By Dave Ongie
A large crowd gathered at Lake Ridge Elementary School last Friday afternoon to bid farewell to the only principal the school has ever known.
John Phillips, who has spent nearly 50 years as an educator, is preparing to retire at the end of the school year, and he was honored during a reception put on by the school’s PTA in the Lake Ridge Little Theatre. As Phillips addressed those in attendance, he said the thing he will miss the most in retirement will be the people – the parents, students, teachers and staff he has worked with over the years.
“I’ve seen them grow up and become great scholars and athletes in high school and college,” Phillips said of his former students. “It’s just been wonderful. Thank you for sharing your families with me.”
After Phillips wrapped up his remarks, a line formed in front of him. The line was full of people who had been positively impacted by Phillips over the years. Among them were adults who first met Phillips as wide-eyed children, and were now patiently waiting to wish him well as their own children darted in and out of line with unbridled enthusiasm. With many retired teachers on hand to welcome their former principal into the realm of retirement, the line truly spanned the generations.
Phillips’ longevity was best illustrated as Jane Anderson, her daughter Jana Counts and her grandsons Owen and Fletcher Counts reached the front of the line to greet Phillips. All three generations of the same family had been positively impacted by Phillips’ leadership. Once upon a time, Phillips was a principal at Boones Creek Elementary, where Anderson’s sister was a teacher. Anderson and Phillips struck up a friendship at that time that endures to this day.
“We’ve been friends forever,” said Anderson, a retired South Side Elementary School teacher. “He’s been an inspiration for his friends and students, and I wish him well.”
Anderson’s daughter Jana is currently a teacher at Lake Ridge, where she has worked with Phillips for the past few years. She remembered being a student fresh out of ETSU and working with Phillips first as a substitute teacher and then at summer Educare at Fairmont, Phillips’ former school.
Counts’ sons Owen and Fletcher both had Phillips as a principal at Lake Ridge, and the whole family was sad to see him go.
When next fall rolls around, things will certainly be different at Lake Ridge. Phillips has been the principal at the school since it opened, guiding the school through two decades of challenges and triumphs.
Kathy Hall, Vice-Chair of the Johnson City Board of Education, was among those on hand to bid Phillips adieu. She said Phillips is leaving behind a great legacy.
“Mr. Phillips has been so integral as a principal and in many positions in Johnson City schools,” Hall said. “He’s done a great job and we’re sad to see him go. He’s run a great school, and his success has been apparent.”