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It was in mid-August 11 years ago when I got a call from then-Buncombe County Schools superintendent Cliff Dodson to come to his office. I was the director of the Progressive Education Program at the time.

I thought I was going to be fired, or some such thing. I asked Mr. Dodson if everything was OK, no doubt with a twinge of trepidation in my voice.

“Oh, Mr. Bossert, no, everything is OK. I just have a proposition for your consideration,” he said.

It was just a couple of weeks before the start of the school year at the time. So, I had no idea that he was going to ask me to change jobs.

To make a long story short, Mr. Dodson told me that Black Mountain Elementary School was going to need a new principal in a hurry as he was moving Angie Jackson to Hominey Valley Elementary School. When I realized how long of a drive it was from my home in Pisgah Forest to Black Mountain, I was a little concerned. But I told Mr. Dodson that I would happy to make the move.

When I got to Black Mountain, the first person I met was Becky Hillerman, our school’s head secretary. She loved working with Angie for any number of reasons. Angie, as I learned, was incredibly organized and efficient! Those words would never be used to describe my strengths.

Anyway, when I first met Becky, my arrival was not the cause of celebration for her. In fact, there was a tear or two. In spite of that, Becky set to the business of training me.

Becky has been a rock of consistency at BME through many administrative changes. And truly, there is probably no single employee at BME more important than Becky. After 11 years, she is still training me. Sadly, I am not the fastest learner in the crowd.

I mention Becky’s name prominently here because she has decided to retire. This community owes Becky a tremendous “thank you.” Her work has touched thousands of lives - literally. Sadly, her work also is somewhat invisible to many families. And yes, even staff mostly don’t know all that she does to make their lives better and their work slightly less burdensome.

After some time at BME, I came to realize that to many people in the community, BME was sort of the little-noticed stepchild of Black Mountain Primary School (I often joked that some people probably wondered if BME was actually in McDowell County). One of the first things I did after getting to BME was to try to help this little school develop its own personality.

I did this in a number of ways, but one was to write a regular article for The Black Mountain News. Most of those articles were published. Our presence in the community started to become more obvious, and a culture of caring became more evident to the community at large.

The principal of the primary school, Jerry Green, and I developed the notion that we were one school on two campuses. We worked with the town of Black Mountain on the greenway project and worked to develop a closer friendship with the Parks and Recreation department as we developed a community garden. Our PTO began to become more and more influential in our lives, starting with Mary Decker. Monroe Gilmore and so many others helped on our first projects to improve our playground. unburying our track and cleaning up our wooded area. The Maloneys took over, and from there we started a playground project.

Margaret Hurt came to us in a leadership role, too, and started the work of making our school more attractive. Lisa Kinney continued to build strong relationships with community partners – an effort in which her predecessors played a big part.

There are so many people that have made a difference at BME. So many business partners stepped up and sort of adopted BME. And so many families have embraced volunteerism at our school, far too many to mention here.

Since I happily told Mr. Dodson that it would please me to make the move to BME, I have never regretted that opportunity. However, for me, the time has come to retire.

Mr. Green and I used to discuss retirement frequently. He often said that leaving a school should be a bit like pulling your hand out of a bucket of water. It doesn’t take long for one to realize that the evidence of your hand in the bucket disappears quickly. Not so for hearts!

Black Mountain, its children, families and the staff that fill the building with “life and love” have left (as in the play “Wicked”) a handprint on my heart.

Thank you to one and all. And a special thank you to The Black Mountain News for giving this little school a big voice in our community.

Norman Bossert is principal at Black Mountain Elementary School.

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