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She oversaw the new school’s opening and said she will miss the students.
KYLE GREEN | The Roanoke Times
Connie Ratcliffe (right), principal of Patrick Henry High School, shares a laugh with students Johnny Chapman (left) and Xavier Whorley as school lets out Thursday afternoon. Ratcliffe, who has been at the helm of Patrick Henry for six years, announced that she will retire at the end of this school year.
Friday, February 8, 2013
What she’ll miss?
What she won’t?
Longtime educator Connie Ratcliffe, who has led Roanoke’s Patrick Henry High School for the past six years, announced Thursday she will retire at the end of this school year.
Her retirement — which she described as the worst-kept secret in town — became official with an announcement on the school system’s website.
“I’ve been very, very blessed,” she said, explaining that she came to Patrick Henry during what she described as “a perfect storm.”
Ratcliffe said when she came on board at the school in 2007, the city council had just invested millions for a new building, Superintendent Rita Bishop was just coming on as the school system’s leader and Patrick Henry had a strong core group of parents.
Ratcliffe has been with Roanoke City Public Schools for 28 years. As principal, she has overseen the opening of a new Patrick Henry, the expansion of the school’s fine arts program and the addition of more Advanced Placement classes.
“Everyone kind of joined together and wanted, in one solid push wanted, to see us move forward,” she said. “I’m going to miss it. I’m really going to miss it.”
Without hesitation, she said, it’s the students she’ll miss the most.
“I always say you have to have joy in your work. I can truly say I have joy. Every day when I come in, I’m greeted by kids who are just fun to be around. It’s exciting and challenging all at the same time.”
It is not usual to find Ratcliffe at school from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. She won’t miss that demanding schedule (or the paperwork, she added) but explained that she enjoys the time at school.
“The after-school time is fun for me. There are lots of student performances. There are lots of student events I get to attend. That’s fun for me. I enjoy seeing them perform and play, theater, band, orchestra, forensic competitions,” she said. “It’s really long days.”
While she said that she will be around after retirement, now she wants to spend more time with family, watch her nieces and nephews grow up, and take on new challenges.
But she doesn’t intend to disappear and said she would like to stay involved, perhaps with Advanced Placement courses or athletics.
Ratcliffe started her career in education as physical education teacher and coach. She’s a Pulaski native and started teaching there, later coming to Roanoke where she taught elementary and middle school before moving into administration.
She was an assistant principal at William Ruffner for three years and principal at Woodrow Wilson Middle School for seven years before coming to Patrick Henry.
Looking back on the past six years, she’s most proud of building a new school culture.
“I’m proud of I guess the way that our students and staff have joined together. One of the things Dr. Bishop challenged me with is that she wanted Patrick Henry to be a model for urban education,” Ratcliffe said. “I guess I’m proudest of building a culture that all of our kids can succeed.”
Bishop said Ratcliffe was the first hire she made after returning to Roanoke City Public Schools.
“She’s terrific. She makes great decisions. She knows her students,” Bishop said. “I guess the thing aside from her leadership, she’s there for the kids. She’s virtually at every event. She goes to lacrosse, tennis. I miss her already. It’s just a big loss.”
It will be Bishop and school board members tasked with selecting a replacement. The position was posted on the school system’s website Jan. 31. Bishop said she did not know how many applications have been received but anticipates looking through them next week.
She didn’t have a specific time line for filling the spot, but said her preference would be to hire someone who can spend time with Ratcliffe and have a transition period.
A replacement will certainly have a tough act to follow. School board Chairman David Carson said in an email Ratcliffe has led the school to “new heights.”
“Ms. Ratcliffe’s long and generous service to RCPS and to Patrick Henry High School have certainly earned her the right to retire, but she will be sorely missed,” he wrote. “Her successor will have very large shoes to fill.”
Ratcliffe had some words of wisdom for whoever that might be.
“My advice would be to get ready to work very, very hard in a very, very supportive community to really get to know your students. When you do that, you can begin to build the cushion around them to move them forward,” she said. “I have truly been blessed with very supportive parents, supportive staff and co-administrators. I guess this school is a model for what can happen when everyone works together.”
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