Outgoing Robinson Elementary School Principal Roxanne Howard has spent literally her entire life in the Dawson County School System.
"I can remember my first day in pre-K. I remember walking up the sidewalk to the rock schoolhouse. I've been through the elementary, middle and high school parts," she said. "I've watched the changes over the years and it has been mind-blowing, that in this short amount of time I have seen that much growth with that much change."
A 1980 graduate of Dawson County High School, Howard said she had never intended to be a teacher.
"I never really said ‘I'm going to grow up and be a teacher.' It just kind of all fell in place," she said. "I decided at the last minute in high school to go to North Georgia College and do an education degree."
Howard started out teaching children in churches and Sunday school before she began teaching in Dawson County.
"I fell in love with teaching," she said. "I still love it."
Howard began teaching at Dawson County Elementary School under Principal Betty Jean Styles in March 1984 after a second-grade teacher retired.
"When I started teaching, I was on the exact same campus as when I graduated," Howard said. "I've seen a lot of change in this county."
The following year, in 1985, Howard moved to the newly-built Robinson Elementary school under then-Principal Nicky Gilleland. After teaching various courses, like first and second grade and title one reading, Howard became the instructional lead teacher for Robinson and then assistant principal.
"I worked under Mr. Gilleland for 17 years," Howard said. "When he was hired as superintendent, he hired me to be the principal here."
Howard said the promotion to principal in 2008 came as a surprise to her.
"It was surreal when I became principal. Getting out of the classroom is a big jump," she said. "Mr. Gilleland actually came to me and told me he thought I would be a good leader and for me to start thinking about it a few years earlier."
To make the promotion even better, Howard said she received a letter from her school's namesake.
"When I became principal, I got a letter from Herbert Robinson, who the school is named after, congratulating me," she said. "He was excited I was principal. He actually called my mom and dad and congratulated them, too, on my behalf. That was such an honor, for him to take time out of his day to do that."
Following her first year as principal, Howard was hit with a tragedy that "no parent should ever have to face," she said.
"I've been through a tragedy, with my son. Both of my kids came through here, but every corner of this school has a memory of Jake to me - the playground, the lunch room, my office," Howard said.
Howard's son, Jake Fausett, was killed in a car accident in March 2009 while coming home from school. He was 16-years-old.
"After that, I came back. I didn't stay out of work long, maybe three weeks, tops," she said. "But Robinson and the family here supported me through that. I don't think I would have survived without it."
Howard said she debated leaving, but that it was Robinson's spirit of family and the way all of her faculty and staff rallied around her that got her through her loss.
"[My Robinson family] is the reason I stayed through all of that. It was very hard to put on a good face [for the kids], but I put on a face," she said. "It was very hard for a while to see the kids after such a loss. But the people in this building rallied around me and supported me and prayed for me. For a solid year, they sent food home with me at least once a week. They are amazing," she said.
And it's those relationships that Howard said helped shape her career.
"My career here has been a true blessing to me and has really shaped me," she said. "When you are here for 31 years, you build so many relationships. It makes you who you are."
Howard said that the thing she will miss most about being principal is the children.
"I do it for the kids," she said. "I love watching them get out of the car every morning. I love walking down the hall and hearing laughter come from the classroom. I love seeing a kid walking down the hall, reading a library book. I love to go on the playground and watch them play and knowing that the investment we are making with our lives hopefully is making a difference in theirs."
As for retirement, Howard said she isn't quite sure what to make of it, yet.
"Retirement is another chapter for me. It's a big change. I guess I'll just write it as I go," she said. "I don't know what is next. I've been giving my whole life and, while it's going to take a while, I think it's time to take time for me, and I don't quite know how to do that."
The Dawson County Board of Education voted during its May board meeting to promote Howard's assistant principal, Kim Bennett, to take her place. Howard said she had one piece of advice for Bennett as she goes.
"This job is all about relationships, not numbers or test grades," she said. "Through relationships you change lives. Don't forget who you are teaching or why you are here."