David Stevens never dreamed he would end his 43-year education career in an empty building devoid of the face-to-face contact with students.
Like other schools across the country, A.M. Aikin Elementary, where Stevens has served as assistant principal for the past 16 years, shut its doors in mid-March on orders from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to slow the spread of coronavirus Covid-19.
Stevens is now ending his career from behind a computer screen, where instead of direct contact, he greets students in their homes via YouTube on Joke Day Thursdays. With a public address system on the blink, out of necessity campus administrators, with the assistance of students, began videoing morning announcements and streaming them to classrooms via the internet. Because the alternative to morning announcements via intercom worked so well, the school’s principals continued the videos.
“I was always in charge of Joke Thursdays, and I’ll miss that,” Stevens said. “We had a box in the library where students could submit jokes. I would read the jokes and students would read the punch line. I always made a big deal, saying that a joke committee selected only the best jokes on Joke Thursday. Well, we didn’t have a joke committee, but it made the jokes selected a big deal.
“Although we could no longer have students participate with us, it was just a natural thing to keep doing morning announcements when we had to shut down school,” Stevens said from his office at the school where more than 900 students and about 110 staff members normally spend most of their weekday hours.
Stevens credited teachers at Aikin as “outstanding.”
“It starts with those two ladies (Principal Kimberly Donnan and Assistant Principal Katie Exum) as being the leaders of this school,” Stevens said. “They do a fantastic job.”
As the school’s main disciplinarian, Stevens said the job fell on him “a long time ago” when he became an assistant principal.
“I’ve tried to guide students in the right direction,” Stevens said. “Even with the little ones in kindergarten, you are working hard all the time to mold their little minds and to teach them the ways of the world.”
Both Donnan and Exum lauded their colleague for his time as an educator.
“He was my principal in middle school, my boss as a teacher and now we work together,” Exum said as she shared her admiration. “He has been a role model for students, teachers and especially myself. He has a love for children and builds positive relationships with students, teachers and parents. He always has a way to make anyone laugh or smile. He was a good listener for our students, and was always pushing them to learn, grow and be better. Aikin Elementary will miss him so much.”
Donnan agreed that Stevens will be missed.
“We are very sad to see Mr. Stevens retire, but are happy for him to start a new chapter in his life,” the principal said. “He has been an instrumental part of the team at Aikin Elementary. We will miss seeing him in the hallways every day and hearing his jokes on the announcements each Thursday morning.”
Stevens joined the Paris ISD faculty in 1983 as a teacher/coach after spending his first six years as a teacher in Hugo. He taught a Crockett Middle School several years while obtaining mid-level administrative certification. He first became assistant principal at Travis Junior High, returned to Crockett for several years, served at Justiss Elementary a year and then transferred to Aikin.
“It’s a fantastic place to work and be a part of,” the retiree said about Paris ISD. “The reason starts with (Superintendent Paul) Jones, who puts kids in the forefront and continually reminds staff that ‘it’s all about the kids.’”
Stevens said retirement is a two-edged sword.
“I look forward to the next phase in my life, but I will miss the students and my interaction with staff,” Stevens said. “Throughout my career as an assistant principal, I have tried to make the teacher’s job as easy as possible because they are the ones on the front line, in the trenches. Hopefully that is what I did.”
About future plans, Stevens says he plans to work, but right now will take a “wait and see” approach to see what happens with the coronavirus and its effect on education and the economy.
“For 58 years, I have been on a school schedule since I was 6 years old,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be hard to break that schedule.”