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East County Thursday, May 7, 2009 13 years ago

Love blooms at McNeal

by: Pam McTeer

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Students at McNeal Elementary School will never be able to forget their energetic principal, Ronna Paris, who opened the school six years ago.

And now, as she prepares to retire this summer, her legacy is further cemented into the school.

During a ceremony for Ronna Paris Day on May 1, McNeal’s K-Kids members unveiled a flower garden at the school’s entrance that they planted in their principal’s honor. A stone engraved with “A celebration of the joy of learning. Ronna Paris” sits in the center of the garden as a marker of her service to the school and the community.

“It couldn’t have been any better,” Paris said of the garden and ceremony. “I’ve always felt like all my children that I’ve been able to interact with these last 36 years have been the flowers in my garden. It couldn’t have been more perfect. And that the kids made it — it’s the most endearing thing that’s ever happened for me.”

Fourth- and fifth-grade children in McNeal’s K-Kids group, the service component of Kiwanis Kids, came up with the idea for the garden because of Paris’ love for flowers and their hope to share her memory with future McNeal students.

“I think it was a great way to give back to our principal,” 10-year-old Julia Lopes said. “She’s been here from the start. She was always there for us.”

Ten-year-old Kahlee York agreed.

“When new kids come to the school, we’ll be able to tell them about our old principal,” Kahlee said. “It was kind of cool having a principal with the same birthday as you — Oct. 18.”

On Ronna Paris Day, McNeal students also serenaded their principal with performances of “The Garden Song” by David Mallettt and paraded her through the hallways, which were decorated with drawings of cupcakes and notes of affection in honor of Paris and her famed saying, “I did it for the cupcakes.”
K-Kids members also made sure to have a second plaque made for Paris so that she can take it when she retires.

Paris said she’s already planning to put the piece in her flower garden with her bird feeders and windchimes. Each time she sees it, she’ll remember the children who gave it to her.

“It was so beautiful, and it was so kind and so sweet and so affirming,” Paris said of the day. “I’m going to miss my McNeal family so much. It was absolutely wonderful. It’s a wonderful way to end a career that you’ve absolutely loved.”

Paris will serve her last day as principal June 30 and head to Tennessee, where she has a cabin.

Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].

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