Forest Park Principal Jill Roach says goodbye to her ‘Bear Cubs’
By Mark Wineka
KANNAPOLIS ó The day-ending scene at Forest Park Elementary School is not unlike when church lets out and the congregation files past the preacher.
Except Wednesday afternoon at Forest Park was decidedly different.
It was the last day of the school year, and Principal Jill Roach stood near the front doors ready to say her final goodbyes.
You see, she’s retiring June 30.
“We were dreading it,” second-grade teacher Lisa Gurley said.
Students, teachers, staff and parents ran up to the beloved principal.
They delivered squeezes, pats and full-body hugs and, as the little ones wrapped themselves around her, Roach caressed their heads, as if they were one of her own six grandchildren.
These were her Bear Cubs ó the school’s mascot.
“For her, students come first,” said Monte Armes, a childhood friend and a first-year teacher’s assistant in the second grade. “It’s all about the kids.”
Later, in one of the school’s hallways, teachers and staff gathered for their traditional last-day-of-school dance party.
Roach, 61, joined in when she wasn’t being summoned back to the office to take care of the usual emergencies.
Toward the end of the celebration, Roach danced down the middle ó first with third-grade teacher Dean Fink, then with a pair of students who hadn’t gone home yet.
The song playing as teachers and staff applauded on both sides was “Simply the best.”
No one disagreed.
Trisha DeLuca, one of Roach’s office lieutenants, said her boss is “fantastic, loving, warm, caring and wonderful.”
“She really cares about her children at school,” DeLuca said.
Forest Park had a 2008-2009 enrollment of 639 kids in kindergarten through the fourth grade.
Teachers, assistants, bus drivers and other staff members added up to close to 100 employees.
It was Roach’s ship, something she steered well after 38 years as a teacher and administrator.
Roach earned the Kannapolis City School’s Principal of the Year Award four different times over 17 years as principal at Aycock Elementary and Forest Park, which replaced Aycock in 1998.
In 2002, Roach was runner-up for Regional Principal of the Year honors in North Carolina.
That same year, Forest Park won the 2002 N.C. Lighthouse School Award for Excellence and Innovation.
Ellen Boyd, director of community relations for Kannapolis City Schools, said Forest Park also was the first school in Kannapolis to become a “School of Distinction” and the system’s only school to become an “Honor School of Excellence.”
Gurley, the second-grade teacher, said Roach was always supportive of teachers and found ways to get them the resources needed.
“She does whatever it takes,” Gurley said.
Roach grew up in Kannapolis, graduated from A.L. Brown High School and went to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a drama major. But she soured on drama and considered herself an English major until a college adviser told her that testing showed that she was suited for elementary education.
Roach never looked back. She started as a teacher in 1970 in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and was teaching in Kannapolis by 1976.
She taught at Aycock and was its curriculum coordinator until becoming the school principal in 1992.
Along the way, she had two children and earned her master’s degree in K-3 education and her principal’s certificate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
She also graduated from the Principal’s Executive Program in Chapel Hill.
Roach liked when her school had assemblies and all her Bear Cubs were in one place. She saw the moments as important in letting children know that what they say, what they do and how they treat people are important.
Roach also spent a lot of time ó and enjoyed it ó in the hiring process. As she walked through the school Wednesday, she talked about some of her teachers, their strong backgrounds and how she recruited them.
In hiring, she relied a lot on the facts before her, but “there’s some intuition in there, too,” Roach said.
Armes taught for nine years before leaving the profession and running his own business for 20-plus years. Roach persuaded him to return to school as an assistant.
“She gave me the opportunity, and here I am,” Armes said. “It’s the best move I ever made.”
In retirement, Roach plans to spend a lot of time with her grandchildren and travel with her husband, Doug, a local Realtor. They already have plans to visit her sister in England and take an adventurous trip to Alaska.
Roach let her Bear Cubs know she was retiring during the school’s Field Day.
Once her decision was made, Roach acknowledged, everything seemed even more special.
Especially the last day of school.
Kannapolis City Schools also will be holding a retirement reception from 2 to 4 p.m. today in the KCS board room for Peggy Wagstaff, assistant superintendent in the system since 2001.
Wagstaff joined Kannapolis City Schools in 1971 after beginning a teaching career in 1970.
With KCS, she served as principal at both Jackson Park and Shady Brook elementary schools and as assistant principal at Kannapolis Middle School.
She also taught in elementary schools and at Cannon Junior High and Kannapolis Middle School.
Wagstaff earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Appalachian State University and her master’s degree in education from UNCC. She also is a graduate of the Principal’s Executive Program and was the school system’s Principal of the Year in 1993.