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Gene Witt Elementary principal retires after 39 years in education in Manatee County

David Marshall, the principal at Gene Witt Elementary School, says that special small moments kept him going 39 years.

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It was one day before first bell at Gene Witt Elementary School when Principal David Marshall was called by a student who said he was going to be late because he was eating breakfast. 

And why he was late trying to get through breakfast, well, Marshall still laughs as he tells the story. 

“He said, 'My orange juice is frozen, and I can’t drink it,” Marshall said. 

It was another teachable moment for Marshall, who has spent the last 39 years as an educator.

“Get your fork or spoon, and do the best you can," Marshall remembered telling the student. "But you can’t be late to class.” 

Marshall said it’s the little things his students have said over the years that make him laugh, and keep him looking forward to the next day.

Those special moments are dwindling, though, as Marshall will retire at the end of the school year.

His teachers and staff members understand time is short, and since Halloween they have been decorating his office and putting his face on various obects.

He’s seen himself on Mount Rushmore, as a leprechaun, as cupid and most recently, at the center of multiple flowers. The flowers will remain on the wall through April.

“I guarantee nobody looks at me as being cupid or being on Mount Rushmore or being on a flower,” Marshall said with a laugh. “The experience is the most important thing, both personally with my staff as well as with the kids.”

David Marshall, the principal of Gene Witt Elementary, (second to the right) dresses up for a spirit day with teachers and staff. Courtesy photo.
David Marshall, the principal of Gene Witt Elementary, (second to the right) dresses up for a spirit day with teachers and staff. Courtesy photo.

Most importantly, Marshall said the children are why he has dedicated 39 years of his life to the students at six different elementary schools spanning from Anna Maria Island to east Bradenton. 

“Kids are happy, kids are enthusiastic,” Marshall said. “There is a yearning for learning at every school, whether it’s a Title I school or not. I see similarities in all children.”

Before his 39-year education career began at the School District of Manatee County, Marshall already was familiar with the district. He was born and raised for most of his childhood in Manatee County. 

He attended Prine Elementary School, Bayshore Middle School and Bayshore High School. 

“I’ve just always been in Manatee County,” Marshall said. “It’s not something I ever really thought about leaving. My wife was here. I have three children who are all products of Manatee County schools. I was just bred to be Manatee County.”

Marshall’s wife, Beth, also has a career in the School District of Manatee County where she currently serves as the assistant principal at Samoset Elementary School. 

“Beth is very much an educator like I am, but better than I am,” Marshall said with a chuckle.

Being in Manatee County and at a variety of schools for so long has made it difficult for Marshall to go out into the community without being recognized by a colleague, current or former student, former classmate or a student he coached football and baseball at Bayshore High School when he was teaching at Miller Elementary. 

“You run into people everywhere you go,” Marshall said. “When my children were young, they would always say, ‘Dad, don’t stop and talk with someone.’ But every time you get some place, it’s either a student or something I went to school with.”

After news of his retirement spread, people started posting on his Facebook page, including former student athletes. They still call him coach. 

“Building relationships is the most important part of your job,” Marshall said. “Letting people know you care about them, letting them know you’re there for them in bad times as well as the good. All of us have had personal conflict with sickness and death, but we also rejoice with weddings and babies being born. I love that I live in a place where I can go and talk with people from the past or they remember a project that we did.”

With only a month left before retirement, Marshall looks forward to the big moments left for his students whether it’s a field trip to the planetarium for fourth grade or to Busch Gardens for fifth grade. They’ll have ceremonies to celebrate academic achievements and have the first fifth grade graduation in two years. 

Marshall said the last day of school will be bittersweet. 

“It’s going to be hard to think that in August, you’re not going to go to school,” Marshall said as tears filled his eyes.

But while students and teachers return to school, Marshall will be at his Bradenton home, a house he’s lived in for the past 34 years, working on a honey do list from his wife while also taking time for his hobbies like golfing, working outside and fishing. 

He’ll also spend time visiting his children, Melanie, Nolan and Matthew.


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