After serving as the principal of Vena Stuart Elementary School for 24 years, Dr. Brenda Valentine is about to about to retire.
The Gallatin native, who has spent nearly four decades with Sumner County Schools, informed her staff on the last day of school that she would be retiring June 30.
"They were in shock, but I did not want to upset them during the time we were testing," Valentine said about her decision not to make the announcement sooner. "I just feel like the timing is right for me (to retire).
"I have given my heart and soul to this job and done everything in the world to make life better for my children and my staff, all the while trying to do community work to make sure the students see a good example of what being a good citizen should be. That in itself takes a lot of work."
A graduate of Gallatin High School, Valentine obtained both her bachelor's and master's degrees from Austin Peay State University and her doctorate in educational administration from Tennessee State University.
In 1978, she was hired by Sumner County Schools as a kindergarten teacher at Howard Elementary where she taught for nine years before becoming the school's assistant principal. She has served as the principal of Vena Stuart Elementary since 1993.
"Dr. Valentine has had an exemplary career with Sumner County Schools," Director of Schools Del Phillips said. "She has impacted countless lives and been a fixture in the Gallatin community. She will be greatly missed and we wish her well in retirement."
An 'inspiration' to faculty, students
During her time at Vena Stuart, Valentine helped start the school's first computer lab, science fair, reading computer lab and form a student council to help develop leadership skills. She also helped implement the Souper Bowls fundraiser to support various school projects, the Star Polishers program to help mentor students and a multicultural fair.
The school, which has Pre-K to fifth grade, has approximately 700 students who represented at least eight different ethnicities last school year.
"I love the diversity of our school because there are so many rich heritages here and all of those combined make one big family," Valentine said. "So, we teach our children to respect themselves, to respect others, to be fair, to be honest and do their best no matter what their best is. We learn from each other and everyone has a contribution to make."
Over the years, Valentine has been recognized numerous times for her work in education. Honors include the Kappa Alpha Pi Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teacher Education Award in 1977, the United Way of Sumner County's Terry Colwell Award in 1993, Gallatin High School Outstanding Alumnus Achievement Award in 1997 and the Shalom Heritage Award in 2014.
Lisa Scharkley, who has taught third grade at the school for 18 years, describes Valentine as "an inspiration" to not only the faculty but the students as well.
"She is passionate about students learning and she's loving at the same time," Scharkley said. "It's going to be hard for her not to be there because she has been so supportive to the staff, the students and the parents. She has given 110 percent of herself to Vena Stuart."
Sumner County Schools announced last week that Jessica Thurman will become the new principal of Vena Stuart in the fall. She has served as the principal of Portland Gateview Elementary for the last five years.
As for the future, Valentine said she plans to rest and spend time with friends and family before "entering the next chapter of life and exploring other possibilities."
"I will miss my children, staff and the community," she said, "but now I will be able to concentrate on some personal endeavors and catch up on projects that I've put off for a long time."