Flagler County schools are the largest employer by far in the county. Its 1,700 employees outnumber by 700 the next-largest (and private) employer, Florida Hospital Flagler. So when the year’s retirements are tallied up, the number is usually larger than that of most local companies’ total staff.
Tuesday evening, the district held its annual retirement party between two meetings of the School Board, and to the sounds of a Flagler Youth Orchestra trio, this time saying good-bye to 44 people. Many of them had worked for the district one, two, three decades. Some decided to retire because they’d pledged to themselves that they would once they reached a certain age.
But by far the biggest name on the list was also the most poignantly silent, though she was there, looking strong, healthy, all smiles if no longer all business: Janet Valentine, who for four years led the district as its superintendent, for several years before that was its deputy superintendent, and for a couple of decades before that held various posts through the organization. She was due to be on the clock until the end of June. But she was felled by a stroke just before Thanksgiving, precipitating a quick succession at the top that led to the appointment of Jacob Oliva.
“We get some highlights every year,” Oliva said, “obviously graduation, promotions and a lot of things we do. But retirement to me is always a highlight for people that are able to finish a successful career in education. Education is a tough industry and a tough field, and without our support staff and dedication from teachers, Flagler schools would not be as successful as they are. So even though this is a small celebration and there are so many familiar faces in here, on behalf of me and the school board, thank you for everything you’ve done, you will all be very, very greatly missed, and there are some folks in here that quite honestly we’re just not going to be able to replace.”
“We’re not,” Harriett Holiday, the director of the district’s human resources department, said. “Those are strong powers of strength that you have provided for each of our students, staff and all the lives that you have touched while you’ve been here in Flagler County.”
“Thank you for your dedication to the Flagler County School District in helping us to become the nation’s premier learning organization. Year 2014.”
Holiday reeled off several names before calling Valentine and her husband George, who was also retiring after running a special education division for about 20 years.
“It’s hard to stand here, I miss her greatly,” Oliva said, standing next to Janet. They hugged. “Words cannot express how much gratitude, how much she’s meant to me. Janet’s been with Flagler schools, then with NEFEC,” the Northeast Florida Education Consortium, “and has been back, and she’s done a great job leading this district and putting forth the initiatives that we have in place today. Even though she’s been out the last couple of months, we still touch base every now and again, she wants to know all the gossip and what’s going on. I’m going to miss her.”
Every school board member was there—the celebration took place in the largest conference room of the district’s offices on the third floor of the Government Services Building—but they reserved their comments for the 6 o’clock meeting, when all the retirees trouped downstairs to the board chambers for photographs and the board’s recognition.
The next-highest position to see retirement after Valentine’s was that of Mike Judd, who’d been the district’s facilities director. “It’s always been my goal to retire at 50,” he said. “I’m going to do a little traveling. Hike the rain forest in Nicaragua, climb the pyramids at Giza, and kayak the Grand Canyon. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. I’m going to give it my best shot.” It’s not yet clear who will fill Judd’s place, though he said Oliva is reorganizing, and the position itself, as it was formerly known, may no longer exist.
Principals and department directors were invited to speak about each of the retirees who’d worked with them along the years, generating sometimes emotional, often funny recollections, as when Christle Rafool, a fixture among English teachers at Flagler Palm Coast High School for the last 28 years, claimed her retirement gift. “I’ve been cleaning house all week, after 28 years of teaching,” she said, “and I came across this letter of recommendation for Jacob [Oliva]. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
That drew the laughter of the new superintendent, who, children and grandchildren of retirees aside, was among the youngest people in the room. Later that evening during the board meeting, the board approved Oliva’s four-year contract, which calls for a base pay of $125,000, an expense allowance of $6,000, and total compensation package, including benefits and retirement, valued at $173,000. (See the full contract here.)
A list of the retirees, listed in the order provided by the district, appears below.
2014 Flagler County School Retirees:
Mary Jane Jones