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Indian River Intermediate principal retiring

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PHILADELPHIA — When Lana J. Taylor started teaching in the 1960s, she was still too young to vote.

Forty-five years later, today is her last day as Indian River Intermediate’s principal, and she is excited to begin the next phase of her life: retirement.

“I’ve had a wonderful, wonderful career,” she said. “It’s not success based on a title. Anyone can have a title. It’s who you work with.”

When she moved to the north country from Germany as a former military spouse in 1989, she already had nine years of education administration and many years of teaching under her belt from her work in Kansas, her home state. Indian River was “bursting at the seams” with students, she said, and was hiring. She began work as a fourth-grade teacher at Evans Mills Primary. In 1991, she opened a brand new Calcium Primary as the principal.

“I built that school,” she said. “I opened that school. It was a challenge. There was nothing easy about it, but it was wonderful.”

She spent 15 years at Calcium Primary and seven years at the intermediate school. Her work earned her a chapter in John Novak’s book, “Creating New Schools”; an Athena award; and a statewide Women of Distinction award. She also served on the Jefferson County United Way board in the early 1990s.

“I guess it was instilled by my parents,” she said. “Never say you can’t unless you try.”

At the beginning of her career, 20-year-old Ms. Taylor never imagined she would be in an administrative position. When she graduated from then-Kansas State Teacher’s College at Emporia, the voting age was still 21 and African-Americans were just being accepted into teaching positions.

“I was brought up in the era of segregation,” she said. “When I look back, I realized we were poor.”

She can remember when, as a girl, she could not swim in the public pool and had to sit in a designated section of the movie theater. She remembers several incidents that are more recent as well. Although the world is a different place today, she knows racism is not just a thing of the past, especially after fear-inducing or stress-creating events occur.

“When the pie gets smaller, people get frightened,” she said.

Ms. Taylor has hope, however, because she has seen the changes since her first days as a reading teacher.

“As an educator, you have the opportunity to change a nation in a generation,” she said. “I see things now that I know the people who came before me made those changes.”

Many of her colleagues are thankful for the changes she has made. Brian A. Moore, the current assistant principal at the intermediate school, will be the new principal after the new year.

“In her career at Indian River, there have been tens of thousands of students she’s inspired and hundreds of parents of teachers and parents she’s worked with,” he said. “She’ll leave a lasting impression for years to come. I’m fortunate to have worked with her these past few years.”

He said many other administrators in the district look to her as a mentor.

“She is a wonderful educator and has seen education go through a lot of changes,” said Superintendent James Kettrick. “She’s always been an advocate for children. We’ll miss her.”

After the school shootings last week in Newtown, Conn., Ms. Taylor called her school a “safe haven” for students. It has been a safe haven for her, as well. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma in the 1980s, she said her staff took her to chemotherapy treatments several times.

“It really makes you focus on what’s important and what’s not important,” she said. “What it comes down to is the people, the family in your life.”

For her, family means her 38-year-old-son, Brandon J. Johnson, in Watertown.

Ms. Taylor will be 65 years old at the end of the month. She does not know exactly what retirement will bring, but she has loose plans to trace her family’s history, travel and take classes at Jefferson Community College.

“I think it’s important to know where your roots come from,” she said.

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