|Leaving as principal, but not leaving children
Penngrove principal Kathleen Larsen retiring after 37 years
There’s a certain sparkle Penngrove Principal Kathleen Larsen gets in her eyes when she talks about her time in the Petaluma School District. When speaking specifically about children, there’s a light in her face filled with contentment and complete satisfaction; her tone overflowing with an underlying mixture of melancholy nostalgia and great pleasure. She obviously loves children and has truly enjoyed her chosen career for 37 years. But now she’s reached a crossroads in her life and will be retiring at the end of the school year.
Larsen said it wasn’t an easy decision to make. “I was very back and forth for a long time. ‘Should I go? Should I not go?’ I just couldn’t decide. I was thinking I was really going to miss the students, but then my sister said, ‘you can still be around kids,’ and it was like a light went on, of course! I’m leaving as a principal, but I’m not leaving kids. I can volunteer, I can be around them – I can even come back and volunteer here. So, once I made that decision – that I can still be around children – I said, ‘OK, I’m ready to go.’” She added since she’s made the decision to leave, she’s really excited for the school.
“It’s going to be good for the school. It’s a fresh set of eyes looking at what we’re doing and just seeing it with a newness and maybe bringing new ideas…I think it’s really going to be a positive for the school.” As for Larsen, she won’t be letting the dust settle anytime soon. She now not only plans to work with children, she has other ideas to fill her free time as well.
Life after retirement
Like many retirees, travelling is on the top of Larsen’s list. “My husband and I are already planning our first trip to the southern United States – Charleston (South Carolina), Savannah (Georgia), and New Orleans, and then we’re going to go back to Europe. We have tons of ideas for travel…we’ve just been kind of waiting until I had more flexibility.”
In addition to travel, one of Larsen’s plans is to be a mentor, working with student teachers. Before she was a principal, she mentored student teachers, so it’s not something new – she’s just putting on a hat she wore once upon a time. “I want to go back to mentoring student teachers and sort of help them through the system. They’re the next generation, and it’s so important they get help and support as they start working with the schools and children.”
And if that wasn’t enough, she’s also planning on continuing to work with children by volunteering for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), a national association that recruits, trains and supports volunteers in representing abused and neglected children in the court and foster systems. Volunteers advocate for these children, making sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in inappropriate group or foster homes.
“I’ve been very aware of (CASA) for years, it’s always something I wanted to do. They pair you with a foster child and you guide them through the school system so you can advocate for them, and I figured that is the perfect job for me. I know the school system, I know how it works, and I know what kids should be getting.” And that’s an understatement, considering her background.
Larsen’s a veteran
Born and raised in Eureka, Larsen is one of eight kids; three sisters, four brothers. Her mom was a teacher, so she knew early on that’s what she wanted to do. She moved to Santa Rosa at 13, attending the junior college and Sacramento State. She received her master’s degree at SSU and began her teaching career at the high school level as a Special Education teacher.
She then taught regular education for 3rd and 4th grades as well as taking on the position as Resource Specialist and Special Education teacher for elementary and middle schools. She went on to work as Program Specialist for special ed at the school district followed by a year as assistant principal at Kenilworth Junior High School. From there, she became the principal at Penngrove School, where she has remained for the last 12 years.
“I do sometimes miss the classroom,” Larsen said. “But the good news is when I do miss it, I can go into a classroom here and be around kids and be around teaching – it’s nice that its close.
“The best part about being a principal is everyday you’re around students and they rejuvenate you; they energize you with their joy and excitement at being at school.”
But being principal has its challenges. Larsen says it can get tough when she sees a parent struggling with parenting. “You see kids with family issues, and you want to help them, but you can only do so much…you can do something about it during the school day, but really you’re not going to be able to completely change a child’s life. All you can do is remind teachers and yourself that from 8:30 to 3 you CAN make a huge impact on every students’ life.”