By Crystal Burns
After nine years in the role, Trenton Special School District Director of Schools Sandra Harper is resigning effective June 30.
Harper, who has one year remaining on her current contract, made the announcement at a special called school board meeting April 10.
“This hasn’t been an easy decision,” Harper said. “This district is sound. It will continue to do what’s right for kids, and it will continue to move forward.”
Harper thanked the board for the opportunities to work in her home district. She, her late husband Michael, and their daughters Celeste Harper Poppenheimer and Michelle Harper Thie are all graduates of Peabody High School. Her daughters and their families now live near Memphis, and Harper is eager to be more involved with her five grandchildren.
In 1972, Harper was hired to teach third grade in Trenton. The school was still part of the Gibson County system. She had done her student teaching at Trenton also.
“That’s where I wanted to be,” Harper said.
Three years later, she was chosen to receive training in a state program designed to help teachers teach reading. It was only funded for a year, but Harper had her foot in the door in administration. She worked with title programs and eventually in Special Education supervision.
The Trenton Special School District was formed in 1975, but Harper stayed with the county until 1989 when she took a job as an elementary school principal in Dyer County. She stayed one year, but a call from then Trenton superintendent Larry Ridings brought her back home where she stayed in administration until 2005.
After a brief stint in Shelby County, Harper retired with 30 years in education and took a job working for a software company. Ridings called her again and asked her to consider a 100-day contract with the Trenton district. She worked two jobs for two years. When Ridings announced his retirement, Harper applied for the job, signing an initial three-year contract followed by contracts of four and three years respectively.
“My heart is in this district,” Harper said.
The school board met in regular session April 4, but Harper said she wasn’t sure if she was ready to hand in her notice.
“I was really riding the rollercoaster,” she said. She knew, however, that the board would need time to find a replacement if she did resign.
Monday afternoon, Harper called the central office staff together to inform them of her decision. She made it official at 6 p.m. She stressed that nothing is wrong, and she is not unhappy.
“This is the best place in the world to work,” Harper said. “The board is progressive. They’re deep thinkers. They recognize their role. They provide guidance, but they allow the day-to-day operations to be conducted by the leadership team. They listen, and they learn, and they participate so well.”
She also touted the district’s fiscal stability, facilities, teaching staff, and the community.
“The community itself is more diverse that ever,” she said. “It’s a great place to raise kids and to be involved.”
Dr. Mark Harper, chairman of the school board, thanked Ms. Harper for her dedication to the district.
“Those tiny little shoes will be hard to fill,” he joked.
In addition to accepting Harper’s resignation, the board also voted unanimously to forgive the final year of her contract and retain her in an advisory position through the transition of leadership. Ms. Harper said she wanted to stay in that capacity through July and August to help with budget planning. She will formally retire at the end of August.
The board was also unanimous in its decision to hire the Tennessee School Boards Association (TSBA) to conduct its candidate search for a new director of schools. The board elected to have the TSBA solicit applications from and interview qualified candidates to narrow the field to three to present to the Trenton board for final interviews.
“In my heart, I know that whatever comes next is going to be good here,” Harper said. “There are memories here that nobody can ever take away. It’s a great place.”