With his Tigger from “Winnie the Pooh” collared shirt and a variety of heartfelt mementos scattered about his office, Jim Garner cannot be mistaken for a stodgy elementary school principal. After a 37-year career in education as an art and gym teacher and then a principal, he admits he tries not to take himself too seriously.
“I’ve never seen myself as the authority figure, even though I’m overseeing 80 adults and 500 students,” he said. “I just try to get everyone — parents, teachers and students — to get along.”
Over the past eight years as head of Syracuse Elementary School, Garner says he is proud that relatively few students get in trouble or have behavioral issues. For the most part, he admits, the school runs smoothly and students are exceptionally accepting of one another.
“I’m lucky to have a really good staff who really care about what they’re doing,” he explained. “Lately, education has been getting a bad reputation, but I haven’t run across any teachers who are bad. This school is full of good people. I feel that when you treat people like professionals, they act like professionals and do what they’re suppose to do.
“I’d definitely consider myself to be a teachers’ principal rather than a head office principal. I prefer the bottom-up approach.”
Garner’s father was also a school principal, and growing up, he always liked how people talked about his father as good one. As a natural organizer and public speaker, Garner says this job has been a good fit for him.
“I could keep going,” said Garner, who turned 60 this week, “but the time is right. It’s time for someone more tech savvy.”
Although he does not have any immediate plans for the future, Garner is sure he will find something to do. With five children and nine grandchildren, he is confident he will keep busy. Garner and his wife, Lorri, live in Syracuse.
“I’ve viewed this job as a public service,” said Garner. “I’m ready to work less than 40-plus hours per week.”
As for any advice he would give the future principal of Syracuse Elementary School, Garner says that person will be lucky to be walking into a really good situation.
“I’d tell them to not mess it up, I guess,” he laughed.