Fran Barnes says goodbye to students at Florence Bowser Elementary School on the last day of school. She is leaving education after about 40 years to spend time with her grandchildren.
Fran Barnes says goodbye to students at Florence Bowser Elementary School on the last day of school. She is leaving education after about 40 years to spend time with her grandchildren.

Archived Story

Principal says goodbye to Suffolk

Published 9:03pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After waving farewell to her students for the final time, the principal of Florence Bowser Elementary School says teachers are the foundation of any quality school district.

After two years leading Florence Bowser, and five years as principal of Mount Zion Elementary before that, Fran Barnes will sit behind her desk for the final time on June 28.

An educator since 1973 – though she had an eight-year break with her children – Barnes taught in Surry County before coming to Suffolk in 2002, when she started out as an assistant principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary School.

“I just felt like I wanted to enjoy my grandchildren,” she said Tuesday from behind her desk, adding she also wanted to retire “when I was still young and healthy enough to do that.”

“I want to travel, and I’m looking forward to reading again.”

She also wants to volunteer in a school closer to her home in Surry, and perhaps tutor as well.

Barnes also said a financial incentive to keep on with Suffolk Public Schools was lacking.

“No raises over the years,” she said. “It didn’t seem like that was going to change, so making the trip wasn’t easy to do. It just seems like it’s a time in education where I felt like I was ready to go.”

Barnes cited the introduction of the Standards of Learning “back in the ’90s” as about the biggest change she has seen during her time in public education.

In fact, she divides her career into pre-Standards of Learning and post-Standards of Learning.

“It’s not a bad, bad thing,” she said, adding it’s helpful to have everyone on the same page.

But Barnes indicated that introduction of standardized curricula and testing has intensified pressures on young children who are also learning to get along with others.

“Kindergartners are learning things that first-graders, or maybe even second-graders, learned years ago,” she said.

“Not every child is ready to learn at age 6, and that’s the truth, no matter what standards we put in place.”

Barnes noted the pressures funding issues are putting on teachers. “They have a big load on them … probably more than they did years ago,” she said.

“I think we have gotten to the point where we are not replacing positions as people leave, and making classrooms too large.

“I just know that the answer isn’t 30 children in a fifth-grade class and 25 or 26 in a class when they are learning to read.”

Funding shortfalls are hitting other areas as well, according to Barnes. Florence Bowser Elementary has relied on fundraising for things like honor roll certificates.

“I know things are run pretty tight, but there’s got to be an understanding that teachers’ salaries have got to be fair and equitable,” Barnes said.

“The teachers are the key to your success; there is no doubt about it. Our School Board and our city council, and all the funding groups from the city up, have to give some value to education, and give some funds for it.”

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