- May 20, 2020
EAST COUNTY — At the end of the school year, East County families will bid farewell to three longtime principals — none of whom ever dreamed of leading a school when they began their careers in education.
Nancy High of Nolan Middle School, Myra Russell of Gene Witt Elementary School and Linda Nesselhauf of Lakewood Ranch High School all will retire June 30.
The longtime administrators say their decisions to end their careers is guided mostly by feeling.
Below, High, Russell and Nesselhauf reflect on their careers, look to the future and share why they have chosen to retire.
Nancy High was more decisive in wanting to spend more time with her four young grandchildren than she was in deciding her career trajectory.
A Pittsburgh, Pa. native who moved to Miami at 2 years old, High was content as a teacher.
“I never thought I’d be an administrator,” High said.
But, as a home economics teacher at Manatee High School from 1979 to 1995, High became involved with the school advisory council and showed a knack for business sense and leadership.
An assistant principal there encouraged High to pursue an administrative career.
In 1994, she went back to school for an educational leadership degree. One year later, she became an assistant principal at Manatee High.
High joined Nolan as principal in 2006, replacing Ron Hurst, who opened the school two years earlier.
In June, High retires after helping Nolan’s Technology Student Association become nationally recognized, promoting the arts and language arts, such as drama, orchestra and Spanish, and making the school the first and only bring-your-own-device campus in Manatee County.
“I think it’s a good time (to retire) because I am getting older and I want to spent quality time with my four young grandchildren,” High said. “Nolan is a wonderful school in a great community that people seek out.
I hope I’ve put a lot of great programs in place. I am blessed to have become an educator. I can’t imagine loving a career more than this.”
Myra Russell has been at Gene Witt Elementary School so long, that, when she first became employed there in 1995, she says, it was the only East County school.
Back then, when students used bulky desktop computers, Gene Witt was known as a progressive school for technology.
“Watching how life changes — that’s the amazing thing about this job,” Russell said.
For Russell, who has spent 44 years in education, this life change will be simple but significant.
She will travel the world with a group of friends, who also have careers in education.
She will put to use her gym membership.
“It’s bittersweet,” Russell said. “You just know it’s time. It’s time for some new blood. While I’m still healthy, I want to travel. I’ve watched Lakewood Ranch and the whole community evolve. But the kids don’t change. They’re the same every year. They have the same smiles. I will miss them.”
Russell began a teaching career in Pennsylvania, where she taught for 12 years. She moved to the area after visiting her parents in Florida, where they had retired.
Before replacing Roy Larson, who opened Gene Witt, Russell served as assistant principal at Abel Elementary for four years.
In her 18 years at Witt, she has started the gifted program and expanded technology.
All of the classrooms at Gene Witt have iPads.
“No matter what decisions I made, my motto was to help students reach their highest potential,” Russell said. “I hope my successor values the expertise of the teachers already there, takes a step back, and sees the good happening here before making any changes.”
Linda Nesselhauf began her educational career in Manatee County as an intern.
Nesselhauf had just graduated from the University of South Florida.
Thirty-nine years later, Nesselhauf is still here.
“I was never quite sure when I would be ready to leave,” Nesselhauf said. “It’s just time. I don’t know how to put it into words. You have that feeling more at 5 a.m. My basic plan is to sleep past 5 a.m. and spend time with family.”
Nesselhauf says she will stay involved and volunteer in the district after retiring.
Her two sons graduated from Lakewood Ranch High School.
An English teacher until 1990, Nesselhauf began her administrative-level work at Harllee Middle School.
She has also worked at Bayshore High School, Braden River Middle School and Johnson Middle School.
After serving as an assistant principal at Lakewood Ranch High School when the school opened in 1998-99, she transferred to Manatee High School.
She returned to Lakewood Ranch about five years ago as its third principal.
“I truly believe I will always be a part of the Manatee County system,” Nesselhauf said. “You can’t get it out of my blood. That’s why I can’t pick a favorite job. But, if I were here alone on a weekend, sitting on a bench in the courtyard, I would be thinking it has been an amazing feeling to serve Lakewood Ranch High School.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].