Bill Breckenridge retires after 39 years as an educator
STALLINGS – After 36 years in Union County Public Schools, Stallings Elementary Principal Bill Breckenridge felt it was time to say goodbye.
Breckenridge spent a total of 39 years as an educator – more than 19 of which he served as principal of Hemby Bridge Elementary. And although he’s loved working in the school system, Breckenridge knew his time had come to a close.
“It just seemed like the right thing to do at the right time,” he said.
One of a record 134 school professionals who retired from UCPS this year, Breckenridge first applied to teach in Union County on a whim following a vacation to Myrtle Beach with a friend who lived in the Monroe area. The Piedmont, Parkwood and Sun Valley schools had just opened, and the school district was taking applications for new teachers.
Breckenridge put in a general application to teach at one of the schools and received two job offers following his interview: a physics teacher at Piedmont High and a life sciences teacher at Sun Valley Middle.
“I was a biology major, so I was more interested in life science,” Breckenridge said. “So I took the Sun Valley job.”
But what prompted him to come to Union County in the first place? “Back then I was young and looking for a change,” Breckenridge said. “I’d (lived in) the Pennsylvania area all my life.”
Breckenridge said Pennsylvania was a nice area to grow up, but the call of a more rural life was too irresistible to pass up. “Here you kind of get the best of both worlds,” he said. “You can live more in the country but you’re still close to Charlotte, which is a bigger city. And I like the weather. I was tired of shoveling snow.”
During the seven years he taught at Sun Valley Middle, Breckenridge worked on his administrative certificate. At that point, he was married and hoping to start a family, so he decided to pursue a position with higher pay.
“That was my plan to do that to bolster my take-home pay and be able to provide better for the family,” Breckenridge said.
Breckenridge was selected to be the assistant principal at Marshville Elementary – one of the first elementary schools in the area to add an assistant principal position to payroll. After five years, Breckenridge was moved to Hemby Bridge Elementary, where he spent more than 19 years as principal. He left Hemby Bridge after Christmas during the 2007-08 school year to help open Stallings Elementary, where he was principal until this past Saturday.
Breckenridge believes some of his greatest accomplishments lie with Hemby Bridge. An “open school” with makeshift “walls” (such as bookcases) dividing classrooms, Hemby Bridge had a less-than-satisfactory reputation when Breckenridge first arrived. Parents were worried the noise from the other classes would distract children too much, and families who moved or were redistricted to the area were not happy about having to send their children to the school.
Breckenridge and his staff worked hard to turn things around, and the school eventually purchased floor-to-ceiling partitions to better block sound from adjacent classes. But what Breckenridge feels was his biggest success was creating a “family” type of atmosphere where the teachers were happy and the students were encouraged to learn.
“We won (skeptics and critics) over, over time, by being community-oriented and through the children being successful,” Breckenridge said. “(Parents) didn’t have to fret that it was a bad hand they were dealt having to send their children there.”
When late 2007 rolled around, Breckenridge was chosen to help UCPS open Stallings Elementary. The new school was built to house some of the overflow from Hemby Bridge, which was over capacity with 1,200 students at that time. Because he would still be working closely with some of the faculty and students from Hemby Bridge, Breckenridge seized the opportunity.
Opening Stallings Elementary is another of Breckenridge’s proud achievements. “It was pretty exciting,” he said. “It sort of gave you an opportunity to be involved in all the phases. I was involved in the construction phase, being able to meet with the contractors and make some suggestions to some of the minor changes that could be made to the building.”
Breckenridge also helped pick out the furniture and fixings, select the school’s first staff members and give updates to the community on how the school was coming along. He even got to help choose the school’s mascot (a stallion) and colors (black and gold).
But after four great years at Stallings, Breckenridge knew the time had come to bid farewell. “You get to the point where you have taken a school as far as you can and you realize that you don’t want to stay around too long,” he said. “I just felt it was time for another person to expand on the good things we did at Stallings during the four years I was there and continue to make it a better school.”
Breckenridge plans to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife, Mary Jo; his two grown children, Jeff (an aerospace engineer in Maryland) and Kate (a teacher in the Greensboro area); and his mother, who lives in Monroe. He also hopes to travel, relax and catch up on some unfinished house projects.
Looking back, Breckenridge hopes people will remember him as a hard worker who cared for both the teachers and the students. “If that’s my legacy, well, that’s a pretty good one to leave behind,” he said. “He worked hard, and he worked hard to do the right thing for children.”