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Leaving things in good hands

One of Karen Brickey’s first memories of the Suffolk Public School system was her interview by the Director of Human Resources Jim Thorsen for her job as the assistant principal of Driver Intermediate School, now Driver Elementary.

Thirty-one years later, Brickey is the one doing the interviewing.

Brickey, director of human resources with Suffolk Public Schools, is retiring with nearly 80 other school employees this year. A number of the retirements are due to an incentive plan designed to help save the system money, but Brickey made her decision to retire in the fall due to personal reasons.

“It’s time for a new face and a new someone to head up human resources,” Brickey said. “I feel like I’ve given the schools my very, very best. I can still remember my first day as a principal at Florence Bowser, watching the children come through the door. They were all dressed up and eager to start a new year.”

Brickey is a graduate of East Tennessee State University, where she majored in elementary education with an emphasis in mathematics. She went on to pursue a master in school administration from the University of Virginia and a certificate of advanced studies in administration and supervision from Old Dominion University.

Before coming to Suffolk, Brickey taught for eight years in Bath and Rockbridge Counties.

Her time in Suffolk began before computers were in the classrooms and when teachers used mimeographs to make copies.

After working as assistant principal in Driver, she became principal at Florence Bowser, but had the chance to come back to Driver, this time as principal of the now Driver Elementary School.

In 1999 she was assigned to the system’s central office in charge of coordinating care for Title 1 and gifted students as well as art and music programs. She later became coordinator of human resources and has been director for the past 10 years.

As an employment gatekeeper in the system she is responsible for interviewing, screening applications and recommending applicants to individual schools.

“In addition to the testing requirements, I look to see if the person is caring about children,” Brickey said. “I look to see if they’ll be consistent with the children, if they have a passion for education and if they are a true learner and have a desire to continue to learn. If they’re not, they won’t pass those feelings on to the children.”

Her career in education has stemmed from a long-time passion for teaching.

“I was a Sunday school teacher as a teenager and did a lot of tutoring in high school,” Brickey said. “I felt like teaching was my calling.”

While each of her jobs in the system has had different responsibilities, the one thing she brought to all of them was her ability to instruct.

“Each job I’ve had I’ve tried to bring my teaching skills to the table,” Brickey said. “There is no age cap on learning. I still work to help advise people regarding family and medical leave and securing positions. I just had a young lady come to me with her college transcript and advised her on what she needed to do.”

While the more than 80 employees leaving the system will leave a gap, Brickey said she feels the system is in good hands.

“In the 31 years I’ve been here, we have grown by leaps and bounds,” Brickey said. “Something we have that other school divisions don’t are the people working here. If something occurs, we help each other the best we can. That applies to the teachers and the students.

I think we’re leaving things in good hands. The people coming in behind us will step up to the plate.”