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It’s the end of an era for the Owen County School District.
After serving as an educator and principal for 43 years, Maurice Bowling Middle School Principal Jo Ella Wallace’s retirement will become effective when her contract ends June 30.
Wallace arrived in Owen County in 1970, when she was hired on as Owen County High’s health and physical education teacher.
In the summer of ‘70, Wallace said there were two physical education positions open in the district, including one at the soon to be opened Owen County Elementary School.
“There were two positions open for physical education,” Wallace said. “One at the elementary and one at the high school. I guess if the other person applying had decided to take the high-school position, I would’ve gone to the elementary school.”
During her tenure at OCHS, she started the girls’ basketball program, served as golf coach, was involved in cheerleading and served as athletic director and assistant principal.
When MBMS opened in the winter of 1985, Wallace became principal and has spent the past 27 years in the position.
Transitioning to Owen County was easy for the Pulaski County native.
“I graduated high school with a class of 38 people,” Wallace said. “I like the small-town atmosphere. I’ve always been happy and comfortable here – you know what they say, if it’s not broke don’t fix it.”
Over the past 27 years, Wallace has seen many changes within the school system, including her own surroundings as the only principal MBMS has ever had.
“The middle school was completed in December of 1985 and we moved in,” Wallace said. “Then of course we moved to the current facility during the 2010-11 school year. Outside of that I’ve just done whatever I had to do in the principal’s role.”
Each year, Wallace said she receives a number of graduation invitations from former students. The gesture never fails to make her feel like she has done something right.
“When you see students have success and graduate from high school, it’s a good feeling,” Wallace said. “When they send me graduation invites, I feel like I’ve made an impact. I’ve always felt like I needed to be there to support them and I will continue to do that.”
Owen County School Superintendent Rob Stafford said Wallace has been nothing but loyal to district for 43 years.
“It’s hard to find that type of dedication from anyone, much less to spend that many years as an administrator,” Stafford said. “I think it stands as a model for a lot of us. There’s a big hole to be filled here. The leadership she has provided and the lives she has touched, it’s going to leave a big hole for the district.”
Wallace said she wishes her successor well, but hopes that the programs she helped to build will remain in place.
“I’m going to miss not getting to see the kids grow up,” Wallace said. “I’m the only principal this school has ever had, so I hope that some of the things that my staff and I have worked so hard on will continue. I hope they’ll continue with the expectations of the kids. They need guidance and structure.”
As for retirement, Wallace said she’s not planning a move but hopes to get back into playing golf.
“I think I’ll enjoy just having time for myself,” Wallace said. “I don’t have anything in mind right now, maybe I’ll get caught up on my house and yard work. I’ll continue to support the community and the schools, I’ll always care about what goes on here.”
Stafford said he anticipates a new principal to be hired by the first day of school Aug. 14.