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When Karen Larimore watches Spencer County Elementary School’s students exit the building for the last time this school year, she does so knowing that she wouldn’t be there this fall to welcome them back.
And although that thought brings a bit of sadness to her heart, Larimore is ready for life’s next chapter.
“I know that when school rolls around for me that will be a very big shift,” she said.
Larimore is leaving her post as SCES principal June 30 and retiring from education after 30 years. She worked in several districts and taught grades first through fifth, was a reading consultant in Bullitt County for 12 years and has also taught special reading.
She was recruited as SCES’ assistant principal five years ago while working in Shelby County. After one year at SCES she accepted the principal’s position.
“(The district) wanted someone who was going to be an instructional leader as a principal. That is what attracted me. I fell in love with the school and the people,” said Larimore, who is a Louisville resident.
Teacher empowerment is one of the biggest accomplishments Larimore felt she made while leading the growing school of 810 students. She encouraged teachers to pool their strengths and energies through professional learning communities, in which teachers collaborate and share ideas to improve teaching techniques and abilities.
“Getting teachers to share their talents and strengths is going to continue to buoy this school on up to higher levels,” Larimore said.
While working in administration, Larimore avoided being consumed by management responsibilities and worked to stay connected with students, their parents and the school community. She said she always worked to keep parents informed of what was going on at the school.
“I basically want students to feel safe and secure and a sense of family in the school setting. Being a parent myself, I wanted parents to feel welcome and to know that I cared about their children as if they were my own,” she said.
Larimore said one important aspect of her job was listening. While at SCES, she formed parent focus groups that allowed her to hear parent concerns directly and address them quickly.
“I found that I made better decisions when I listened to all people concerned,” she said.
Superintendent Chuck Adams said that under Larimore’s leadership, SCES was repeatedly at the top of the district in state test assessment scores. He said Larimore found ways to be an inspirational leader that made the teachers and students want to achieve high goals.
“She’s certainly managed the staff she has up there to a point of being very productive. Karen has been obviously very important in being the instructional leader of that school,” Adams said.
Through all the positive work Larimore was able to accomplish during her time at SCES, she admitted there were challenges, the biggest being the “phenomenal growth” the school has experienced.
“That in itself has been a challenge. The space, when you have growth, you have to consider the space and where to put people,” she said.
Larimore added that she has also worked to update the school’s aging technology. All of the school’s rooms now have mounted projectors and wireless Internet. The school also has 50 new mini laptops and some document cameras.
“Technology was a focus for me. Through the help of the community, central office and the hard work of our fundraising we’ve been able to accomplish that,” she said.
SCES Assistant Principal Gina McGinnis said Larimore has left a lasting impression on the school’s students and staff. McGinnis said Larimore has a passion for education and student success.
“She truly wants all children to have the best education possible,” McGinnis wrote via e-mail. “She works hard to make sure our students are provided the opportunities needed to meet their full potential. She is always mindful of doing what is best for the children.”
Larimore said leaving the Spencer County School District will be difficult. After 30 years in education, she felt like she saved the best for last.
“I think the students here, of all the schools I’ve been in, are the most warm, polite, caring students that I’ve ever met. The parents are so supportive of the school and it has just been a joy to work with the students and the parents here,” she said.
Larimore said as retirement awaits her, she wants her accomplishments at SCES to leave a significant and lasting impression on the way kids learn. She hoped that the professional learning communities established would continue and that teachers would keep pushing themselves to be the very best.
“I just think it’s going to only get better. The school will only take more leaps,” she said.
Larimore admitted that June 30 – although her official last day at SCES – will probably not be the end of her contributions to the educational community. Although she is not sure how she will be involved, education is an inseparable part of her life.
“That’s who I am. That’s what I do. It won’t be in this depth or to this extent, but I feel like I will be involved in some capacity. I have no plans at this point but that’s OK. I have faith everything will unfold,” she said.
In the meantime, Larimore plans to enjoy her retirement spending more time with her husband, Craig, and with her three children. She also wants to spend more time with her only grandchild who is three.
Larimore’s replacement, Dale Kleinjan, was named this week by the school’s Site-Based Decision Making Council. Kleinjan currently serves as one of Spencer County High School’s two assistant principals.