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Longtime Pharr principal retiring

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Principal Jerry Raymond of Pharr Elementary School talks with fifth-grade students during their social studies class in Snellville on Tuesday. Raymond has been an educator for 38 years including nearly 12 years at Pharr Elementary School.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Principal Jerry Raymond of Pharr Elementary School talks with fifth-grade students during their social studies class in Snellville on Tuesday. Raymond has been an educator for 38 years including nearly 12 years at Pharr Elementary School.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Principal Jerry Raymond of Pharr Elementary School interacts with third-grade students Will Kush, left, and Jordan Trommer during their math class in Snellville on Tuesday. Raymond has been an educator for 38 years including nearly 12 years at Pharr Elementary School. "I like to see the spark in the kids eyes when they get it and understand," Raymond said.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Principal Jerry Raymond of Pharr Elementary School poses for a portrait in Snellville on Tuesday. Raymond has been an educator for 38 years including nearly 12 years at Pharr Elementary School. "I like to see the spark in the kids eyes when they get it and understand," Raymond said.

SNELLVILLE -- The key to good leadership in a school?

It's all about communication, said Pharr Elementary's Jerry Raymond, a 25-year veteran of Gwinnett County Public Schools who is retiring in just a couple weeks.

As the principal at Pharr Elementary for nearly 12 years, a high school teacher for six years, a central office social studies director for three years and an assistant principal for four years, the man speaks from extensive experience.

In his leadership roles, the 62-year-old has learned that "communication is key. That includes disseminating information but also being a good listener. At Pharr Elementary, we have a tradition here of open communication and sharing ideas."

While Raymond has worked with children at all age levels, he said he prefers being an administrator in elementary schools.

"Teaching different ages has given me a good perspective on where we want to get them to, and what I like about this age group ... it's where we build the foundation," Raymond said. "It's so important that we get the kids started in the right direction and build a solid foundation in reading, writing, math, problem solving, getting along and making good choices. The basics."

Added Raymond: "As they grow older, they'll expand upon those, but boy, you've got to build a strong foundation, and that's what drew me to elementary school administration."

As an elementary school leader, teachers at Pharr think Raymond is one of the best.

"He's very student oriented," said Beth Jones, a fourth-grade teacher at the school. "He talks with them on their level. In a lot of schools, kids are intimidated by their principal, but the kids here are very comfortable with him."

Added Jones: "They like him because he knows their names, and he makes an effort talk to them. He stops in the hall and takes time to do things like that, and the children can tell that he cares."

Raymond said that a principal is only as good as the community he serves.

"Pharr is very much a community school," he said. "We have terrific parental support and a fabulous PTA. People support this school. They support the teachers and the students, and that's something that's been a constant in my 11 years here."

At the end of May, Raymond will pass the torch to Mary Thomas, another veteran of Gwinnett County Public Schools.

But Raymond isn't retiring for good. He's taking a principal position at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Decatur.

"I'm not ready to really retire and just go fishing and play golf," Raymond said, laughing. "We moved to Georgia in 1987 from Louisiana, and I had taught in Catholic schools there. About a year ago I started thinking that I really wanted to go back to my roots."

When he's not spending time at school, Raymond enjoys reading.

"I love it," Raymond said. "One of my favorite things to do is go out on the hammock on a Sunday afternoon with a stack of magazines and catch up on current events."

Raymond and his wife, Maria, have three sons, Mark, John and Paul.

Susan McNelly, who's worked at Pharr for 17 years, said Raymond and his entire family will be missed. "He's been a true asset to Pharr, and his dedication to the students here will always be remembered."