ALMA — When he was 27 years old Jerry Valentine found out he would be the new principal at Alma High School. It became official a couple of days later on his 28th birthday. Now, after 33 years as the school’s principal, and 38 as an educator, he’s decided to retire.

“It’s been a good ride,” Valentine told the Alma School Board during its February meeting.

“I really enjoyed school when I was in school,” the Alma graduate said. “I had such really good experiences in school, and when I reflect and think about what it is I do, I just feel that I’m just really blessed.”

The district didn’t look too far in finding his replacement, selecting Assistant Principal Brian Kirkendoll to take the reins from Valentine.

The district perhaps felt the same way about selecting Kirkendoll that it did when Valentine was given the job, that it had the right person there in their midst.

“Mr. (Charles) Dyer and I agonized a lot over whether Jerry was ready,” Superintendent Dr. David Woolly said during the meeting after Valentine’s announcement was made official. “He’d been assistant principal three years. We finally decided … it always come down to ‘if not him, then who?’” And we really didn’t have a better answer. So we said, ‘Let’s try it.’”

Valentine said he’s been blessed in that as a principal and educator he’s been able to double down on the happiness he experienced as a student.

“If you think back to your experiences when you were in school hopefully you have fond memories of when you were in high school,” he told the board. “If that’s so I’d like you to think about this: I had 38 more years of that. It’s been a real blessing to be here and to be able to raise my family and be a part of this community.”

He added, “I feel like we’ve made some really good decisions as a staff and district. I’ve watched things really change a lot.”

Woolly said, “The overwhelming majority of the experiences we’ve shared together have been extremely positive. We’ve celebrated kids’ successes, achievements and championships, and way more so than anybody realizes. Jerry doeesn’t teach kids and doesn’t coach a team, but he’s the reason most of it happens. Never doubt that the principal’s influence in the building is the difference maker in any building.”

Board president Paul Winborn, II, said, “Mr. Valentine, when you took over as principal I was in high school. That’s mighty impressive. You instilled in all of us (the desire) to succeed.”

“Jerry and I have been friends for a long time,” said board member Ronnie Newton. “He’s a good friend, but he’s also a good principal. He has positively influenced a lot of young people and a lot of older people like myself. We owe you a debt of gratitude and are indebted to you for all you’ve done for our kids and our school.”

When board member Carrie Jernigan asked Valentine if he remembered the special pins he handed out to students in honor of special recognition, he said, “We still give them out.”

Jernigan said, “When you got a 110 percent pin from Mr. Valentine you knew you had earned it and that he meant it. It was a really big honor when you got that pin from Mr. Valentine.”