Students, families, bid farewell to Markham Elementary principal
Shawn Garnett waved, greeted students, and at times, wiped away tears during a drive-thru parade to honor her retirement Monday afternoon, June 1.
This year marks Garnett's last as principal of Markham Elementary School, where she rounded out a career in education that spanned more than 30 years.
On Monday, vehicles wrapped around the parking lot of the Southwest Portland school for a retirement parade in Garnett's honor. One-by-one, cars pulled through with children holding signs out of passenger windows. Some brought flowers, others took to painting messages on the windows of their SUVs.
"How are you?!" Garnett exclaimed, recognizing familiar faces she hadn't seen since mid-March, when schools closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Garnett was joined at the school by her husband and two sons.
She was quick to admit to students and parents that she doesn't care for distance learning.
Garnett said she missed interacting with staff and students in the halls of the Markham campus. The heavy reliance on video conferencing and web platforms has served as a barrier to fully meeting student and staff needs.
"We could see and talk to one another, but it still felt isolating and 'distant,'" Garnett said. That's what made Monday's event special.
"Today was a filling-up of pure joy and elation for seeing students and their parents in person even though we could not hug," Garnett said. "It seemed as if a year had passed since I last saw them and that was true for the former Markham students who came today."
Garnett has been the principal at Markham for the past nine years. Prior to that, she worked at ACCESS Academy, Sabin Elementary, Mount Tabor Middle School, Rosa Parks Elementary, Woodlawn Elementary, Woodmere Elementary and Grout Elementary.
Garnett spent the first half of her career as an elementary teacher and helped Portland Public Schools adopt a new math curriculum, later traveling across the United States to help teach Everyday Counts, a supplemental math program.
During her time at Markham, parents say she fostered personal relationships with students and families.
"Mrs. Garnett is well-regarded in our community as a strong advocate for all students. She is enthusiastic about seeing students succeed, engaging families, and celebrating the different ways that every person contributes to our community," Alissa Maxwell, PTA president at Markham, said. "She is known for greeting students and families by name and making each student feel seen and heard."
Maxwell said the outgoing principal will be "deeply missed."
As the school year winds down and Garnett spends her last few weeks on the job, she reflected on the experiences she'll cherish most after three decades in education.
"Hands down, it is working with other staff members who are passionate about educating children and creating an environment where students can thrive no matter what their background, race, socio-economic status, gender or disability," Garnett said. "I will cherish meeting with a small group of students around an issue and sharing my own personal experiences and my parents' wisdom to come to a resolution and to later see those same students using my words and showing me their growth and how they internalized the golden nuggets.
"I will cherish seeing a student finally understanding a math concept; using capital letters correctly; enjoying a science experiment; falling in love with an author or genre and not able to stop talking about it.
"I will cherish watching students at lunch or on the playground building their social skills.
"I will cherish the many times I have seen students perform acts of kindness to fellow students and reminding me this important work is not in vain."
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