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‘She’s a true Bulldog'
Kinsey retires after 30 years, all at FCHS
rhonda retires 3 es
Rhonda Kinsey surveys her empty bookshelves while talking about her 30 years of teaching at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Emily Saunders
A lot has changed since Rhonda Kinsey taught her first class.

Kinsey, who was then 22-year-old Rhonda Pinson, is retiring after 30 years at Forsyth Central High School.

Like Kinsey, the school’s name has changed too. In August 1979, when the Gainesville native started teaching, it was known as Forsyth County High School.

“My first 10 years I coached cheerleading and tennis and taught P.E. and health,” she said. “Then I started having children of my own and it was just, I was going to every football and basketball game, varsity, JV and freshmen, so it was a little bit taxing to go to all of them.”

A North Georgia College graduate, Kinsey continued teaching health and physical education for 20 more years. She said her departure is “bittersweet.”

“You don’t feel like you’re ready to retire and then, there you go,” she said. “Thirty years just flew by. I don’t know how it flew by so fast.”

Several of Kinsey’s former cheerleaders recently attended a retirement party in her honor. One of those students, Tracy Gossett Ward, went on to a career of her own in education.

Ward, who graduated from Forsyth County High in 1981, was one of Kinsey’s first students. She is now an assistant principal at a school in Minnesota.

In a card, Ward wrote that Kinsey inspired her to teach.

“You and I only crossed paths for two years, but the impression that you made on me will last a lifetime ... I’ve always tried to make some kind of difference in every student’s life that I’ve taught,” Ward wrote.

“Seeing a student grow through a teacher’s eyes — seeing them succeed and become an adult — and always wondering if that is how you saw me.”

Central Principal Rudy Hampton said Ward’s presence at the party was a “true testament to the impact Rhonda had on her students’ lives and still continues to impact them as adults.”

“She’s been a solid anchor at the school and for the P.E. program and through all of the changes that have occurred, Rhonda has been a leader at Central and she will be sorely missed,” he said.

Like Ward, Angie McKinney and Darla Sexton Light also were in Kinsey’s first group of students.

McKinney, whose maiden name was Martin, was a cheerleader at the time. She has since retired from practicing law and owns Heavenly Dove bookstore in Cumming.

McKinney said Kinsey taught students to work together as a team and showed them how to get along despite their differences.

“She was just real patient and kind and not like your academic teachers,” McKinney said.

Light, a former prep basketball player, now serves on the Forsyth County Board of Education.

“I think that her dedication to Forsyth Central High School says worlds about her,” Light said. “She’s been there at that one school the whole time and she’s been a dedicated [Forsyth Central] Bulldog.

“She has loved that school, and I think that is so important nowadays to have that consistency and have those teachers that are not just there to get a paycheck, that really care about their job. I think she is one of those.”

Light was a senior when Kinsey came to the school. She said she and Kinsey have kept a friendship over the years.

“She loves Central and she’s a true Bulldog,” Light said.

Kinsey said the school and the community have changed over the years, but not the students.

“The wardrobes change, the hairstyles change, but kids are still kids,” she said. “They still need love and attention and they need to feel like they’re important. And I hope that I’ve given them some of that in 30 years that they can remember.”

She said that while she thinks teenagers today are more knowledgeable about life than they were 30 years ago, they still need and want the same things.

She said she was a little surprised the first time she realized one of her students was the child of a former student.

“She was sitting in my class the first day ... I was taking attendance and I called out her name and I looked at her and she looked just like her daddy,” Kinsey said. “I went, ‘Oh my gosh, now I know I’m old.’”

She has also taught alongside former students.

Before it became Central, Forsyth County was the only local high school. Kinsey said during that time, she “knew every kid in this county.”

“Not only did I know the kids, but I knew their families, and it’s a lot harder to get that now,” she said. “The world is so much more mobile than we were before.”

She said she has especially loved watching all three of her sons — Kyle, 23, Josh, 19, and Drew, 17 — attend Central. Drew, a rising a senior, will graduate in 2010.

“Having them go through here meant a lot to me,” she said. “I could be with them and watch them and their friends.”

Kinsey said she and husband Jerry, who is the director of county parks and recreation, have enjoyed their 26 years of marriage and are looking forward to the future.

Though she is retiring from teaching, Kinsey said she won’t stop working. She is studying for her real estate license.

“I know the market’s bad now, but it won’t be bad forever and that’s my plan,” she said. “I want to become a Realtor and this will be part two of Rhonda Kinsey’s life.”

E-mail Julie Arrington at