He stood and watched as the newly renovated George Washington Middle School was rededicated this week, fulfilling a commitment he made to parents and children at the school just over three years ago. Now, at the end of the school year, Robert Yeager is retiring for the second time.
He has worked in the Alexandria city public school system for 39 years, beginning and ending his career at GW. “Things have changed a lot since 1965,” he said. “I came just out of college to teach 11th grade history. I came the first year that the school system was desegregated. This was new to me because I had always gone to integrated schools.”
That was not the case with a number of the other faculty at the school in 1965. “There were some wonderful teachers here then but there were some who wanted things to stay exactly the same as they had always been,” Yeager said. “You just learned to ignore those people.”
He has spent time as an administrator at GW; Minnie Howard when it was a middle school; T. C. Williams as an associate principal and at Francis Hammond. “I have enjoyed all aspects of my career here,” he said. “However, if I had to pick the three highlights they would be this time at GW over the past three years; my time as principal at Hammond and the time I spent at T. C. in 1984 when I came with John Porter. Of course, I am particularly proud of my time here at GW.”
HE WAS LURED out of retirement by former Superintendent Herbert Berg when a principal was needed to lead the school. “He literally saved two buildings for me,” Berg said. “I will always be grateful for his excellent leadership at Hammond and he has clearly fulfilled all of my expectations at GW. I wish him well in retirement this time. He is an excellent administrator.”
Yeager came to GW to see the school through the $23 million renovation project. “We now have a wonderful facility that the kids can be proud of, that the parents can be proud of and that our staff is proud of,” Yeager said.
And it wasn’t just the building. He has overseen the development of instructional and disciplinary policies that have led to full accreditation for the school.
“When I came to GW there were some terrific teachers so don’t think that there wasn’t good instruction going on here three years ago,” Yeager said. “It’s just that the teachers didn’t have a leader and everyone wasn’t teaching from the same book. Now, everyone has bought into the program and we are steadily moving forward.”
More than 50 percent of the students at GW are eligible for free and reduced lunch; 23 percent of them have federally-mandated Individual Education Plans because of some type of special learning need, more than twice the national average.
“The school does present some challenges but, really, kids are kids,” Yeager said.
“When I came [to GW], we maybe had one foreign student. Now, our ESL population is significant. That’s really the biggest change. Children respond to the expectations that are set for them – if you expect them to behave badly, they will and if you expect them to do well in school, they will. They need strong instruction and support but they also need to know that the people who are teaching them believe that they will succeed. That’s key,” he said.
PARENTS BELIEVE in what Yeager has accomplished at the school. Janet Barnett brought her son back to public school after he spent many years in private school.
“A group of us took Mr. Yeager to breakfast just to say 'thank you' for all he has done for our children,” she said. “He has done a tremendous job at GW and we wanted him to know that he is going to be missed.”
Yeager is not concerned about the continuing progress of the school. “If I have done the things that I should have done, this progress will continue,” he said. “The programs are in place; all of our core curricular areas are in good shape and we have a fantastic faculty. Things at GW are going to be fine next year,” he said.
As for Yeager, he intends to take some time to decide what he wants to be when he grows up. “I might become a real estate appraiser,” he said. “I might do some volunteer work with kids – kids keep you young. This summer, though, I’m just going to travel and relax and spend some time with my new grandson.”
In the fall, he will take a cruise. “The PTA gave me a cruise so I certainly intend to enjoy that,” he said. “The PTA has been great and I want to thank them for all of their support. I also want the kids to remember that they are terrific and have the ability to be very successful. They just have to want that success,” he said.