<bt>Newington Forest Elementary principal Donna Lewis was known for her ability to immerse herself in the school atmosphere. Each year, she learned students’ names within weeks.
To show their appreciation of Lewis' hard work, Newington Forest students and parents gathered to present songs, dance, poetry, art and words of thanks at her farewell party Thursday, June 19. After 31 years, Lewis was retiring.
Cheryl Nelson — party coordinator, friend of Lewis and parent of fifth-grader Tori Nelson — commented on Lewis’ accomplishments as principal.
“She is the best,” said Nelson. “She made such a welcoming atmosphere for the parents and kids. She has a real knack for getting to know everyone. Her door has always been open for problems and concerns. She’s built a strong community here. When we asked her what she had in mind for her farewell, she said she wanted a party. She wanted something fun, for the kids to have a good time. She didn’t want anything stiff. She really wanted to spend the day mingling with parents and the kids.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Lewis attended Shippensburg University, Pa., and received her master’s degree from George Mason University in administration and supervision. She has been working with Fairfax County schools for 31 years. Before making a home at Newington Forest Elementary, she worked as principal of Columbia Elementary in Annandale for six years.
“I was so very fortunate to have been with both schools," Lewis said. "I feel I have fulfilled a lot."
When asked why she decided to retire after 31 years of service, Lewis said, “At 30 years, I’ve hit my maximum potential. I love my job. But I should have retired last year. It was very hard; I couldn’t make a decision. It feels like family here, and it will be incredibly hard to leave. They’ve been so supportive of everything I’ve wanted to try.”
Parents Cheryl Nelson and Michelle Dillow planned Lewis’ retirement party and ceremony. Following a sock hop theme, the gym and cafeteria were decorated with colorful posters and artwork of a variety of heart-warming messages made by students.
“We’ll miss you, Mrs. Lewis” and “You’re the greatest principal” covered the hall walls and school entrance. Not only did the children express their feelings of gratitude, but many parents did as well. Among their many tokens of appreciation were presents of cards, flowers, corsages and even a Moroccan-style dress.
Michelle Dillow, party coordinator and PTA president of two years, summed up Lewis as principal.
“She’s amazing," Dillow said. "From the first day she came in, it only took her three weeks to know everyone’s name, the parents too. She lives and breathes for the children. People don’t leave the neighborhood because of her."
The party ran from 5:30-7:30 p.m., complete with dancing and a DJ. A ceremony followed, in which students dedicated drawings, poems, art, booklets and letters, and also performed songs. The cafeteria was filled with children and parents, eagerly waiting to express their thanks to Lewis. The school chorus performed on stage as they sang “It’s My Journey,” a tribute song to Lewis.
After presentations were completed, Lewis stood on stage with tears of happiness and said, “I’m so overwhelmed.” She expressed her love and gratitude for husband Vaughn Lewis, son Chad Lewis, and daughter Haley Hough and her grandchildren, who are triplets, .
“Tonight was a very special night," said Vaughn Lewis. "It was the hardest decision she had to make, but the right one."
“I gladly slide my chair to John Kren, our assistant principal of four years," Donna Lewis said. "I trust he will do a wonderful job. As for me, I’m not finished. The Fairfax County retirement plan is so good. I’ve accepted ‘Division Head’ position at a Potomac School, a private school in McLean. I will be in charge of children in kindergarten through third grade.
“It’s been a remarkable experience, more than I dreamed it would be," said Donna Lewis, summing up her career with Fairfax Schools.