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Cheryl Cook, principal of Washington School, is retiring after 56 years with the Marietta City School District. She has seen many changes in the district over the years, but said students still need teachers who believe in them and support them. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

MARIETTA – In her 56 years in education, Washington School Principal Cheryl Cook has always tried to be the candle that brings light into the lives of her students.

After so many years in education, Cook said it was time to step down and retire.

“There are things I love, but it’s time” she said. “Things have changed.

“It’s not that I’m not willing to learn. I am. I just wanted to try something new. I like to keep myself busy. I don’t just sit there and think.”

This includes gardening and acting as grandmother to her one-year-old granddaughter, sometimes under the guise of working in the flowerbeds.

Cheryl Cook, principal of the Washington School in Marietta, greets well-wishers during a gathering at the Lafayette Hotel on Sunday to celebrate her retirement after 56 years in education. (Photo provided)

Cook said that throughout her career, which began at a time when there were not many career opportunities for women, through changes in technology to changes in teaching practices, there have been some fundamental things that have not changed since she started her career.

“Children are equal” she said. “They want attention and recognition.

“They just want to know that you care.”

Cook graduated from Marietta High School in 1964. She described her parents as not being wealthy but as recognizing the value of a good education.

“I have always loved learning,” she said. “I still do. That’s why I became a teacher.”

Cheryl Cook, longtime principal of Marietta City Schools, received the weather vane from Harmar Elementary School, where she spent most of her career, at an event Sunday at the Lafayette Hotel. Her 56 years of service to education were recognized and celebrated on the occasion of her retirement. (Photo provided)

“I never regretted it.”

She graduated from Ohio University at Athens in March 1968 and was immediately hired by Dora Jean Bumgarner of Marietta City School. She finished the year in a combined kindergarten/first grade class at Harmar School when the regular teacher had to go on maternity leave.

She stayed at Harmar until 1977, teaching second, third and fourth grades at various times. From 1977 to 1982, she was principal at Reno Elementary while she completed her training to become a full-fledged administrator. From 1982 to 1987, she was principal at Fairview (K-2nd) and Harmar (K and 3rd through 6th). From 1988 to 2021, she was principal at Harmar (K-5th). From 2021 to 2024, she was principal at Washington School. She also served as Safetytown coordinator from 1979 to 1998. She ran the Terrific Kid program for many years in conjunction with the Kiwanis at Harmar and Washington. She hopes the next principal will continue it.

During her time in the district, she has seen many Marietta-area schools close and merge with others, including Oak Grove, Marion Fairfield, North Hills, Reno, Putnam and Harmar.

“There have been many changes,” Said Cook.

Mayor Josh Schlicher presented outgoing school principal Cheryl Cook with a proclamation declaring June 9, 2024, as “Mrs. Cheryl Cook Day” in the City of Marietta during an event Sunday at the Lafayette Hotel, marking her retirement after 56 years in education. (Photo provided)

Even after the birth of her children, she only took the time off that was scheduled in the school calendar.

She taught science and social studies for four years as part of an open teaching concept, worked as a reading promoter for several years, supervised many student teachers and has won numerous awards.

Cook has joked that one of the things she will do after she retires is to clear out all the teaching materials she has kept.

“The first thing I’m going to do is clear the rooms of things that I thought, ‘I might need these someday.'” she said, laughing. “I still have a lot of that to do.”

She has numerous flower beds at home and at her family’s that she will be working on.

Their daughter lives in Mason, Ohio. They have tickets to Broadway touring shows in Cincinnati and plan to see some of them in the near future.

As a self-proclaimed “lifelong learner,” Cook said she will miss being able to learn new things with her staff, and she will miss the children, seeing them in the hallways and more.

“There were a lot of hugs,” Said Cook.

She also talked about how you can tell when a child is having problems by looking at their faces and tried to see if she could get them to tell her what was bothering them.

The technological age has benefited students in many ways, but she has found that there are challenges in developing good communication skills for students.

“There are so many things that can distract your attention,” She said.

Because students use cell phones so frequently, they need to work on skills that will enable them to interact and talk with other people.

“We really have to work on this skill,” Said Cook.

They also don’t see that younger children paint or play with blocks and develop certain muscles in their arms that make it more difficult for them to use a pencil.

“It is not the fingers that control the pen, but the muscles in the upper arm,” Cook said, “Kindergarten teachers provide activities that help build those muscles so they can control the pencil.”

“Who would have thought? This is a big change.”

With the help of an occupational therapist, they have developed activities for students to build these and other muscles.

Anne Burnworth, a Title 1 teacher at the Washington School, was hired by Cook 32 years ago.

“She is the only headmistress I have ever had and over the years we have become friends,” she said. “Cheryl has dedicated herself to the students and their families with passion and care, making a lasting impact on their lives.

“Cheryl worked with teachers to learn about new initiatives so she could be of assistance to her staff.”

Burnworth said Cook loved her job, her schools, her staff and especially her students.

“For Cheryl it was not just a job, it was her passion” She said. “Many will miss her.”

On the last day of school, Cook said she was so busy that she didn’t have time to get too sentimental. She talked about all the well-wishers who stopped by, called and emailed her to wish her well, including families of students and community members she worked with in various programs and more.

She talked about how she stayed in a small community and how many people recognized her from having been a student at one of the schools where she taught or served as a principal, or from her parents and grandparents recognizing her.

“I can imagine a period of time to some extent,” She said about the people who called her “Mrs. Carver.” Sometimes she has to ask others for help when it comes to time, because in her memory many of these adults were still children when they attended her school. Sometimes she recognizes someone by their eyes or a smile.

Teachers and administrators must build this repertoire together with students and families.

“Relationships are everything” she said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s with the parents or the children.

“The children will not work hard for you if they do not know that you care about them.”

Teachers can still be strict, but not hurtful. Teachers and principals need to be able to recognize effort and recognize when someone is really trying.

“The children need to know that you care about them,” She said.

The same goes for educators working together.

“Everyone needs help at some point,” Said Cook. “If you are there for someone, they will most likely be there for you.”Building relationships is the foundation of everything.”

Brett Dunlap can be reached at [email protected].

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