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Fond memories, a difficult goodbye


Henderson takes new job in Sharon



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LILLIAN HENDERSON looks at the paper heart she received during a surprise assembly on the last day of school. It also was the last day of school for Henderson, who is leaving to take an administrator job in Sharon.

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June 22, 2011 | 08:41 AM
Linn ­— Reek School's hallways were dark and quiet late in the morning Friday, June 10, two days after what could be one of the biggest surprises of Administrator Lillian Henderson's career.

On the last day of every school year at Reek, they hold an awards ceremony. But this time, on June 8, Henderson said the ceremony began earlier than usual.

"If I had been a little brighter, I would have realized something was up," she said.

The Reek School Club and school staff planned a special assembly for Henderson, whose last day is July 1. She said she "was hoping to quietly go to the west," but she was surprised at how well people "at all levels" kept this surprise assembly a secret.

"To be honest, I always prided myself on knowing what was going on in this building," she said.

But Henderson said even if she picked up on it, she wouldn't have guessed how far everyone went to show her how much she will be missed.

"They created a paper heart for me," she said. "Every student gave me a flower. The kids did a song for me, which one of them actually wrote, and they had a huge box of Kleenex for me — which was good because I needed it. It was all terribly sweet."

Surprise or not, Henderson said she knew June 8 was going to be difficult for her. She has been the school's administrator since 1999, and has forged bonds with Reek staff and students.

Henderson said she spent most of the day June 8 in tears. She said she started crying during the Pledge of Allegiance.

"When you're with people for 12 years, it's hard to say goodbye," she said. "But on the bright side, I'll get to see these people again. I always go to (area) high school plays and graduation ceremonies."

Henderson also said saying goodbye is part of any school administrator's job.

"You say goodbye to at least some students every year," she said.

That's likely one lesson she will take to her next endeavor, which proves some truth behind her metaphor about quietly going to the west.

Henderson will be the new administrator at Sharon Elementary School.

The joy of child psychology

As any school administrator can attest, each day on the job brings something unexpected. This can be stressful for some, but Henderson often meets these challenges calmly. How does she do it? Likely because of her background.

Originally from the New York/New Jersey area, Henderson said she moved to Wisconsin to attend grad school at Marquette University for child psychology.

"Originally, I wasn't planning on being a school psychologist," she said. "I was going to be a psychologist with a private practice, but schools provide you with an opportunity to work with kids (and) work with a variety of students, from kids who have learning disabilities to kids who are gifted and talented."

Henderson worked in Racine prior to coming to the Big Foot area schools. Then, she stayed at home for a couple years before she returned to the district, part-time at first, then full-time.

"I was the school psychologist, then I worked as a collaborative services coordinator for Big Foot, Sharon, Reek, Fontana and Walworth schools," she said.

It's work which has been rewarding.

"Kids are always learning and growing at the elementary age," Henderson said. "Kids change so phenomenally, and it's exciting to be a part of that change. But sometimes, as an administrator, you can affect more change."

She said she also was ready for the new challenge. In 1999, former administrator Meredith Mountford resigned, and Henderson seized the opportunity.

"I liked it at Reek when I was helping out there," Henderson said. "I enjoyed the staff. I enjoyed the students."

She said she also believes she has helped affect positive changes, including a preschool program, before- and after-school care and hot lunch.

Henderson said these are improvements she didn't solely devise, but is glad to see still in operation today.

She said the preschool program helped increase Reek's enrollment.

"People were so pleased with the preschool that they wanted to open enroll their children here," Henderson said. "There are a lot of kids who need a high-quality preschool and we're happy to be able to provide that."

She also said before- and after-school care, which essentially means parents can drop off their children at Reek as early as 7:15 a.m. and pick them up at 5:30 p.m., helped Reek families greatly.

"Transitions can be hard on children," Henderson said. "I think this made for easier transitions for children and it was really helpful for parents. … If there were licensed child care operations in the district, we wouldn't have done it."

Return to Sharon

But after all the tears and the hard goodbye of June 8, why is Henderson taking a job in Sharon, a district with an enrollment more than twice that of Reek?

Actually, Henderson stepped in to help Sharon School four years ago, after the administrator at that time took a leave because of health problems.

She said she likes the area and it's time for a change.

This past year has been difficult. Henderson lost her mother, who had Alzheimer's Disease, in November.

"My son's grown up now, so clearly, it's a time in my life that, if I was going to make a change … there was nobody else I would have to worry about, except the dog," Henderson joked.

It's a larger school. She said Sharon has an enrollment of around 300, whereas Reek ended its year around 125. But Henderson said there's one common factor between districts.

"When people say Sharon School is the heart of the community, I really think that's true," she said. "There's a lot of pride in that community, just like there is in Reek."

With Reek's new administrator, Joseph Zirngibl, stepping in July 1, Henderson lamented a bit on the outcome of the spring referendum election. In April, the majority of Reek voters turned down a $3.9 million project to repair and renovate the school building.

"It would have been nice that the next person wouldn't have to deal with that, but it just wasn't meant to be," she said.

However, Henderson is confident Zirngibl will do fine.

"He will be blessed with great kids and a very supportive staff," she said. "People here are receptive."

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