Some Rodgers Forge Elementary School students want to throw Principal Susan Deise the same kind of party they give to departing classmates.
There might be no better honor for Deise, who has helmed the school for 12 years. Last week, she announced her retirement, effective Jan. 1, 2012. Rodgers Forge, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary, will have a new principal for its seventh decade.
After 36 years in education, Deise, 63, said it just felt like it was time.
"My family's been asking, for a number of years, for more time with me," the Forest Hill resident said. "It's always hard because ... I was the person that would never find it easy to say goodbye to a career that I have absolutely loved."
While principal, Deise guided Rodgers Forge through a tumultuous time, including several years of overcrowding when the school housed nearly twice as many students as it was meant to hold. In 2010, the school system opened West Towson Elementary primarily to alleviate the pressure.
"It was the most challenging experience of my career because it did last for several years," she said. "But again, I don't see problems, I see solutions and I like people to work with me to come up with those solutions and that's where this community is fantastic. I love to hear what parents have to say, what their concerns are."
Several times, she praised the Rodgers Forge community as engaged and active members of the school family.
"We have 422 children right now. I think I have just as many volunteers trained to work in the school," she said. "What you have is the benefit of parents who are totally involved in their child's education."
Parents appreciated her just as much. Trisha Schwab, the school's PTA president, said Deise "always stood firm for what she believed in for the school and the community. Even if she met some resistance, she stood her ground."
That included one of the school system's most controversial remedies for overcrowding there: annexing fourth-graders to Rodgers Forge for a year until West Towson opened. Cathi Forbes, president of Towson Families United and a former Rodgers Forge parent, said Deise deftly handled a difficult situation.
"She was always looking for creative solutions. I often worried in the time that we were going through it that she would just decide that she didn't need it anymore and I always wondered about what would happen to our school in lesser hands," she said.
That style, Forbes said, extended to the little things, such as getting cubbies for kindergarten classrooms or getting buses from West Towson to run earlier, and the big things, such as hiring teachers.
"I bet she was amazing in the classroom. And the legacy that she left behind at Rodgers Forge was the staff that they hired," said Forbes, who now has a son at West Towson Elementary. "She would hire someone and they would be like the dream teacher by the end of the year because they were so good at their job so young."
Deise said, contrary to what some may think, it's actually easier for her to leave in the middle of the year.
"When you put a school improvement plan together, when you have staff assigned and you have everything moving forward, for a replacement to come mid-year, actually, things are in place," Deise said. "It gives the new person a chance to to meet the community, to work with the community, to understand the teachers that are in the building and who are so dedicated and to understand the children, without having to come in and everyone's gone for the summer."
After retiring, Deise plans to spend more time playing with her grandson, reading mystery novels, taking art classes and gardening.
"I think I've reached a point where I'm excited about having the opportunity to do some new things," she said. But there's much she will miss.
"In education, your world revolves around children," she said, "and I really will miss the kids because they're the humor every day. There's always something delightful that they say, that they do. ... I will miss the children and working with the staff but that's the privilege you've had for so many years."