Thirty-eight years was enough. But even after nearly four decades in education, saying goodbye can be difficult, said Chattahoochee Elementary School Principal Dave Culpepper.
“I think I had the best school in the system, in my opinion,” he said. “I had the best kids, I had the best staff and great parents. But it’s a natural, timely thing and it’s just a really positive way to end your career.”
Making the decision to leave was just as challenging for Lorri Lazenby, who has taught for the past 39 years, 32 in Georgia. She leaves North Forsyth Middle School after 12 years and with many great memories.
“You have to follow your passion,” she said. “I think that too many people do a job and it’s a nine-to-five job where they can’t wait to get home. But teaching at North Middle is my home.”
Today marks the last day of the 2011-12 school year for the Forsyth County school system. For Lazenby, Culpepper and some 85 other staff members who are retiring it’s also the end of long educational careers.
The retirees were recently honored with a celebration, but Forsyth County School Superintendent Buster Evans said it was bittersweet.
“They represent close to 5,000 years of experience. That’s phenomenal,” Evans said. “Some of these people have been in Forsyth County all their career and some have only been with us for a short time.
“But to see that kind of experience leave is sad, on one hand, but on the other hand, we see the work ethic that continues to … ensure we have a continuing succession of leaders, teachers and personnel in our district.”
Lazenby said she found her calling as a teacher and never thought to leave. Before Forsyth, she worked in Decatur City and Gwinnett County school systems. Working in Forsyth was the perfect way to end her career.
“Everybody knows everybody and everybody cares for each other. It’s like a family and it’s a very, very great community,” she said. “I found my fit. This was my spot.”
She has loved teaching so much, her enthusiasm has rubbed off on her daughters, as her own mother’s love of teaching inspired her.
Lazenby’s daughter Sarah Metzger, is a fifth-grade teacher at Settles Bridge Elementary, and her other daughter, Diana, who is pursuing her teaching degree.
“I must not have complained all those years of teaching because both of my daughters wanted to be teachers,” she said. “Sometimes you’d think they’d say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do that. Look at mom who comes dragged down every night.’ But I don’t.
“I think that it started out just seeing that I was happy. That I came home from a job that was very self-satisfying and they followed that career.”
For Culpepper, being a principal was actually his third career. He was also a high school English teacher and served in the Air Force Reserve after graduating from the University of Alabama.
His wife, Reba, who graduated college the same day, is a special education teacher at Whitlow Elementary School. Though she began teaching a year earlier, Reba Culpepper won’t retire until December, just shy of a full 40 years. Then, the sky’s the limit for the couple.
“We’ve got a three-prong plan with no time constraints,” said Dave Culpepper. “One is to relax, because we don’t know what that feels like. The other one is to travel a bit and the third thing is to do whatever we figure out we want to do.”
Lazenby said she has “no idea” how she’s going to spend her retirement, which already took some prompting from a friend.
“I have had some moments of hesitation. I still do. I mean, that’s been my life,” she said. “But it’s time to go to a new adventure and a new challenge. I just don’t know what that is yet.”