Liz Hofreuter Final Blog - sitting at Celebrate 2024 - Black and White

“No surprises,” I said. 

“Of course,” they said. 

“I mean it, no surprises,” I repeated. 

“Not in front of anyone,” they promised.

Promise broken most beautifully. 

The children and the faculty found incomparable ways to say a heartfelt goodbye. I may have had the responsibility of guiding adults through the emotions of change, but it should not have surprised me that it would be the children who walked me home on the last leg of my WCDS journey. Organized by a group of ten-year-olds, the entire 8 Park Road student body lie in wait in the school gym for an unexpecting Head to arrive. As soon as they began singing “Cover Me in Sunshine,” I turned and walked out overcome by emotion. Guided back in by Luke Hladek, I saw my daughter Ella. With the chorus of young voices swirling around me, I sobbed into my soon-to-be 16 year-old’s shoulder and felt the bittersweet tug of what was to come and what was happening in that moment.

Julie Cartwright and Theresa Kowcheck’s mantra Be Here Now resounded in my ear. I looked up from my daughter’s now tear-stained shirt and realized I had over 200 other children to hug…and so I did. Every. Single. One. Some were shy. Some were ancy in anticipation of my arrival at their place in line. Some were overcome with emotions themselves. We put some sobbing children in cars that day after a popsicle party, of course.

It was a perfect WCDS moment – imperfectly, authentically heartfelt because it was student-led and teacher-supported. Children need traditions for closure too as we were reminded.

Less than a week later the eighth grade graduating class surprised me again with a book annotated in detail by each student. They heeded the warning and made their gift at rehearsal and “not in front of anyone else” and in doing so allowed me the privacy to take in their gratitude for being adaptable, caring, empowering, empathetic and helpful. One student urged, “Just enjoy the little things for me. Ok?” Request noted. I plan to do just that.

Once our campuses cleared of children, I thought surprises were behind me. Silly. My colleagues had worked since the fall to rename the creek in front of the school “Hofreuter Run.” There was Mayor Elliott to read the official decree. Once again, I was moved to tears at their incredible gesture.

Fifteen years have gone by in the blink of an eye. My hair is much grayer. My laugh lines are much deeper. My mind much expanded, but it was my heart that was affected more than anything else – my heart has grown exponentially.

On our campus, I have known love and crazy, innocent, unabashed joy. I learned to brace my footing when approached by a running 3rd grader who offers a momentary hug. I learned the sweet pullback of my hand when a growing second grader winds up for a high five. I learned the immediate squatdown to best look an emotional 1st grader in the eye.

I had the privilege of assembling the greatest team of educators to join the nine who welcomed me in 2009 and then stayed for the duration of my tenure. Together, we made quite a ruckus. I learned to say yes to their ideas and then get out of the way to be amazed at what learning transpired. In the last 15 years, we changed the perception of potential for hundreds of children. I will miss my front-row seat to take in their brilliance in and out of the classroom. 

I thank the trustees over the last fifteen years who allowed me to take big swings for our children. The risks had their rewards and the return on your investment can only be counted in the lives changed to date and the lives touched for decades to come. You have left a legacy.

To every parent who chose WCDS from 2009- 2024, thank you for your trust, your patience, your partnership, and your investment in your child’s future. 

To the dream team – the leadership team whose fire was ignited by Bridget Rutherford’s spark saying, “I’m in” to a new way to “do school.” You all made it possible here…and will continue to do so in the years to come. And Luke Hladek, your return was our force-multiplier. You amplified our story…

As I said in August, “It’s time.” I may be 35 years into my career, but I have the runway ahead of me to learn something new. I’m going to take advantage of it…I’ll see what surprises me. 

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