PERRY -- Linda Horne was in third grade when she decided she wanted to be just like her teacher. Years later, Horne was working alongside that teacher at her old elementary school.
After four decades as an educator -- and more than 30 years in Houston County schools -- Horne retired Friday as assistant superintendent of school operations.
There is no other system like it, Horne said. And you dont realize it unless youve been in other school systems.
As she prepared to leave the Houston school system, Horne reflected on a career that has taken her to an international school in Japan, down a school hallway on the back of a motorcycle and into a dunking booth. But perhaps the best place her job took her was the hallway of a school building, where she greeted children every morning as their principal.
Its the excitement you see in the little ones faces, she said. They take you at face value.
While her most recent role gave Horne an added appreciation for middle and high school workers, her heart has always been with elementary teaching. After graduating from Tift College, Horne returned to her hometown school in Fitzgerald, where she taught alongside the educator who inspired her.
Horne remembers being a scared third-grader, walking into an unfamiliar school where everybody knew one another, and she was the new kid. The teacher took my hand and smiled and said, Ive been waiting for you, Horne said. We knew how much she loved us and how much she wanted us to learn.
Its an attitude Horne has never forgotten. After teaching in her hometown and in Warner Robins for about a year, her former husband moved to Japan with the military, and she followed. In Japan, Horne taught at an international Catholic school, where she had limited supplies and multicultural students from Japan to Germany to Uganda. While most children grasped English quickly, she often relied on students to translate when speaking to their parents. Intrigued parents would stand outside the classroom and watch her teach.
They valued what I was doing, and they wanted to demonstrate that they were supporting me, she said.
After spending more than two years in Japan, she taught for a while in Texas before moving back to her hometown and then to Houston County, where a college roommate was teaching.
Her first job was at Kings Chapel Elementary, and then she went on to become a school counselor at Kings Chapel and Shirley Hills Elementary for about a year. After taking advantage of leadership training the district offered, Horne still was not sure she wanted to be a principal when she was asked to take a leadership role at the former Perry Elementary School.
She had always been in the classroom, and she wanted to work directly with children. But she grasped the opportunity to become assistant principal of instruction, a role she held at Perry and Quail Run Elementary for 13 years.
Before long, Horne was asked to be the first principal of David Perdue Elementary School. Its a time Horne calls the best experience of her career.
I was able to choose the color of the paint, the carpet, she said. That school was my school by the time we did the groundbreaking.
Workers were laying sod two days before school started. When the school opened, it still lacked a cafeteria, a gym and playground equipment. For two weeks, students ate sack lunches until the lunchroom was ready. They had gym class in an empty classroom. In a year, the Parent Teacher Organization raised $65,000 for playground equipment.
But none of that mattered, Horne said. Teachers and administrators were ready to educate, and children were happy to be there.
There is nothing like standing in the hallway first thing in the morning, she said through tears, and watching kids getting out of cars, skipping, laughing and excited about being at your school.
A standout moment was when she hired two teachers, whom she had taught in the fourth grade.
I saw the impact I had on them, she said. And now theyre teachers, and I think about the impact theyre having.
At that school, Horne not only was a leader but also an entertainer. As a student incentive, her husband drove her down the hallway and into the gym on a motorcycle. She was slimed and dunked into water by students.
Horne was principal for six years when the executive director of elementary operations gig opened, and several colleagues urged her to apply for it. Horne was standing in line at a Subway restaurant when she got the job offer, and she was so excited that the man behind her paid for her sandwich.
Soon, she moved up to assistant superintendent of school operations, which she held for three years. She oversaw what was happening in the schools, from security to discipline to technology.
We cant measure the impact that Linda Horne has had on the Houston County school system, Superintendent Robin Hines said. She reminds us all the time that its all about the kids.
Horne plans to spend time with her family and concentrate on her hobbies, such as gardening, reading and playing the piano. And she likely will not disappear from Houston County schools, where she plans to volunteer some of her time.
I have loved my job here, she said, adding she hopes the district continues on its current path. I dont expect anything less than what weve always expected.
To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.