King Elementary School principal Martha Ragar has mixed feelings about stepping down from the job she has held since 1990.
"It was a hard decision," Ragar said. "You cannot leave something that has been such a huge part of your life and make that decision lightly."
Some days Ragar said she struggles with the decision. Some days she does a countdown, forgets and counts again as she ponders her future after being in education for 40 years.
Ragar said she and her husband, retired attorney Thurman Ragar, plan to do a lot of traveling.
"We have three daughters and three grandchildren living in three different places," Martha Ragar said.
Daughter Elizabeth Gilbert lives in Austin, Texas, with her three children, Georgia Jane, 6; Henry, 4; and Laurel, 1. Daughter Katherine Peluso lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., and daughter Rebecca Ragar lives in Seattle, Wash.
"I want to do things at home like gardening and hiking," Ragar said. "I will stay involved with the Center for Art and Education … beyond that I am not certain. But, I will find things to do."
Ragar said she and her husband will be dedicated to take a path to give them a lot of options.
"We want to do something different and have some flexibility," she said.
Ragar graduated from Jonesboro High School in 1966. She received her master’s in elementary and special education from Arkansas State University and administrator certification from University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Her first job in education was in 1970 as a substitute teacher at International School in Bangkok, Thailand. She then taught special education in Providence, R.I., Seekonk, Mass., and White Hall before being named the special education supervisor for the White Hall and Dollarway School districts.
From 1988 to 1990, Ragar served as assistant principal at Izard Elementary and City Heights Elementary before being named principal at King in 1990.
"I have seen many changes over the years," Ragar said. "Each of the 40 years has been different."
Ragar estimates she has been involved in the lives of at least 7,500 students in her 23 years as King.
"A lot of parents and grandparents who come to the school talk of their memories of the first building and the second building on this property," she said.
One of the reasons Ragar delayed possible retirement was the opportunity to help oversee the district’s latest construction project, the third King school to be located on North 20th Street, a building which opened for the 2011-12 school year.
"I wanted to be a part of the project," Ragar said. "It offered a lot of opportunity to be creative and create a great learning environment for the students. The transition to the new building was a big change for everyone and I wanted to help make it go as smoothly as possible. And, I wanted to enjoy the new building myself."
Over the past two years, Ragar said King school has had many opportunities to teach students about sustaining lifestyles through such projects as recycling and a vegetable garden.
"Being in an LEED certified building has helped teachers teach kids in other ways because of the nature of the building," Ragar said.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) consists of a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is intended to provide building owners and operators a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.
King recently received a gold certification, the highest possible and the only school building in the state to receive such designation.
Ragar is also proud of the school’s Run With the Knights 5K event and being the Arkansas Better Chance coordinator for preschool classes.
"In the Van Buren School District we have quality opportunities to keep learning," Ragar said. "This is one of the main reasons my job has remained interesting and stimulating while allowing me to help teachers transition students into adults."
She said there always has been a feeling of team atmosphere in the Van Buren School District.
"I have enjoyed good support from the administration in making sure we had the research based curriculum needed to unite with the other elementary schools in the way we teach," Ragar said.