Although Wattles Elementary School Principal Judy Garrett was a bit nervous about magician Doug Scheer sawing her in half onstage at the school June 4, she said it was worth it to see the kids so excited.
“I wanted to make it a very special evening,” she said. The Wattles Parent Teacher Organization planned a reception for Garrett to celebrate her retirement after 25 years as principal at the school.
“What’s a party without entertainment?” she said.
It wasn’t the first time Garrett was nervous about doing things to excite and motivate the students.
To challenge the students during March is Reading Month, Garrett, who is afraid of heights, has climbed up on the roof of the school, taken a ride up in the Fire Department ladder truck, sat atop a dunk tank and dressed up as a gorilla to “make it for fun for kids.”
Garrett has been an educator for 40 years, first in the Romeo Community Schools for seven years as teacher, then principal, while she was still in her 20s. She’s been principal at Wattles ever since. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Oakland University and her doctorate at Wayne State University.
She said she’s known two generations of several Wattles families.
Garrett said she became an educator because of her love for children.
“I gravitate toward children, and children gravitate toward me,” she explained.
She loved teaching for the creativity required to find different styles of learning to reach all of her students.
And she loved being a principal because, as she put it, “You can affect more students and more students affect you.” Garrett noted that in elementary school, staff has the kids for six years.
She calls all of her students by first names. “I have a really good memory for names,” she said.
“In the Troy School District, we’re always moving forward,” she said. She said she was one of the first teachers to use computers in class.
The biggest change she saw in her years as an educator was technology — “all different ways to engage students,” she said. “Kindergartners use iPads.”
She’s most proud of the students’ “phenomenal” test scores. Her biggest challenge was to “always to be the best school that we can be and to always move forward and set new goals.”
Garrett praised the “super supportive” parent community at the school. “McDonald’s night or school fairs, entire neighborhoods show up. The PTO is fabulous,” she said.
“She is Wattles,” said Michelle Oddo, who serves as PTO co-vice president. “She is kind and knows all the kids by their first names. Her work ethic is second to none. … It’s hard to picture Wattles without her. She makes us feel safe dropping our kids off.”
“Dr. Garrett is on the sidewalk every day,” said Donna Munch, PTO co-vice president. “She greets every kid and boards every bus.”
Betty and James Savage, whose four grandchildren attended Wattles and live in the Wattles neighborhood, stopped by the school June 5 to say goodbye to Garrett.
“She didn’t get so much attention, but she had the respect of everyone,” James Savage said.
He said that when he broke his ankle, she came to their home to visit him.
“That’s the kind of person she is,” James Savage said.
“I had a fabulous career,” Garrett said. “I feel very lucky.”
She plans to volunteer to work with children. “I want to stay connected with kids.”