Director retires after 11 years with program

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 8, 2014



After 11 years at Bright Beginnings Preschool in Andalusia, Willie Thomas will leave the building today for the last time as the school’s director, as he prepares to begin his second retirement.

Thirty-one children graduated from the preschool’s program Wednesday, and Thomas said it is watching the children grow that he will miss the most.

“Children are an investment that money can’t buy,” Thomas said. “Every person that works here loves the children. It’s definitely the children (I’ll miss most).”

And Thomas, a Columbus, Ga., native, says he has had plenty of experience to draw from with children of all ages right here in Andalusia.

“I moved here in 1962 and taught at Woodson School,” he said. “From 1971 to 1994 I taught at Andalusia High School.”

Thomas said, during his 32 years in Andalusia area high schools, he has taught Spanish, social studies, English and government and economics, but never thought he would end up with children on the opposite end of the age spectrum.

“When they asked if I would come be the director here, they told me it was four days a week, for half a day,” he said. “I had been retired for 10 years. I said ‘yes.’ That was 11 years ago.”

And just how does a teacher who once taught teenagers acclimate himself to overseeing a program for 3 and 4-year-olds?

“If I had known how sweet these younger children are, I might have just gone into early childhood education instead,” he said. “They come up to you and hug you, and they’re so small. Their arms just wrap around your knees.”

But, Thomas said seeing the students he calls “his children” grow and succeed in school is also a huge reward.

“Those that attended Bright Beginnings are going on into the city and county school systems and graduating in the top 10 percent in their classes,” he said.

While today is his last official day at Bright Beginnings, Thomas said he will be back at the school periodically in order to help new director Alphonso Simpson settle into his position. But, he said he and his wife, Thelma, also plan to spend time with their own sons, who live in Atlanta and Chicago, as well as their two step-grandchildren.

So, after more than a decade at Bright Beginnings, what are Thomas’ final thoughts? It’s nothing to do with himself.

“I would just tell people, even if they can’t get into preschool here, to get their kids into a preschool or daycare somewhere,” he said. “Kids that miss out on that are often way behind in kindergarten. Get them in somewhere.”