said she and her principal are on the phone with each other constantly, as each keeps an office in either of the school’s facilities.
“Couldn’t have picked a better person,” Garrard said of her replacement. According to the principal, superintendent Doug Law was to announce the decision to promote Ausmus at a staff meeting Thursday night. “I always tease her that I taught her everything she knows.”
Ausmus is “excited for the challenge,” she said. “But I am going to miss my safety net here.
“I just feel so honored,” Ausmus continued. “She (Garrard) set this school up … and I’ve got big shoes to fill.”
The job, they said, includes taking care of their staff of teachers which they praise continuously.
One of Garrard’s most treasured memories is when Howard-Ellis won Blue Ribbon recognition from the state.
Ausmus said that even this year, there was a feeling, a “buzz” and excitement about learning. She attributes that not only to the teachers, but to her predecessor.
“Anyone can learn a curriculum,” Garrard said. “But not everyone can learn how to treat kids.”
And what lessons has such a distinguished career taught Mrs. Garrard? “Patience,” she said.
“We tend to think our lifestyle is how everyone else lives and it’s taught me that’s not how it is.”
“Diversity,” Ausmus added.
Lessons that will last a lifetime, and no doubt be instilled in the children who have passed through Howard-Ellis’ hallways.
As her time as principal nears its end, Garrard said she hopes “to go out very quietly.”
When asked if she will, her former pupil, her second in command and her friend, Ausmus responds, “she thinks she will.”