In recognition of the six years he's led Westmoreland's Llewellyn Elementary School, it was clear that the Sellwood-Westmoreland community esteemed Principal Joe Galati, at his last school assembly there, on Thursday afternoon, June 6.
Before he headed down the hall to the gymnasium, Galati talked with THE BEE about his time at Llewellyn, and his surprising future plans.
"I'll be Principal here until June 27, when I'll be retiring from Portland Public Schools (PPS) after 33 years," Galati said, looking wistful. "I started my educational career with Portland Public when I was 22 years old, and I have truly enjoyed my 33 years with the school district. And, I've really, really, enjoyed my last six years so much being part of the Llewellyn community."
Asked what, specifically, he enjoyed, Galati thought for a moment, and then explained, "It's like pyramid: First is the kids; these kids are fabulous, incredible kids and bring me a lift; I'm excited every day when I arrive at school because I get to see these kids.
"The second side of the pyramid is our magnificent teachers, and what they do for our students, preparing them for their future education and for life.
"The third side is our parents; all of the books, technology, and staff can't make up for having wonderful parents," Galati remarked.
The solid base on which that pyramid sits: "It's the community; our community has supported what we've done here so much, and together, we've done some incredible things."
Galati referenced how THE BEE covered his first actions at the school: Getting parents and to help put up the playground; and later, installing a track around the school yard. "And, we created the mural in this building, so kids have current art being shown; and we published our newsletter, the Star Flyer – it's wonderful, because our kids have written most of the stories that appear in there."
Galati's two-mile move
Galati observed that, while he's at retirement age at PPS, he is only 55 years old, and he's enthusiastic about remaining an educational leader.
"Over the summer, I'll become the new Principal at Holy Family Catholic Church School in Eastmoreland; and, I'm really excited to start a new chapter in my life," revealed Galati. "As one chapter of my life closes, another one has opened up, and I begin my next career, following the exceptional leadership that Principal Loretta Wiltgen has built at Holy Family.
"I will take with me the experiences that I've had in Portland Public, while I learn new skills. As a Catholic, I will practice my faith in a totally different way – one that would be inappropriate in a public school."
As the Llewellyn students were being seated for Galati's farewell assembly there, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero slipped into the building.
"As another school year closes, it's an exciting time; often with leadership transitions," Guerrero told THE BEE. "This is a special one, here at Llewellyn Elementary."
Guerrero lauded Galati: "He is beloved; one of our most energetic, empathetic, inspiring school leaders. I'm pleased to be here at the year-end student assembly to surprise him by honoring him for his tenure here."
During the assembly, Guerrero remarked that Galati's career at PPS started as a teacher at Franklin High School, and subsequently took him to Whitaker Middle School, Harriet Tubman, and Robert Gray Middle School, before bringing him to Llewellyn.
"He's been a stalwart here at Portland Public Schools, and I'm pleased to be here to honor him," Guerrero said.
It came as a surprise
Going into the assembly, Principal Galati believed it would just consist of the usual end-of-the-year awards presentations – not knowing that the staff had secretly prepared a program in his honor, including the surprise visit by Superintendent Guerrero.
As in past years, the top student fundraisers were selected to spray Galati with cans of "Silly String" spray streamers (while he shot back at them).
But after that, leaders of the school's fifth grade class presented their Principal a framed picture of the entire student body, with their fingerprints appearing on the matting surrounding the photo.
When students next brought out a professionally-made outdoor sign, featuring the school's big blue star, to dedicate the school track in his honor, Galati struggled to keep his composure.
The final presentation was a "Tie Quilt" – a gift from the staff, quilted by music teacher Lavonna Zeller-Williams Bratschi.
"Seeing all of you here wearing your 'knighting' ties touches my heart," Galati said, fighting back tears.
"I hope you know how special all of you are to me; you touched my heart more than you can imagine for the last six years. Thank you for giving me the honor of getting to know you. I love you guys, and thank you," were Galati's parting words.
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