The hugs will be missed

Susan Hollandsworth will play in her last Helman Elementary School fifth-grade-versus-staff softball game on Thursday.

The annual farewell game for the school's graduates is a highlight for Hollandsworth, who can claim at least one hit and one cross over the plate every game. But after seven years as Helman's principal and 33 years in education, Hollandsworth is retiring.

"Education has been my life work," she said. "And, I think it's the tops. ... It's hard work, but it's so rewarding."

Hollandsworth said her focus has been building a strong sense of community at Helman, something she hopes has extended beyond the classroom.

"Parents need support from other parents "… I usually spend the first part of every morning with parents and kids," she said.

Ashland School District Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said one of Hollandsworth's greatest successes as an educator has been involving all stakeholders in major issues. Hollandsworth came to Helman after seven years at the helm of Lincoln Elementary School, where she shepherded its closure in June 2005.

"In both cases, she's just done a really fabulous job for us as a principal," said Di Chiro. "Susan made a commitment to really keep the feeling at Lincoln as positive as possible when they were facing closure.

"She really did a great job of managing a really tough situation," Di Chiro added. "I really remember her positive leadership."

Lincoln's closure came just two years after Briscoe Elementary School was shuttered. Hollandsworth, 65, said she remembers the pain of losing a second elementary school to budget cuts and declining enrollment.

"The whole community was still recovering from the stress of trying to deal with that closure," she said.

A Southern Oregon College graduate, Hollandsworth began her career at Lincoln, where she taught first grade in 1974. She taught third, sixth and seventh and eighth grades in Central Point and Gold Hill before moving back to Ashland to be the assistant principal at Ashland Middle School in 1996. Along the way she took five years off to focus on her family.

Hollandsworth said she left teaching because "by moving to the administration, I thought I could contribute even more to just making school the best place we possibly can for the students."

Hollandsworth will be replaced by Glenna Stiles, Ashland High School's dean of students.

"I'm sure Glenna is going to do a great job as well," said Di Chiro. "It's much better for her going into a school that has been well-run, rather than one that needs a lot of help."

Hollandsworth said other highlights of her time at Helman are the teaching staff and the school's Lego Club.

"And definitely the hugs. You get all sorts of hugs," she said.

The last day of school for Ashland's kindergarten through eighth grade schools is Thursday.

Hollandsworth's immediate retirement plans are to travel to Australia, where her brother lives, and to build a Lego version of Hogwarts, from the "Harry Potter" series, with her grandchildren in Ashland.

"I love putting together Lego kits with my grandkids," she said.

June 30 may be her last day at Helman, but it won't be her last in education. Hollandsworth plans to supervise a few student teachers for Southern Oregon University next year, she said.

"It's been a great privilege to work in Ashland," she said. "Our kids deserve the best that we can give them."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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