Two long-time employees are serving out their last year with the Alma School District.

Pat Whorton, Alma Middle School principal, and Becky Balazic, special education supervisor, will both retire after being in education for more than 30 years each.

Each was presented with plaques of appreciation by Chuck Baker, school board president, during the monthly board meeting Tuesday night.

"I don’t think there’s any doubt that no one could have done a better job than you have," Baker told Whorton.

Whorton has been in education a total of 32 years, with 27 of those being at ASD. She was hired as a kindergarten teacher in 1986, then went on to teach the k-1 transition class after three years.

Whorton became assistant principal at Alma Intermediate School in 1993, where she worked for five years with the former principal John Ewing. In 1998, school board members approved Whorton for the position of principal at Alma Middle School.

During the board meeting Tuesday, while speaking about her impending retirement, Whorton noted that the vote to hire her as principal was unanimous save all but one. That board member told her that his vote wasn’t personal, he just didn’t think a woman could do the job, Whorton said.

"Well, there weren’t any women in administration positions 20 years ago," Whorton said later.

But she said his words sparked a fire in her.

"It was a challenge for me to show him, but also the community," Whorton said. "If he saw it that way, there had to be others out there."

The doubt from the board member made her work harder to prove herself as a person and a woman, she said.

David Woolly, superintendent for ASD, said being a school principal at any level is difficult, but middle schools are one of the hardest.

"She took that on with great enthusiasm and dedication," Woolly said of Whorton. "She stayed true to the ideals of what middle education is all about - leading young teens into adulthood."

Whorton’s hard work won out. That same board member who voted against her as principal came to her later to apologize and admit he had been wrong.

Whorton said the apology was satisfying.

"I hope I have proven that a woman can do that job, even though I’m leaving it to a man," Whorton jokingly told board members Tuesday, referring to assistant principal Bob Wolfe who will be replacing her.

After what she described as a rewarding career at Alma, Whorton said it is hard to leave her "family" at the school district. She plans to spend more time with her elderly mother, her grandchildren and traveling with her husband Louis Whorton, who coaches at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

Balazic has been with the school district for 39 years, hired as a teacher by Charles B. Dyer in 1974.

Balazic was named Administrator of the Year by the Arkansas School Psychology Association in 2012 and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Alma Education and Arts Foundation last month.

Both women will finish out their years with Alma at the end of June.