By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR – The prolonged pending retirement of Taylor School District Supt. Diane Allen may have delayed any plans she’d formed, but in hindsight included a hidden benefit.
“When I first gave notice, I was panic stricken,” Allen said of her announcement in early 2015 that she planned to step aside that June. “I’d been doing this for 44 years, my entire career. There were moments when I wondered, ‘What did I do?’ But time went by and I’ve had time to accept that it’s time to retire.”
Allen’s tentative retirement date at the end of the 2014-15 academic year was put on hold after the board of education’s initial search for a successor failed to identify a consensus candidate. Last month, board members offered the position to Central Lake Schools Supt. Ben Williams, a unanimous choice after an extensive search had been conducted with consultation by the Michigan Association of School Boards.
Pending Williams’ official acceptance of the post and a tentative start date of June 1, Allen expects to bid farewell to the district at the end of June after a transition period to review buildings and procedures and meet staff.
The passing of the torch reflects a new chapter for the district, which Allen has administered for four years through times that challenged schools – and cities – throughout the state in the form of shrinking revenues and rising costs.
“We’ve come a long way in four years,” Allen said, reflecting on having inherited a $13 million deficit, unsettled labor contracts and a host of financial challenges. Two years ago Taylor schools absorbed about 300 students from nearby Inkster, which hadn’t fared as well during the recessions and dissolved its enrollment into other districts.
“We got through all that,” Allen said. “We’re out of deficit and have made positive movements forward. There will still be financial challenges, no doubt, but I think we’ve come through the worst. Things will continue to progress.”
Allen reflected with some nostalgia on how much has changed – in society and education – in recent years, with concerns of a de-personalized approach to teaching.
“My fear is we’re getting away from the face-to-face interactions that make what we do in education personal,” Allen said. “We need to find a happy medium between technology and the personal touch.”
Still, she leaves Taylor with memories of children who at heart haven’t changed too much.
“They’re still children who are for the most part eager to please,” Allen said. “They’re quicker these days, and know a lot more. Not as innocent, in ways.”
Having had time to adjust to life after Taylor schools, Allen said she may do some part-time teaching at a university or college just to keep a hand in, but for now there’s a school year to conclude, and a successor to train.
“Right now I’ll just take some time, relax and unwind,” Allen said, “then I’ll figure out what the future holds.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])