Dave Pine

Avilla Elementary School Principal Dave Pine gets a hug from a returning student on the first day of school Wednesday morning. Pine, who has worked in East Noble for 40 years, will retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

AVILLA — Wednesday was Dave Pine’s last first day of school.

After 40 years working for East Noble School Corp., the Avilla Elementary principal will be calling it a career at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

One school day down, 179 to go.

While it’s certainly the beginning of an end of an era for East Noble, for the Avilla staff and the thousands of students, their parents and even some of their grandparents, Pine doesn’t act like this school year is anything out of the ordinary. What’s this last school year mean to him?

“Excellence with kids and keeping the course,” he said Wednesday morning before students started walking to school, getting off buses or being dropped off by parents. “It shouldn’t be any different because I won’t be here next year. We’re still going to do the best job we can and meet the needs of our students we’re blessed to serve.”

In a profession where many new teachers come and go, Pine’s longevity stands out. Not only has he been in education for 40 years, he’s spent all of those years at East Noble.

He started by teaching fifth grade at Avilla Elementary and Middle School, then switched to third grade. After 12 years in the classroom, he went to the now-closed LaOtto Elementary as principal. He came back to Avilla in 1995 as assistant principal for two years before being named the principal at Rome City Elementary in 1997. He spent 12 years leading the Romans before returning to Avilla Elementary in 2009, where he’ll now close out his career.

Step inside Avilla and it’s unlike East Noble’s other elementary schools. That’s partly due to its history as more than just an elementary — its high-vaulted gym is incredibly unique — but you’ll find hundreds of photos of its students lining the hallway walls.

That’s just part of what’s been done at the school to create a positive culture, something Pine has worked to build across his career. It’s a golden-rule mentality, where staff should see each of the students as if they were their own.

“However we treat our students should be the way we expect for our own children,” Pine said. “Whatever you would want for your children in a school setting, we have to be prepared to provide that.”

Anyone who’s been in the area long enough has probably known Pine at some point in his career. Not only has he been around long enough to teach the children of his former students, but every now and then the grandchildren of his former students.

Just the other day he received a Facebook message from a former student — now 49 — who wanted to wish him well in his final year.

“Last year at Grandparents Day, there were 13 grandparents here who were my former students, former students, in my chairs, in my classroom,” he said. “It’s just been a blessing, full circle, to working with the students now working with the students who parents I’ve had and some of the grandparents.”

Pine announced his forthcoming retirement over the summer, a year ahead of his last day. He said there was no special reason for giving East Noble a big advance notice, just that he figured it’s no secret he’ll be wrapping up and it gives the district a lot of time to find a successor.

“I want to make sure that whatever needs to be done for whoever the successor will be, we can leave them in better shape. When I leave, I want it to keep rolling along and for that person to be successful whoever that may be.”

In the May school board meeting when Pine’s name showed up on the list of personnel changes, board member Kara Hand took a moment to recognize his many years of service.

“Dave Pine made a huge, huge impact on me when he came to Avilla,” Hands said. “He breathed a breath of fresh air into the whole building. He’s done such an amazing job. My kids were his kids.

“You’ve been a huge asset to me, my kids, to your staff, to everyone who has worked with you and to the corporation,” Hands said.

Regardless of high praise and well wishes, Pine said his final year isn’t a victory lap or farewell tour. That would be out of character, because being a good principal is about putting the students first. He doesn’t want the focus of 2019-20 to be on him, instead keeping it on the all the K-5 kids occupying the building daily.

When the last day comes of this last year, that may be a moment to reflect on 40 full years of school. But even then, Pine is looking ahead with a sunny attitude.

“I’m sure that the last day of school will be a little bit different for me knowing there won’t be another first day, but there will be another first day of something, whether it be retirement or moving onto some other things,” he said.

On the foggy Wednesday morning, as Pine joked with teachers in the office telling them not to stab themselves as they pinned on yellow flowers for the first day, handed out green pages of paper to parents with reminders about the pick up/drop off protocols, hugged and fist-bumped students, chatted about the Chicago Cubs’ latest slump, and calmly reassured a new student that they would get her to the right classroom, it certainly looked like business as usual on the first day of his last year.

For Pine, that’s just the way he wants to have it.

“Avilla is just a special place in my heart because I started here, I’m ending here and I’m appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had with East Noble,” he said.

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