fter 15 years as principal of Greenbriar East Elementary, choosing to leave that post didn't come easily to Rebecca Pearson.
But because of her health, she needed to do something less stressful. So she's now the coordinator of Cluster VII — which includes her beloved GBE.
"I retired from Greenbriar East, but I didn't want to stop working altogether," she said Monday in her new office in Fairfax. "I had a liver transplant in May 2002 and I'm doing well, but I don't want to jeopardize it. So for health reasons, I had to do something different, and this job is not as demanding as being a school principal."
Still, Pearson left her stamp on GBE and she'll definitely be missed.
"We were together for 14 years, and she was phenomenal," said Greenbriar East administrative assistant Charlotte Riley. "She put her heart and soul into this school, and she deserves a lot of the credit for where the school is now. She's an amazing person."
Built in 1967, GBE is currently knee-deep in an all-encompassing renovation and modernization. This summer, the cafeteria will be renovated; and in October and November, there'll be a new office, media center and two new SAC rooms. The whole project should be completed by December 2005 and, although Pearson wishes she could see it through to the end, she's seen the school through multitudes of other types of changes.
SHE WAS at the helm when Poplar Tree Elementary opened and GBE lost 125 students to the new school. And she was there when the area around the Fairfax County Government Center was built up and GBE gained back the number of students it previously lost.
But besides growth in enrollment, Pearson's also seen tremendous changes in diversity. As more and more people of different cultures moved into the county, the school mirrored its changing appearance.
"When I came there in 1989, we had 5 percent African-Americans and no Hispanics," she said. "Now, we have about 11 percent African-Americans, 11 percent Hispanics, quite a few Middle Eastern students and 23-24 percent Koreans — our largest minority."
And as far as Pearson's concerned, they're all her babies. "I miss them already," she said. "The Greenbriar community is very supportive of its children, and I told the parents, 'Thank you for sharing them with me.'"
Ginny Callahan, GBE's past PTA president and current treasurer, worked with Pearson in that capacity for two years. But as a parent, she's known Pearson seven years, overall, and considers her a friend, as well.
"She's a spiritual, loving person, and I have a lot of respect for her," said Callahan. "We'll truly, truly miss her, but we wish her well. GBE is a warm, loving school with positive energy, and it has to do with Becky and her approach to everything."
She said Pearson always puts children first and looks out for their best interests. "There are 47 different languages spoken at Greenbriar East," explained Callahan. "But because Becky believes in giving students individualized attention, she made sure every student got all the services and education they needed."
IN TURN, the students reciprocated her feelings toward them with a special and heartfelt retirement gift. The last two months of school, they scraped together whatever money they could — whether it was a few dollars or a few dimes — pooled it with matching funds from the PTA until they had more than $500. They then bought a peace pole.
"It's a tall, wooden pole, painted white and inscribed in six different languages about spreading peace throughout the world — which was Becky's motto that she instilled in us at GBE," said Callahan. "And it'll be dedicated in her honor for her 15 years of service there when the renovations are complete."
The students presented Pearson with the pole, June 14 — at the start of the last week of school. And that evening at the Bonefish Grill in the Greenbriar Town Center, Pearson was feted at a dinner and reception attended by past PTA presidents and parents and was given a desktop replica of the peace pole.
Then on June 21, former and present GBE teachers gathered at The Waterford in Fair Oaks to give Pearson one more sendoff. And in her new, Cluster VII office hangs another retirement gift — a beautiful painting of Greenbriar East Elementary done by former student Jason Good who now attends George Mason University.
And although she's already served Fairfax County Public Schools for 25 years, she has no intention of fading into the sunset just yet. "Being in Cluster VII, I'll still get to visit and plan with Greenbriar East," said a smiling Pearson. "And I told them they have to invite me to every show they do."