To say that Kathleen Halayko is giving up her job to lead the 2016 Falls Church Memorial Day Parade would be a stretch, but it’s no coincidence that the two events are happening close to the same time.
June 30 will end her reign at Mt. Daniel Elementary School where she has been principal for 18 years, and on May 30 she will serve as the Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal.
“I was very honored” to be selected Grand Marshal, she said in an interview at her school office.
When she got the call about her Grand Marshal nomination and selection by the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, “I was amazed” and “more touched” to be included in the group of past marshals, once she saw the list.
“I hope it’ll be a lot of fun since I know a lot of children come” to the parade, she said.
The suggestion that she might lead the parade on a horse or elephant brought a guffaw.
“And I’m not going to be on a camel either!” she laughed. “No, I’ll be in a car.”
Halayko is retiring after 28 years at Mt. Daniel where she worked as a speech and language pathologist for 10 years before she was named principal. Prior to Mt. Daniel, she was coordinator of the speech and language program for Prince William County schools for five years.
And she took off time to raise three children, two of whom attended Mt. Daniel, and all of whom still live in the area with Halayko’s five grandchildren.
Sitting in her office with windows which look out upon the lush green outdoors which surround Mt. Daniel, Halayko reminisced briefly about her long tenure at the school.
She said repeatedly that working there has been a joy, topped by the children and the staff who have made it all worthwhile.
“I have loved the job” she said more than once. “I am retiring with great, great memories,” and she has no regrets, but a few recommendations for her replacement who has not been named.
First, the person must “be a very good listener and encourage collaboration with the staff and parents to be problem solvers together as much as possible.
“Enjoy the students because you will. It’s the best part of the job. The children make the job. The teachers do as well. And so do the families. They come to the city because they are seeking a wonderful education for their children, and they work hard to become part of the fabric of the community.”
Her biggest challenge as principal has been “the school size” and accommodating the vast growth in student population over the last 28 years.
“We’ve been using every conceivable space,” she said.
The school was designed for a maximum of 260 pupils which it has exceeded for a long time. Right now Mt. Daniel “is way over capacity with 380. It’s very, very full, and one year we had 20 classroom sections.”
Now, Mt. Daniel has 17 sections, and the music and Spanish teachers do not have to push around their carts from classroom to classroom as they have been forced to do in the past.
It’s been “uncomfortable” at times in the squeezed space, and Halayko praised the staff who has “worked hard and creatively to meet the goal of building an environment of a good educational experience for the children.”
Although Falls Church taxpayers approved a bond referendum in 2014 for school improvements, it’s not happening yet.
“We are supposed to be in construction right now, and I’ve stayed to help with it. Now they don’t know when it will happen.” She rejected the notion that the lack of physical improvements to Mt. Daniel is a factor in her retirement.
As principal Halayko has had no time for hobbies.
“This is a very demanding job” which doesn’t offer much free time, but she hopes to pick up tennis again (after an almost 30-year lapse) and will continue with a favorite pastime, reading.
She’s a member of three book clubs (“they are fun” and “ways I keep in touch with friends and neighbors”) and tops on her list are historical fiction, biographies, and mysteries which “I’m just beginning to get into.” Right now she is reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.
Halayko was born in Troy, New York, and her mother and sister are special educators, too. Her husband’s job at the Pentagon brought Halayko to the area in 1971.
Would she consider substitute teaching in retirement? That brought a quick “no,” but filling in for a principal is a possibility, but she is not seeking a position.
Then why is she retiring?
“I guess it’s just time,” she said a little wistfully but perked up at the prospect of traveling with her husband who retired 18 months ago. Their first trip is to France this fall.
And, “I want to enjoy my children.” On June 13 Principal Halayko will be honored with other retirees at a celebration at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School.