St. Peter principal prepares to say goodbye after 42 years
St. Peter Lutheran School has been serving the Schaumburg community for 168 years, and for a quarter of that time Principal Roger Kirsch has been there.
Kirsch, who began teaching fifth grade at the school in 1973 and became principal in 1987, is retiring next month, ending a career that spanned more than four decades and hundreds of students.
Though he appreciates the influence his educational philosophy and love for children has had as principal during the past 27 years, Kirsch admits he never got comfortable about giving up teaching.
But then, Kirsch believes being comfortable is almost the opposite of being effective in any job.
As principal, Kirsch built bonds with young students that kept him close to them all the way through graduation and beyond.
Mary Bahn, the school's new director of communications, graduated in 1990 and now has children of her own at St. Peter's. She said all of the approximately 1,500 students Kirsch has known have their own "Roger story."
Hers occurred when she had to leave school one day in eighth grade to unexpectedly visit her mother in the hospital. Having just received permission to leave the school grounds and be picked up by a relative, she was surprised to see "Mr. Kirsch" already at the hospital ahead of her.
This year's graduating class -- Kirsch's last -- is historically the smallest, consisting of just four boys who are all going on to different high schools in the fall.
Chatting with them in the corridor Wednesday, Kirsch clearly is a familiar friend whose knowledge of each student stretches back to their earliest days at the school.
Having seen so many students mature into adults with children of their own, Kirsch said he finds it easy to pick out the future doctors, lawyers or legislators among his preschoolers, and the former kid in a current parent.
Not being able to see current students on the rest of their journeys to adulthood is what makes him the saddest about retirement.
"That's the part I'm going to miss the most," Kirsch said.
But the Bloomingdale resident says he'll be stepping aside completely, to allow successor Steve Zielke to form the same bond with the students that he had. Kirsch believes any return visits in the foreseeable future would interfere with the identity Zielke needs to establish with the students and staff.
Kirsch is even taking longtime administrative assistant Sharon Nomikoudis with him. He persuaded her last year to delay retirement until 2015 so they could leave St. Peter together.
But many of Kirsch's teacher hires remain and will carry on his legacy at the school.
His legacy also will live on through the restoration of the old one-room schoolhouse on the site -- originally built in 1888 -- to accommodate more preschoolers. He and his wife, Trudy, dedicated themselves to the project over the past three years.
"I wanted more kids in the building. The wife said, 'Let's do this!'" he laughed.
Today's preschoolers look out the same windows as their predecessors of the late 19th century, even as they incorporate 21st century technology into their learning.
"You get a sense of the oldness but also the newness," Kirsch said of the restored red schoolhouse
Kirsch has stayed busy enough in recent months not to dwell too much on how he's going to feel after the last day of school June 5. But he already knows that turning in his keys will be the emotional final step in his goodbye to a lifetime of dedication to St. Peter School.