By Amanda McKnight
Some might say Red Oak Elementary School Principal Mitch Perrine is one of a kind. After all, he’s the one and only principal the school has had since it opened in 2002.
But on July 24, Perrine will retire and pass on his title, legacy and, hopefully, his collection of jokes.
“I have been thinking about this for many months, but only made this difficult decision a few days ago,” Perrine wrote in an email to Red Oak teachers and staff on Thursday. “As many of you know, my plan has always been to work at least another two school years. However, with the current situation we are facing as educators, I felt it was in the best interest of myself and my family to make this decision.”
Perrine went on to write that he feels guilty for leaving under the difficult circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, but he feels fortunate that he is in a position to choose not to put himself or his family at risk.
Prior to his 18 years as Red Oak principal, Perrine was the principal at Pearson Elementary for six years. In an interview with the Shakopean, Perrine said he still has colleagues that he started with 24 years ago.
“It’s weird to think about … all the people that I’ve worked with over the years. One of my goals was always to be the most senior administrator in the district. I’ve been the most senior principal for a few years, but (Community Education Director) Bob Greeley has me in terms of seniority,” Perrine laughed.
The last few months of Perrine’s career were the most challenging he’s experienced, he said. Implementing distance learning for an entire school population with just a couple weeks notice was trying, but he has also never been so proud of his staff.
“I’ve always been impressed with the Red Oak staff in terms of being so caring and so understanding and so dedicated to the kids they serve, and it really came out so clearly with everything they were trying to do to connect with kids during the distance learning, so I’m really proud of them,” Perrine said. “People just dug in and figured out what worked best for them and for the kids. I know they’re thinking a lot about it this summer in terms of doing this even more effectively in the fall if that’s where we’re at.”
What school will look like this fall remains uncertain, but Perrine said the Red Oak staff continues to work on ideas and plans for all scenarios, whether it’s full-time distance learning, full-time in-person learning, or a hybrid of both.
Perrine is confident Red Oak teachers and staff can weather any storm that fall brings as long as they remain understanding and flexible in their approach.
“They’ll figure out what will work best at the time. That’s what we’re bracing for. We might be doing distance learning for a chunk of time and we might go to a hybrid model. We might see everything this next school year,” he said.
As for this next chapter in Perrine’s life, he’s looking forward to spending the days however he wants. His wife has been retired for two years, and the couple would love to travel but plan to wait until it’s more feasible and safe.
“I’m told I have to come up with some hobbies so I don’t drive my wife nuts,” he joked.
Perrine’s sense of humor is well-known around Red Oak. When school is in session, he tells a joke over the loud speaker each morning. He also goes out of his way to stand outside and greet students every day before school, which has been a prime opportunity for the kids to share their jokes with him.
“The kids love it when I do that,” he said, adding that sometimes so many students share jokes with him he can’t remember all of them by the time he gets back to his desk.
The search is just beginning for a new principal, but Perrine knows his replacement will be in good hands with the rest of the Red Oak staff. He just hopes whoever lands the job is prepared with a collection of jokes of their own.
“We’ll make that one of our search criteria,” he said.