LINWOOD — The last day of school for students at Belhaven Middle School marked the close of an era as Principal Susan Speirs will be leaving the district as well. After 18 years as principal, first at Seaview and the last three years at Belhaven. Speirs tendered her resignation in May, effective June 30. She will move to the Dennis Township School District, where she will take on the responsibility as the chief school administrator.
In her resignation letter, Speirs called it bittersweet.
“I have loved every day as a principal in our fine town. The staff in both schools are exemplary educators. Working with and learning from them has filled me with immeasurable pride and joy,” Speirs said in her letter to the Board of Education. “I thank Linwood for the privilege of being your Principal for 18 years. There could be no truer labor of love.”
Speirs' roots in the Linwood School District run very deep. Not only does she and her husband Jeff and daughter Valerie live in Linwood, Speirs grew up in Linwood and she attended Poplar Avenue School and then Belhaven and went on to graduate from Mainland Regional High School. After earning her degree in elementary education from SUNY Oswego and a masters from Rowan, Speirs worked in Galloway Township as a teacher and then assistant principal.
“I came to Linwood in 2001 as principal of Seaview. I thank Dr. Tom Baruffi for believing in me as the right person for Seaview. Because I grew up in Linwood, many of the teachers had been my teacher when I was a student at Poplar School and Belhaven, Barbara Safer, Thelma Clifford, Debbie Levine, Barbara Hendrix and Rick Warren. One teacher said she was nervous about a former student being her 'boss.' I told her we just work together for the kids. She said she never worried after that,” said Speirs.
During her time at Seaview School, Speirs ushered in a reading program, ASPIRE, that she is very proud of and said it brought Seaview to the forefront of reading instruction. The school won an award from the International Reading Association and the principal traveled to Toronto to accept the award. Speirs heaped praise on her former curriculum coordinator Jill Yochim for leading the implementation of ASPIRE.
Speirs said earning the National Blue Ribbon at Seaview School is what she is most proud of.
“This is something you cannot apply for on your own. Based on your school’s achievements, they call you to ask you to apply. When I got the final call saying we had won, the woman said ‘Are you the principal of Seaview School?’ When I affirmed, she said, ‘Well then, you are the principal of a Blue Ribbon school.’ I’ll never forget the excitement and pride I felt for our school and all of the teachers who made it so great as to be recognized on a national level.”
Speirs has been principal at Belhaven for three years, since the retirement of Frank Rudnesky. She said she has enjoyed continuing his legacy and enhancing many programs at the school.
“Moving up with the students was a special part of the change. I have loved working with them from preschool and kindergarten right through eighth grade. They amaze me with their growth and accomplishments.”
But along with students and their families, Speirs said she has cherished her work with the teachers and the opportunity to be her daughter’s principal for her first five years was a joy she will forever treasure.
With everything she loved about her 18 years at the helm of Seaview and Belhaven schools, she admitted it can be a demanding job, as there is plenty of time away from family evening and weekend events. Speirs said her family was always supportive and encouraged her give it her all.
Linwood School District Superintendent Brian Pruitt heaped praise on Speirs, saying, “Mrs. Speirs has been a part of the Linwood family for almost twenty years. She established herself in this school community as a dedicated educator with a passion for making children’s lives better. She loved her job, loved her staff and loved the children she worked with throughout her career. Mrs. Speirs has left a positive and lasting impression on this entire community. Linwood was lucky to have her and we wish her all the best.”