Thursday, June 19, 2008

Beloved principal retires after 22 years


It became evident from the moment Principal Dr. Juanita Carney stepped onto the grass at McKinley Elementary School for her farewell party, surrounded by dozens of children, that she will be missed.
After 22 years at the school — serving as its first and only principal since reopening in 1986 — Dr. Carney is stepping down this summer.
“I feel very blessed,” she said. “The 22 years have gone by just like that and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Parents and former students joined dozens of her current students at yesterday’s event, several offering her flowers or a gift. Everyone offered her a hug.
“Thank you for being with us for so many years,” said Eva Camarillo, a former student who joined her brother and sister to put on a traditional dance performance for those in attendance. “We love you.”
From the first day Dr. Carney stepped foot on the campus, seated stunningly at Cliff Drive and Loma Alta Drive overlooking the coastline, she has left an indelible mark.
Perhaps the most obvious touch is her role in creating new traditions for the school, which reopened with little institutional history after being renovated.
“No one could tell me what the mascot was,” she said.
So she held a contest among the students, who chose to be bears.
After bringing a toy bear to school one day, Dr. Carney unwittingly started a lingering tradition as many students started giving her stuffed bears.
Twenty-two years later, she has collected at least 300 bears. Knowing she would be leaving this summer, she told her students if they wrote her a letter explaining why they wanted a bear, she would let them adopt one.
So far, 265 have been adopted and Dr. Carney said former students are showing up to adopt one after hearing about her retirement.
“They loved her,” said Margaret Saavedra, who started as Dr. Carney’s assistant in 1986 and has remained ever since. “They always wanted to come see Dr. Carney.”
Shortly after starting at McKinley, Dr. Carney started a student of the week program, Saavedra said, and had lunch with the winners every Friday.
During the student of the month celebrations, she would take one student from each class to Santa Barbara City College, where they would have lunch and take a quick tour of the campus.
“She really set the tone for the school,” Saavedra said. “She’s a very kind and caring principal.”
Always close and welcoming to her students, Dr. Carney was equally close to her teachers and staff, Saavedra said, always encouraging them to perform to the best of their ability.
After being together for so long, they became a McKinley family — celebrating joyous occasions, such as births and graduations, and helping each other through painful times.
“It’s going to be totally different without her, but she deserves the rest,” Saavedra said.
Dr. Carney plans to travel to Europe with her daughter this fall and keep busy, she said, letting the new principal get settled before spending any time revisiting the school and her students.
But she won’t be gone too long — a fifth grader already invited her to a promotion ceremony next year.
When asked her favorite memory of McKinley, the one thing she’ll miss the most, Dr. Carney’s answer was an easy one.
“The children,” she said. “The hugs, the smiles, the enthusiasm. The children have always been first.”

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