There’ll be two new administrators overseeing Franklin County’s two public schools, as the principals at Franklin County School and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School each decided to step down this month.
In a Thursday evening letter to Superintendent Steve Lanier, FCS Principal Laurence Pender said he had decided to accept a position closer to his home in Jackson County, after serving for two years as the principal of the kindergarten through 12th grade school.
In a separate announcement Thursday at a board meeting of the Apalachicola Bay Charter School, ABC School Principal Chimene Johnson shared her decision to resign after 12 years as principal of the kindergarten through eighth grade school.
The two principals have contracts that run through June 30, and both have pledged to assist in the transition to their successors. Both the Franklin County Schools and the ABC School have begun advertising for new principals.
“The time away from my family has weighed heavily upon me for some time now,” wrote Pender, noting that this year will be son Laurence’s last year at home, and that son Ike will soon be turning 16.
“And I long for early morning coffee with my father,” he wrote. “They are ready for me to come back to my beloved Greenwood.”
Pender thanked several people with whom he has worked closely, including former Superintendent Traci Yoder, who was instrumental in hiring him in June 2020.
“This spring, while setting out on the two-hour drive home after prom, I told my wife that I had it made. I told her that this was one of the best schools that I had ever worked at and that these were among the best children that I ever taught,” wrote Pender. “I then added that if it were only an hour closer to home, I would stay and retire from here.
“I will always consider the children at this school ‘my’ children and thank everyone from this community for allowing me to be their principal. I hope you continue to foster high expectations, remain consistent and build lasting relationships,” he wrote.
Lanier said he was “appreciative for the time that Pender spent in Franklin County. He started many positive programs and was a key leader in changing the culture in the school district,” he said. “He will be greatly missed, and I wish him all the best as he moves closer to home and continues to be a positive influence in the lives of so many young people.”
Bud Hayes, chairman of the ABC School board of directors, said he and interim ABC School Principal Elizabeth Kirvin will serve on a search committee to find and hire Johnson’s successor. He said Kirvin has said she does not wish to be principal.
Hayes said Johnson plans to apply for a curriculum and assessment position at the ABC School, whose enrollment is at an all-time high, with a waiting list in several grades.
Johnson, who moved down here after a teaching career in Georgia, has been with th school since its inception in 2001, when it began in the Battery Park Community Center and later moved to portable classrooms at Fred Meyer Street and then eventually to the former Chapman Elementary School.
She taught first and third grades for three years, and then was six years as curriculum and assessment coordinator under Principal Don Hungerford. She succeeded Hungerford in 2009 and has been principal for 12 years.
“I love it and I have continued to serve because I love this school and the staff and the students and the mission of the school,” she said. “I was able to be mentored by our previous principal and I also learned things from him prior.
“I never felt like I wanted to put the school in the position where I’m walking out the door,” said Johnson, whose daughters Kati-Morgan and Parrish are both teachers, the former on leave from Franklin County Schools and the latter now in Gulf County.
“I felt like at this point I need to hand over things for someone else who can take it and continue to push our mission and continue to be successful,” she said. “I want this school to continue to move forward and be successful and I know it will be.
“I was so accepted early on and I have loved serving my students, parents and staff. I’ve had a great team to support me through the years.”