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Just one month into the school year, Spencer County Middle School Principal and veteran administrator Ed Downs has announced his retirement effective at the end of September, citing health concerns as the major motivation behind his decision.
In an interview Monday, Downs said he considered retiring at the end of last school year, but decided to work at least one more year. However, a recent meeting with his doctor changed his mind. Downs said his family is plagued with a history of heart problems and his job’s long hours and numerous demands are often unforgiving. The doctor requested Downs reduce his stress level, and, despite overwhelming support from superintendent Chuck Adams and his staff at the middle school, Downs said it was time to go.
“I want to make sure I have some quality time with my family,” Downs said, who has spent just under 24 years in education, 22 as a school administrator. “I’ve probably been in school administration too long.”
Downs joined the district in 2004 as an assistant principal for three years, left the district for a principal’s position then returned to the middle school as principal six years ago.
Adams said Monday that Downs alerted him of the decision the Friday before Labor Day and that Downs told Adams several personal issues contributed to the decision.
“He feels that it’s just necessary to go ahead and retire,” Adams said. “He gave me a fair opportunity to begin planning.”
Downs said meeting the expectations placed upon administrators including paperwork, understanding and meeting faculty needs, assisting students and meeting the ever-increasing state and federal standards requires a “fresh set of eyes.” He said Kentucky’s new “Unbridled Learning” assessment and accountability system – created with the passing of Senate Bill I in 2009 – has put unprecedented expectations on students, teachers and building-level administrators. Downs said he has witnessed teaching improve drastically throughout the years and that student accountability was at an all-time high, but the increasing academic pressures placed on students requires all students to step up, and some don’t have the needed outside support to be successful.
“I think we’ve gotten to a point where the children are going to have to be in charge of their own education,” he said.
Downs said he would most certainly miss the daily interactions with his staff and students, but he was confident that the middle school would continue to move forward because its staff is so dependable and talented.
Downs said he hoped to leave a legacy of leadership building at SCMS, as well as an atmosphere of optimism.
“The thing with leadership is not thinking that you have the only idea that will work,” he said.
He said he always encouraged his teachers to smile and to truly enjoy the job of educating students, but that it has become increasingly difficult to reward teachers for a job well done because of budget crunches.
“My teachers teach their butt off,” he said, noting that he wanted to recognize them more but was often unable.
“Gone are the days when you could reward teachers,” he said. “Most teachers, all they want is some appreciation.”
Downs said he is particularly pleased that during his time at SCMS that the number of after-school and extracurricular programs drastically increased. On his watch, the school built fields and facilities for football, baseball, softball and soccer.
“When I got here, there were very few kids in an after-school activity,” he said.
As Downs approaches retirement at the end of this month, he looks forward to joining his wife — also an administrator in the LaRue County School System — and his youngest son, who is a high school freshman, at their small LaRue County farm. Downs said he hopes to dabble in some small-scale farming and enjoy his son’s last years of high school.
“I can be a dad to my own son instead of everyone else’s for a change,” he said.