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Goshen High School principal James Kirkton talks with a student during lunch at the school 3/26/2012. Kirkton will retire at the end of the year after over 40 years in education. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)

Goshen High School principal James Kirkton helps wipe up water in the lobby of the gym at the high school 3/26/2012. Kirkton will retire at the end of the year after over 40 years in education. (Truth Photo by J. Tyler Klassen)

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$Goshen High School Principal James Kirkton (facing camera) will retire at the end of the year after more than 40 years in education. $PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$
After more than 40 years in education — the last 11 as principal at Goshen High School — James Kirkton will step down after the end of this school year.

Posted on March 27, 2012 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on March 27, 2012 at 4:06 a.m.

GOSHEN — One of the longest serving principals in Goshen High School’s history will end his time at the school this summer.

Goshen High School Principal James Kirkton announced his plans to resign effective June 30 at the Goshen School Board meeting Monday evening.

Kirkton has been principal at Goshen High School for 11 years, serving as assistant principal four years before that. He also taught English, coached football and worked as an assistant principal at a few other Indiana schools, as well as Goshen. Altogether, Kirkton has been in education more than 40 years.

As Goshen’s principal, Kirkton began the school’s international baccalaureate program and developed student resource time (SRT), a time set aside for students to receive guided instructional help in whatever subjects they need. He also helped begin Merit Learning Center, an alternative school, and has led the implementation of the System for Teacher and Student Advancement (TAP) program at the high school to help ensure effective teaching.

“My goal was always to have a school that actually worked for all kids,” he said.

His philosophy is summed up in the book “Building A School of One: One School’s Journey,” which he co-authored with Assistant Principal Phil Lederach. SRT is the centerpiece of a “school of one,” Kirkton explained, where a teacher continues with the same students in SRT all four years, checking on each student’s grades every week.

“That teacher gets to know the ins-and-outs and what’s going on,” he explained. “They really become friends.”

Barry Younghans, Goshen’s executive director of secondary education and transportation, said that Kirkton’s insight and expertise go beyond the high school, but to the district level.

Kirkton is skilled with “his ability to get teachers to see the big picture, to get the whole school corporation to see the big picture of education,” he said.

Lederach, who became assistant principal at the high school when Kirkton moved from assistant to head principal, also applauded Kirkton’s broader vision.

Lederach credited Kirkton for being good at “seeing the vision and the challenges and taking proactive steps to meet those challenges” during a time when schools and educators are under growing pressure from state and federal mandates.

“He was in the classroom for over 20 years and he was a coach and he’s never lost sight that school is about the kids,” Lederach said.

Goshen High School will begin the next school year with a different principal and the school corporation with a new superintendent, but Younghans and Lederach said that the school will continue on the same course.

“We will be looking for someone with the same vision,” Younghans said. “We think Goshen High School is on the right path.”

Lederach said that the leadership Kirkton allowed at every level in the school should help a smooth transition.

“The leadership capacity is built, the culture is great, the vision is clear,” Lederach said.

“He’s a very good educator and a great principal and I think he’s really moved this school forward,” he added.

Education is also a theme in Kirkton’s family. Kirkton’s wife, Vicky, is a nursing professor and head of the nursing department at Goshen College. All three of Kirkton’s children are math teachers— Todd Kirkton at Goshen High School, Jon Kirkton at Northridge High School and Sarah Koontz at Goshen Middle School. Todd Kirkton’s wife, Alison Kirkton, also teaches, at Chandler Elementary, and Koontz’ husband, Tim Koontz teaches health at Goshen High School.

“He made a huge impression on me,” Jon Kirkton said about his father. “I knew when I was a freshman in high school I wanted to be a teacher and coach football.” Jon Kirkton now does both those in his job at Northridge High School.

“He’s got a good balance to him,” he continued, complimenting his father’s knack at creating relationships, while also being a strong leader. “He moves people.” Younghans said that Kirkton “will be sorely, sorely missed.” “He was and is and continues to be an exceptional educator,” Younghans said. “He is really good — one of the best I’ve known.”

Kirkton’s announcement adds to the growing list of longtime local educators announcing their retirement or resignation. That includes Elkhart Superintendent Mark Mow, Goshen Superintendent Bruce Stahly, Middlebury Superintendent Jim Conner and Chamberlain Elementary Principal Don Jantzi. So far, two school districts have named new superintendents. Diane Woodworth, Goshen’s current deputy superintendent, and Jane Allen, Middlebury’s director of curriculum and instruction, will take on their new positions in their districts this summer. The Elkhart School Board is currently going through resumes and conducting interviews with plans to select the new superintendent by early May.

Kirkton is uncertain about what will be next in his life, but said he wanted to do more service and volunteer work, likely with Mennonite Disaster Service.

First, though, he’s going to relax.

“When I’m done, I’m taking two weeks off,” he said. “I haven’t had two weeks off in a row for a long time.”