ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Children in St. Lucie County are now officially on summer break, the last school district in our area to wrap up the school year.
Their superintendent, Wayne Gent, is also saying goodbye, retiring after 45 years in education.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
On the last day of school Wednesday at Morningside Elementary School in Port St. Lucie, the students were also the last for Superintendent Wayne Gent before he walks away from his career.
"I have to catch myself because we'll be thinking about plans for summer school and summer programs and the fall, and I have to catch myself with staff that this won't be my role anymore," Gent said.
After 45 years, including the last seven as superintendent of St. Lucie Public Schools, Gent said it's time to take a step back.
"It really hasn't hit home yet," Gent said. "It's kind of a good feeling, but there's sadness when you think back. And really our goal here is teaching and learning and helping our kids have a brighter future."
"What are you most proud of?" WPTV education reporter Stephanie Susskind asked Gent on Wednesday.
"I'm proud, number one, of the academic achievement," Gent said. "Wherever I've been, we've been able — whether it's a school setting, principal, or superintendent — we've always been able to improve and students have made gains."
Gent said managing COVID-19 was one of the hardest parts of his tenure, and he knows there are still challenges to come.
"It's become very politicized and you lose a lot of local control," Gent said. "I think what's important is our job as public educators, is teaching and learning. And we can never lose that focus."
That focus started his career in St. Lucie County back in 1980 as a teacher and then basketball coach at Fort Pierce Central High School.
Then it was onto the School District of Palm Beach County for 14 years, including four of them as superintendent, before coming back home.
"I saw the potential that we had. And if we could bring in programs and establish a culture and have some accountability built in and development of our staff, we really hadn't touched the surface of what the county could be and the growth that we could achieve." Gent said.
With a simple walk down the hall on Wednesday, you can see that culture continues to flourish.
"The main thing is people first," Gent said. "It's people first and things second."
It's a message Gent has instilled in his staff, like Morningside Elementary School Principal Kathleen Melrose, who marked her last day Wednesday before she moves onto another school.
"Definitely a roller coaster," Melrose said. "There's a family here, there's a culture here, and building a culture in a school was always Mr. Gent's guide to us. Culture first, relationships first, climate first."
It's the legacy Gent hopes he's leaving behind.
"That I tried to treat everybody well. Take a personal interest in folks, see the value in people, and that they were better," Gent said. "Our leaders, our teachers, we provided something for them that made them a better teacher, a better principal."
The trip to Morningside Elementary School on Wednesday may have been Gent's final last day of school visit, but the work isn't done yet. His last day on the job is June 30.