Kim Newman’s colleagues considered her the face of Meadows Elementary School, so when it came time for her to retire after more than 25 years at the school, she said it felt somewhat bittersweet that she couldn’t celebrate like she’d hoped.
“I’ve been at school for a long time, and I’ve seen people retire, and they always have a big party for them and everything,” Newman said. “Well, I wasn’t gonna be able to have that because of COVID.”
Though she knew she’d be retiring back in January, she had no idea it’d be in the midst of a pandemic that would close the school to in-person classes, nor that she’d be unable to have the chance to say goodbye to many of the staff and students.
“After you’ve had your heart somewhere for 25 years, that hurt,” Newman added.
On her last day of work Friday, Newman said “goodbye” and turned in her key.
“Hearing that door click for the last time and going to my car, my heart just broke,” she said. “And, I kind of mourned my way through the afternoon.”
When she and her husband heard a commotion outside her home later that evening, she never expected to open the door and see dozens of Meadows teachers and staff, along with her family, there to celebrate her retirement with a surprise, drive-by caravan.
“They weren’t just honking the horn, they were laying on the horn. It sounded like an air raid,” she said, laughing. “They were bearers of gifts, flowers, signs and balloons, there was a unicorn that was running up and down the street, and they had already decorated my front yard that day.”
For Newman, it was the surprise of all surprises, but the most touching part was to see all the coworkers, teachers and former principals who came to recognize her, as she has always made it her goal to support the staff and students at Meadows.
“I wanted to make students and parents always feel welcome … and know that we cared about them — I just felt that that was my job,” she said. “I’d always imagined these were my kids or grandkids, and how I’d want them to feel, (so) I treated them as family, and they appreciated that.”
Newman began at Meadows as a health assistant for nine years before she moved into the office assistant position, always interacting with students and parents along the way.
“She would greet everybody who walked in,” Meadows office manager Jayne Wiggins said. “She never forgot a face, and she knew every student’s name and their parents’ names. She could tell you the history, where they had gone to college and what they had grown up to do.”
For Wiggins, Newman’s retirement means that she’s got some big shoes to fill.
“She took me under her wing and made me feel like that place was home from the day I started,” Wiggins added. “More than a few people have said that Meadows is more than a school, it’s like a second home (because of Newman), and it’s true. I’m going to do my best to keep it that way, but it’s going to be tough.”
Newman now intends to enjoy her family and travel to national parks across the U.S. with her husband after he retires in a couple of years, but contends that working at Meadows has been a highlight of her life.
“I’m very blessed to have worked at Meadows School,” she said. “Meadows will always hold a place in my heart.”