After nearly 30 years of service with Sumner County Schools, Union Elementary S.T.E.M. and Demonstration School Principal Danny Sullivan will retire next month.
The Gallatin native began working for the central office in 1988 at the age of 19 and has been at Union since 2008 following stints at three other local schools. His last day with the school system is June 30.
"I just feel like it's the right time," said Sullivan, who is now 48. "Last spring when we became S.T.E.M. certified, I really thought a lot about moving on because I felt like we had taken it to the next level. I was at a point where I felt like it was time to move on and let somebody else come in and bring some good ideas."
After receiving his bachelor's degree in elementary education from Tennessee State University, Sullivan began teaching social studies at Gallatin Middle School in 1993, where he also served as an assistant football coach. Two years later, he received his master's degree from Tennessee Tech.
In 2000, Sullivan became an assistant principal at Guild Elementary School before being named the principal of Walton Ferry Elementary School in Hendersonville where he served from 2002-2008.
"Mr. Sullivan has been an excellent leader for this school system and has left his mark on multiple campuses," Director of Schools Del Phillips said. "He has done an outstanding job of creating a positive community culture at Union. He leaves some big shoes to fill."
While Union's curriculum is the same as other schools in the county, there is an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math in the classroom. The school, which includes grades K-5, has 490 students from Gallatin, Hendersonville, Portland, Westmoreland and White House.
Shalamar Workings, who played football for Sullivan at Gallatin Middle School, now works as a custodian at the school and describes his former coach as a "kids person" who strives to help students beyond the classroom.
"He will try his best to help a kid out in any way or to keep them out of trouble," said Workings, whose son attends kindergarten at Union. "He always gives them advice and tells them to make better choices. He doesn't always go with punishment first."
A bulletin board on the wall across from Sullivan's office has more than 70 "thank you" messages to him from students. Many of the notes say "I love you" while others say he is "the best person ever."
For Sullivan, who was a finalist for the best principal/headmaster in the 2017 Sumner County Main Street Awards, being an educator is about more than just the academic success of his students.
"It's just as important to teach them to be a good citizen, to open the door for somebody behind them, to use good manners and things like that," Sullivan said. "That's something that sometimes we put on the back burner because everything is so academic focused, but we've got to raise the next generation of good adults."
Sullivan will join his brother, Jerry, and sell real estate at Remax Choice Properties in Hendersonville once he retires from the school system next month.
While he feels like it is the right time to leave education and move on to a new career, Sullivan said he will still miss the interactions he has with students every day.
"Yesterday afternoon at dismissal a girl came up to me and said, 'Will you be my daddy?" Sullivan said while sitting in his office fighting back tears. "That's what I'm going to miss; the kids... and watching them grow up."