The new senior class

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, June 16, 2010

As the last of Suffolk Public Schools’ graduates file across the stage at Lakeland High School on Saturday, they will share something with an unusually large number of the school system’s teachers, administrators and staffers — a sense of nostalgia mixed with a dose of uncertainty.

For graduating seniors everywhere, such feelings are the very stuff of commencement exercises. There is a sadness for what is being left behind — and no small degree of trepidation for the uncertain path that lies ahead. What’s different in Suffolk this year is the high number of school administrators and officials who will be experiencing the same mixed bag of emotions on Saturday or soon thereafter.

Largely as a result of a budget-saving retirement incentive, Suffolk’s Public Schools will lose 82 employees by July 1, representing 2,167 total years of experience. The retirements extend from bus drivers and maintenance workers all the way to the top floor of the school’s administrative building, where Superintendent Milton G. Liverman will clear out his office and head home for the day for the last time at the end of the month.

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Clearly, such a massive turnover means that Suffolk is losing some valuable talent. It also means there will be big changes in management style, in teaching style and in the general demeanor of Suffolk’s public education system. The combined knowledge that will leave the system by the end of the month is staggering.

Still — and one of the retirees made this point during a recent interview — there are exciting possibilities that make themselves available because of the changes. A new group of people with new priorities, new perspectives and new ways of accomplishing tasks will help breathe fresh life into the school system. And there’s a sense in which this group of younger leaders has been waiting in the wings for the chance to make a difference.

“It’s like the senior class graduating,” Suffolk’s retiring assistant superintendent, Lynn Cross said. “There are quite a few of us stepping down this year, but we know there’s a junior class below us that will step up to resume our responsibilities and carry on the good work.”

It might not make much difference to the average graduating high school senior that there is a solid junior class waiting to move into position after Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. But it should be comforting to those adults who will be moving on this year — and to taxpayers and parents — to know that the “junior class” moving into administrative and faculty positions in Suffolk’s school system has had plenty of time to train and develop skills. And they’re ready to be the new seniors.