Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Pointe South Elementary School second-grader, Aaliyah Brown, quietly came to Principal Frank Tanner's office door and peered inside, because she needed his help on Thursday.
Tanner asked the 8-year-old if there was anything he could help her with, and she told him she needed six copies of a worksheet on action verbs made for her class. The principal then walked his young pupil into a copying room, where he made the copies she requested in a matter of seconds.
After Tanner handed the copies, and the original worksheet, to the student with a chipper, "Here you go, Ma'am!" she thanked him before walking out of the room.
But, she then stopped in the doorway, and turned around to address Tanner for what may have been the last time.
"I'm so sad that you're not going to be my principal anymore," Brown said. "I wish you weren't leaving."
Tanner, 63, who has been Pointe South Elementary School's principal since 1996, is retiring from education today, after a 42-year career. All but two of those years have been spent working in the Clayton County School System, the school district in which he not only taught, but where he was a student himself, during the 1950's and 1960's.
"It's been my privilege to serve the children and teachers over the years," he said.
After nearly half a century of working his way up the education ranks, Tanner said it was time to step back from the hectic schedule of leading a school. "It's time for a break, it's time for me to step back from this," he said.
His career began as a band director at the Model School in Floyd County. A native of Forest Park, he said he came back to Clayton County to be a teacher in 1970. He was an assistant band director at Forest Park High School (his alma mater) under his own former band director, Lloyd Tarpley.
Tanner said he was elevated to become Tarpley's successor as Forest Park's band director in 1975, and he later became the band director at Riverdale Middle School, in 1982, when he decided he wanted a job that would free him up more on the weekends.
Tanner made the jump into administration in 1993, at the urging of co-workers at Riverdale, and became an assistant principal at Lake Harbin Elementary School (now McGarrah Elementary School). "It was while I was [at Riverdale] that I was told I should consider going into administration, because of my leadership at the school," he said.
After three years as an assistant principal, Tanner made his final move, to the principalship at Pointe South Elementary. He said one of the accomplishments he is most proud of, is the fact that the school has consistently provided a quality education to its students. The school has made Adequate Yearly Progress all but one year since 2001, he said.
Tanner said his teachers, not himself, should be credited for that consistent success, however. "I've just tried to be a facilitator to allow teachers to do what they do best," he said. He also said he has tried to be a role model for his teachers, showing them the type of educator he hopes they will be.
"The principal position was originally called the principal teacher, and I embrace that part of the job," he said.
The last few days have been tough for the principal, from an emotional standpoint. Students have been coming to his office by the class-load to deliver hand-made posters, pictures and cards, thanking him for being their principal.
"Mr. Tanner, we don't want you to leave, but we know you're still the king," fourth-grader, My'Kala Raymond, wrote on a poster from her class.
On the same poster, fourth-grader. Charles Straughter, one of Raymond's classmates, called Tanner "fly" and added, "When you leave, we will say 'boo hoo' and cry. We don't want you to go even though you have to retire."
Tanner got a little choked up as he went to visit a class of fourth-graders Thursday morning, to thank them for hand-written, good-bye letters they had sent him.
"I appreciate these wonderful letters you all sent me," he told the students as he held back tears. "I'm going to take them home and share them with my wife, and I'm going to treasure them always."
The class' teacher, Charlene Tignor, herself holding back tears, told the principal, "We're touched by your gratitude, and we're going to miss you so much."
Third-grade teacher, Sharyn Ford, said the faculty at the school is in a state of sadness over Tanner's decision to retire. "We're losing our friend, our great principal, and somebody who really watches out for us," she said. "He's just been a great leader, who cares about everyone at this school."
One student, third-grader, Manuela Nana, 8, said, "I'm going to miss him so much, that I might cry. I'd describe him as a jewel, a diamond to be exact."
Another third-grader, Genesis Bryant, 7, added, "He never let us down. If he was going to do something, he would stick to it."
Even a member of the Clayton County Board of Education is getting emotional over Tanner's retirement. School Board Member Jessie Goree said she has known Tanner for nine years. She said she was an instructional technician specialist at Pointe South Elementary from 2001 until 2005, and Tanner taught her son how to play the trombone, and sold a car to her daughter.
"I really consider him a family member," Goree said. "We call him 'Grandpa.' "
So, today will be the last day Frank Tanner comes into work at 6:15 a.m., and stands by the car lane at Pointe South, to greet students as they arrive at school.
It will be the last time he tells them to study hard, and to do their homework as they go home for the day. He'll transition to life as a retiree, who does work around his home in Rex, and goes on fishing trips in Grand Isle, La.
"When daylight comes at 7 a.m., on Monday, it will be tough," he said. "It will probably be tough for several weeks to come. I'll miss the children a lot."