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Principals Close the Book on Storied Careers : Education: Five retiring chiefs have a total of 184 years in the district. They worry about budget cuts and next year's school voucher initiative, but leave their profession with faith in the system.


GLENDALE — When the final school bell rings this afternoon at Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School, it will also signal the end of a 43-year career for Principal Lenore Hays Lacey.

The same will apply to Wayne Sparks, who will close out his 42-year teaching tenure as principal at Mann Elementary in less than two weeks.

Lacey and Sparks are among five elementary school principals planning to retire from the Glendale Unified School District by month's end.

The others are David Smith at Dunsmore, Richard Martin at Glenoaks and Ken Henisey at Muir.

Lacey and Sparks have a combined total of 85 years service. The other three have a combined total of 99 years, officials say.

The educators are leaving behind a growing school system that has become more ethnically diverse over the years. Of the 28,061 total enrollment, 30% are Middle Eastern (mostly Armenian), 29% Anglo, 24% Latino, 16% Asian and 1% African-American. It is also a financially strapped district that has had to add 16 portable trailers this year to ease overcrowding on campuses. And, it has, by necessity, become a safety-minded district that has made hand-held metal detectors available for use in elementary schools.

Nevertheless, both Lacey and Sparks feel 1993 is the right time to retire, and both share high hopes for the future of education--despite concerns about school funding and a school-voucher initiative on next June's ballot.

"This is a great job," said Lacey, 66, believed to be the only administrator in the district's history to have headed five elementary campuses. "I'm not retiring because it isn't a satisfying job . . . And I never (said) every year, 'Gee, I wish I could retire,' because I never felt it."

The Occidental College graduate, who started as a fourth-grade teacher at Monte Vista Elementary, views education as a cycle of transitions. Sitting in the office she's occupied for 13 years, Lacey explains that, as a principal, "you have to accept change."

Lacey has seen many educational programs come and go as head of the four previous schools and Verdugo Woodlands, a few blocks from Glendale Community College.

"I never think change is a bad thing," she said. "Change is just inevitable. Good things can happen when there's change.

"Somebody rediscovers a philosophy--a way of handling kids . . . They (just) change it a little. Hopefully, each time is a better way. And I think it is."

An example involves the recent push toward cooperative learning among students, a program similar to one in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"They did 'group work,' and it was kids working together in groups on a related project," Lacey said.

"Cooperative learning is a little bit . . . different, but it also has this group work in it."

Lacey believes educators dumped the teamwork concept in the 1950s through the 1980s as a reflection of the times, which emphasized the individual over the group.

"We felt that young people ought to do their own work, not to work together with someone else," she said. "I think we became more egocentric. (But) there's value in working by yourself too. And the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth."

The latest swing involves a controversial school issue that both Lacey and Sparks have strongly opposed. They fear that the Parental Choice in Education Initiative could hurt public schools and their funding. If passed in next June's statewide election, the measure would give parents a choice of sending their children to private schools through state-funded vouchers, or scholarships.

"Those (private) schools can become an elitist organization, and I don't think that's productive," Lacey said.

Added Sparks: "I believe that if it's carried as it's now proposed, I think it could destroy public education as we know (it).

"The most unfair thing about it is . . . they (private schools) would not have the restraints and legislation that we do. You do not have to have social studies (in curriculum). You do not have to have math."

Sparks, 71, a World War II Navy veteran, has been in charge of Mann Elementary--with 1,700 students, the largest elementary campus in the district--since 1967. Shortly after graduating from Occidental College, he came to the district in 1951 as a sixth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary.

Sparks believes the public school system needs a boost--not a sharp cut--in financial support from the state, especially for teachers.

"I think that most California citizens want their public schools to succeed and are willing to support that success," he said.

"(But) we're still thinking financially in the same way we thought, I would say, 40 years ago," the principal said. "We still do not want to recruit and pay for the best talent available."

Fortunately for Sparks and Lacey, that is an area they no longer will have to grapple with come June 30, their last official day on campus.

"I want to go to the racetrack," Sparks said. "I want to play a little golf. I want to read. I want to see some more of our country."

On this last day of school for students at Verdugo Woodlands, Lacey says she will have a "bittersweet feeling."

"I think (there will be feelings of) sadness, but also great joy in knowing that the kids are going to be taken care of; that things are going to go on (even) if I'm not here."

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