The board of directors at Thomas Heyward Academy is faced with a task no one at the school has thought about for more than 30 years: Hiring a new headmaster.
John Rogers will retire at the end of this school year after 37 years on the job, only six years fewer than the school has been open.
Rogers, 70, said he made the decision because it was time.
"Before, I still had a higher level of energy," he said. "At some point, your bones begin to tell you things nothing else can."
His decision isn't a surprise, according to Cathy Tuten, the school's business manager and secretary of the board of directors.
"He's been saying for about five years now that this is it," she said. "He told us over Christmas break (in 2011) that the following year would be his last year."
The school is accepting applications -- about 40 have come in -- and the board hopes to name a new headmaster by the end of the calendar year, chairman Kevin Owens said. That way, before the new headmaster begins, he or she can spend time with Rogers, who in many ways has made the school of about 325 pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade students what is today.
The board hopes the new headmaster will visit a few times and learn more about the school and its families before beginning June 1.
Both Owens and Tuten said they hope the next headmaster commands the respect of students and has a firm handle on discipline, as Rogers has.
"There's a quality missing in schools nowadays -- kids have a lack of respect for leadership," Owens said. "One thing (Rogers) has been able to do through the years is maintain a good relationship with students, and they still have a great respect for him. It's really important in going forward that we find someone to carry on."
Owens also said the board would like to find someone to increase the school's use of technology. The new headmaster must have a background in education, but business experience would be a plus, too, Owens said.
"One of the biggest problems facing rural private schools is the economy," Owens said, adding he hopes enrollment will rebound after a slowing down the last few years due to the economic downturn.
Rogers had a bit of advice for whoever is hired: Be certain of your principles and polices and stick to them, and don't underestimate the importance of a good relationship with a strong board of directors.
The school will accept applications until Sept. 15; interviews will follow shortly thereafter.
Regardless of who is hired, Tuten said it will be strange not to have Rogers around. He became the school's headmaster only six years after it was founded in 1970, and the three headmasters before him each served only a few years before moving on.
"We're so used to his ways, it will just be real different," she said. "It's bittersweet. We're excited and a little sad."
Rogers is leaving some big shoes to fill, Owens said. Usually headmasters are at a school for only four or five years, he said. To have someone serve as long as Rogers has is almost unheard of.
Rogers said he will miss the daily contact with students, staff and the board.
"It's been a great ride," he said of working with three generations of students.
"I've had the first children, and then their children, and now their grandchildren," he said through laughter. "Before we get into great-grandchildren, I'm quitting."