After more than four decades in education, the decision to say goodbye was a difficult one for Bruce Wagar.
"I always thought will someone have to pull me out of the job, or will I recognize that it’s time? But it was time," said Wagar, outgoing director of school safety and discipline for Forsyth County Schools.
"I can walk out the door feeling really good about the job I’ve done."
Wagar, who retires at the end of the calendar year, came to the local system nearly 12 years ago.
Having previously worked for 31 years as a teacher, principal and special education program developer in south Florida, Wagar was known as a compassionate educator and effective leader.
"You always knew he cared," said Nikki French, a former student. "He was always involved in both classwork and extracurricular activities. He made learning fun."
Wagar began as a principal in Forsyth County, but has worked in school safety for the past six years, developing new programs and implementing technology to keep students safe.
As the student population has more than doubled since Wagar came on board, so has his response to the growing safety needs.
Today, when 911 is dialed from any phone in the system, Wagar gets the call too. He has the technology to call into any classroom to decide how to respond.
Every school bus in the system has GPS, allowing him to keep track of when the bus is moving, its location, when the doors open and how fast it’s traveling.
He’s connected via two-way radio to the 911 communications center and has the capability to pull up a school and monitor any threats.
"I’ve just scratched the surface," he said. "I’m leaving at a good point and this next generation of people coming in can pick up the gauntlet and go from there. They’ve got a good foundation."
Todd Shirley, system administrator and athletic director, will succeed Wagar. Tim Monroe, a North Forsyth High School assistant principal, will serve as Shirley’s assistant.
Chris Grimes, school safety manager, looks forward to working with the new leadership, but will miss Wagar.
"He’s been very supportive of all the safety programs that we’ve wanted to implement over the years and has always been a boss to let you think outside the box," Grimes said.
"Part of the reason he comes to work every morning is because he truly cares about the 37,000 students that we have, as well as staff members."
Grimes added that school safety is not just about students.
"It’s about all the stakeholders in our system and I think [Wagar] truly cares about every single one of them," he said.
Wagar has also developed relationships with the county’s fire department, sheriff’s office and emergency management agency, as well as the Cumming police force.
Fire Chief Danny Bowman said Wagar is his "go-to person for all things related to safety for our school children."
"He’s a key component of our emergency management agency," he said. "I’ve fought fire for 44 years and I have never met one individual more universally respected as a person and as an administrator … his absence will be felt immediately."
Wagar’s wife of 42 years Karen, who spent more than three decades as a teacher, said she’s excited to be able to take more trips with her husband, or go out on a school night.
"He doesn’t mind the early morning phone calls or the late night phone calls … he’s up and out," she said. "He really gives 110 percent when he works.
"His mind is always going. He’s always thinking about ‘how can I improve that,’ or ‘how can I fix that to make it easier on people.’ He loves a challenge."
Associate Superintendent Joey Pirkle said the system has thrown many challenges Wagar’s way and he’s never shied away or failed to find a solution.
"He’s a problem solver and I’m going to miss that," Pirkle said. "It’s been very easy to work with him. He deals with things so well … and he’s a great friend to all those he has worked with."
Wagar said he will still be an active part of the school community and plans to volunteer at the local hospital.
But he will also spend more time with his three grandsons and son Clayton, the reason Wagar moved to Forsyth from Florida to begin with.
"He had our first grandson here and we came up to visit in the winter of 1999," he recalled. "When we got back home, Karen and I decided that we weren’t going to be part-time grandparents. We really wanted to be with our grandchildren.
"We had that with our grandparents and we felt that it was important to us growing up. It was absolutely the best move of our life … and we will remain here until the end."
While Forsyth County has become home, it won’t stop Wagar and his wife from traveling. Their first trip was booked shortly after he made the decision to retire.
The couple leaves Jan. 15 for a 15-day cruise to the Hawaiian islands.
"I planned it specifically so that I couldn’t turn back," he said. "There was no saying ‘no’ once I decided to retire."