Sunnyside Elementary School Principal Kathy Castro has worked in the Smyrna School District for 40 years. In that time, she has worked in many positions from teacher to counselor to administrator. In the coming weeks, Castro will start a new chapter in her life as a retiree. Castro announced earlier this year that she would be retiring from the Smyrna School District.

Castro recently sat down with the Sun-Times to discuss her decision to retire and what she’ll miss most about working in education.

Q Why did you go into education as a career?

A When I thought about a career path after high school, being an educator seemed to be a good fit. I had several family members who were educators. My future father-in-law, who was also an education major at the time, guided me into the field of special education.

Q You’ve worked in several different areas of education. What have you enjoyed about working in education?

A Regardless of the role I’ve held, I have loved watching students grow and learn academically, socially, and emotionally. In my years as a special education teacher, I had felt strongly that students were capable of learning. It was up to us to find the right tools to support and enable them. Through the years, I have devoted myself to learning about my students, knowing their strengths and learning needs, and trying to find the right tools to make them as successful as possible. I have also been inspired by the classroom teachers and support staff throughout my career. I have been extremely fortunate to work with exceptional educators who share my desire to provide an environment in which students can be happy and successful.

Q Why are you retiring?

A I’ve been working in education for almost 40 years, so it’s time…time to get my personal hobbies and interests out of the closet, dust them off, and start enjoying that aspect of my life again, time to give back to my family that’s been so supportive of my career choices through the years, time to provide some support to my growing grandchildren and their education and extra-curricular activities, and time to enjoy my friends as we walk the path of retirement together.

Q How does it feel to be retiring?

A It feels a little surreal because I’m still busy and involved with many aspects of closing out the school year. However, as each step takes me closer to my last day and being involved with meetings and transitioning forward, it’s becoming a little more real. I have mixed feelings of sadness at leaving all of the students and people who have been such a large part of my life, but I’m trying to maintain a sense of gratitude for how my life has been enriched by these people instead of thinking of what I’m losing. I am definitely looking forward to enjoying my first summer in many years and spending some relaxing time with my family. Beyond that, I’m going to take retirement one step at a time until I uncover my “new normal.”

Q What do you like about working in the Smyrna School District?

A I grew up in a small town with a great love of community. It was an eclectic mix of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, but everyone shared a common goal of supporting and caring for each other in times of joy or sorrow. I feel that the Smyrna School District is an extension of that community that I grew up in. Our leadership from the school board and our Central Office team promotes a sense of family and community through our Community Core Values. Our district has grown from 5 to 8 schools through my term, and we have welcomed families from our surrounding states and cities. A common comment that I hear is that they are happy to be here because they feel that they are a part of something…our community…and they are appreciative of the warm welcome and positive family atmosphere.

Q What are you going to miss the most?

A It’s funny. People come up to me after various situations and say, “Oh, you’re not going to miss that when you retire.” But I will. I have loved all aspects of being an educator. Being a problem solver and helping people to resolve issues so that there are happy endings is motivating to me. What I’ll miss the most is talking with the students, feeling their excitement as they share an accomplishment, and watching them grow and develop from Kindergarteners who are just beginning to navigate this new world of school to confident 4th graders who can hold sophisticated and insightful conversations and leadership roles within the school. I’ll also miss our teaching and support staff. There is not enough space in this article to express how wonderful it was to observe their enthusiasm and excitement for teaching and their dedication, devotion, and passion in developing our students into Sunnyside Superstars.

Q What does it take to be a principal?

A Through the years, I’ve worked for and with many principals. I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful role models, and so I’ve developed my personal sense of what qualities a principal should have: a clear vision of your goals and desired outcomes, a sense of responsibility for all aspects of the school, an understanding that people, not programs, determine the success of a school, an ability to consistently and continually demonstrate respect to students, staff, and parents, a demonstrated value of the people around you, a constant positive affect, attitude, and outlook, a desire to provide teachers with the skills and tools that they need, the ability to recognize talented teachers and provide support for those talents, the ability to be fair, flexibility, time management, perseverance, and most importantly, a passion for creating a learning environment that supports students and their teachers academically, behaviorally, and emotionally.

Q Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A I’ve been fortunate to hold many roles during my tenure as an educator in the Smyrna School district…teacher of many things at many levels, elementary school counselor, and administrator. I would like to extend an “attitude of gratitude” for the tremendous support through the years from my family, our school board, central office, Special Services team, and our Sunnyside Superstar teachers and staff, parents, friends, and students. I would not be who I am today without knowing you.