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A closing (text)book

North Lamar High School Principal Paul Allen is leaving some big shoes behind at the end of this month.

“I’ve always had a goal to retire happy. I am happy. I can retire, and I’m ready,” Allen said. “I’m going to miss the kids. I still love the staff and kids here at North Lamar. That’s how I would like to leave.”

That doesn’t mean he won’t be missed when he walks out the door for the last time as principal on Dec. 21.

“I think all of us go through life knowing that we should make a difference where we are,” librarian Debbie Basden said. “That’s what Mr. Allen has done. He’s made the world a better place just by being here. That’s what we all need to do.”

Allen’s retirement will mark the end of a 30-year career in education that has included time at North Lamar, Prairiland, Corsicana and Pearland. Eleven of those years were spent as an administrator, including six years as North Lamar High School principal. Allen also taught history and coached baseball, football and golf.

He has enjoyed building relationships and working with students over the years.

“That’s been the most rewarding thing — trying to get to know kids. There is so much more to education than just books. That’s been important to me,” he said. “It’s hard. I’m going to miss the kids. I’m going to miss the staff.”

As long as he’s able, Allen plans to come back and continue to help facilitate Zone 32. He launched the program at a Drug Free Week assembly in late October 2011 during a frank address to the school and community about problems the high school faces with drugs and other issues. The idea for Zone 32 cemented after Allen read Beyond Belief by Josh Hamilton, No. 32 for the Texas Rangers.

“The kids want me to do that,” he said. “Zone 32 isn’t about me. It’s about the kids.”

That may be, but Zone 32 is something he takes very seriously. At that Drug Free assembly, the principal offered his resignation should his comments offend anyone or be deemed inappropriate.

“The most rewarding years of my career have been at this high school and working with Mr. Allen on Zone 32,” said Wendy Bozarth, virtual school site coordinator and computer lab liaison. “I am glad to know he will still be in touch and still be a part of Zone 32 in the future.”

Allen has deep roots in Lamar County.

“I’ve known him since he was like this,” custodian Larry May said, holding his hand 3 or 4 feet from the floor. “He’s a pretty good principal. He tries to be real honest.”

It’s the principal’s passion that many teachers will miss.

“His care and concern for the children is greatly appreciated,” Spanish teacher William St. John said.

Kathy Ballard, a content mastery teacher, noted that Allen’s drive has lead to some innovations at NLHS, like Zone 32.

“He’ll never be forgotten, that’s for sure,” she said. “He’s had a big impact on this school. I hope the programs he started will be continued.”

Allen has the respect of both the student body and staff, English teacher Stephen Smallwood noted.

“It’s always wonderful working with someone who’s enthusiastic and can be a strong manager and a strong curriculum director at the same time,” he said. “I’m an old teacher who has worked with a number of principals. I can clearly say he’s one of the most balanced and most complete in leading a faculty of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He expects excellence, but he’s extremely fair.”

It’s an approach that history teacher Dennis Hodgkiss appreciates.

“He always treated me like a professional and trusted me to do my job,” he said. “He’s very supportive of UIL academics.”

Allen frequently reminds students and others that “you are the most important thing at North Lamar High School.”

“I don’t know of many kids here that don’t know and aren’t aware that I care,” Allen said. “But at the same time, they know what our expectations are, so there is that mutual respect.”

And that has made a great difference, biology teacher Shannon Ausmus said.

“He has made such a positive impact on our school that he’s going to be greatly missed,” she said.

Ted Weiberg, a career and technology education teacher, echoed her comments, saying it’s difficult to see Allen leave.

“It’s hard to go through losing a great administrator,” he said. “When you work for a good person, it’s hard to let go because you never know what you’re going to get next.”

Allen announced to NLHS staff last week that he would not be returning next semester. It surprised a few, but many knew he’d been considering it for awhile.

“I knew he was wanting to retire,” biology teacher Teresa Bussell said. “We’re glad for him that he has the opportunity to choose when he wants to do that.”

The news did come as a shock to many students, particularly those who expected to have their principal there on their final day of their high school careers. Although Allen won’t be on the stage, he does plan to continue his support.

“I plan to be here at graduation,” he said, smiling. “I’ll be in the audience.”

After that, who knows? Allen plans to take some time off in January to think and pray about what that decision may entail.

“I’m going to go back to work doing something,” he said. “Right now, those options are wide open. I don’t think my next job will be as time consuming and as stressful.”

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