LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — School is out for the summer in Palm Beach County, and Thursday also marked the last day of school for a longtime educator and high school principal in Lake Worth Beach.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
On any given day, you could find Lake Worth Community High School Principal Dr. Elvis Epps in the hallways with his students.
"I'm the father who showed up to your event. I'm the supporter when you're playing your instrument. And I'm also the disciplinarian when you got in trouble," Epps said. "But I'm also the one who gave you a hug and a handshake and said. I love you. Let's get to class."
On Thursday, the last day of school for Palm Beach County public schools, Epps signed yearbooks and t-shirts, cementing that legacy with his students and staff.
"When you talk about what kind of impact I had on them, I want them to know that I care beyond the walls of the school," Epps said.
It's that family mentality that Epps has created over the past five years at Lake Worth Community High School that makes it hard to leave.
"I am very proud to be part of his legacy," said student Gabriel Henry. "This man has, like you say, encouraged a lot of people throughout the years."
Epps said he's proud to have increased socialization for the school's students with special needs, supported teachers and staff, and showed all students they can succeed regardless of their circumstances.
"I don't want any students to think less of themselves. And that was my message to them in my graduation speech is to know your worth," Epps said. "They can dream, believe, and achieve any goal and every goal they so desire."
"He has pushed me harder," Henry said. "He encouraged me to take all types of AICE, AP courses."
Epps was in the military before his wife encouraged him to pursue a career in education. 30 years later, he said the Navy experience still prepares him for tough days on the job.
"A lot of my colleagues have never seen this type of stress before and the challenges that they're facing," Epps said. "They don't know which way to turn."
As Epps retires during a difficult time in education — from culture wars to recovering from a pandemic, along with school shootings still in the headlines — his motto remains to lead strong, but manage the unexpected.
"When it comes to some of those urgent issues on your campus like security, you don't delegate that. You keep that as a school leader," Epps said.
A leader who made an impression on his school community.
"That is tough," Henry said. "I didn't think about it like that, but I'm going to miss him."
"It's been a joy and I'm so honored to leave an impact, to make an impact and a legacy of caring and one that will take care of each other," Epps said.
Epps may be retiring, but he won't be stopping his work in education. He's writing a book about principal leadership and looks forward to mentoring other school leaders.
"I don't want them to throw it away because things have gotten tough. If there's anything I can do to help them navigate through this storm of leadership, I'm going to do that," Epps said. "If the principal is vibrant and excited about his or her job, it will flow to the others under his leadership and care."
Epps is one of four principals in the School District of Palm Beach County who are retiring at the end of this school year.
The others are Gladys Harris from Palmetto Elementary School, Catherine Lewis from Discovery Key Elementary School, and Jeffrey Silverman from Christa McAuliffe Middle School.