FORTVILLE — When principal John Price arrived at Mt. Vernon Middle School 11 years ago, there were just two things he thought were missing from the building: pure joy and excitement.
“I hope I was able to bring that,” Price said.
And according to Price’s students and staff, he certainly has.
“He’s the best principal,” seventh-grader Aubrey Langlotz said. “He’s been there for me since I’ve been at this school. I don’t want him to leave.”
In his office on the eve of the last day of school, Aubrey was joined by fellow seventh-graders Montana Hoseclaw and Desiree Sitton, who all came to say their goodbyes. All three girls shared the same reaction when they heard Price was retiring.
“We cried,” they all said together.
Price recently retired from Mt. Vernon, and his absence when school starts again later this summer will be hard to deal with for many of the staff members who have come to count on him for 11 years.
Seventh-grade social studies teacher Debbie Thomas said she will remember Price’s dedication to the students the most.
“He looks out for the kids here at school and beyond. He always is the first one to help any student or family. When I say he puts students first, he really does. Absolutely,” Thomas said. “He has a huge heart for kids. He really puts kids first.”
It’s always been that way for Price. He started his career in 1978 at Center Grove Elementary School in Johnson County as a second-grade teacher. There, he was filling in for a teacher on maternity leave, and when she returned, he moved to Whiteland and worked there for 23 years. Nineteen of those were teaching and simultaneously working as an assistant athletic director at Clark-Pleasant Middle School.
Price, 57, waited until his two children were out of high school before he went for his administrator’s license. He tried to stay on the south side of Indianapolis, but there weren’t many positions available.
“For a long time, I was a bridesmaid,” Price said.
When he finally got a job as principal, in Tipton, he had to drive 72 miles per day to and from work. He was taking over for a principal who had been there 34 years, which created a unique set of challenges.
“He was a hard act to follow,” Price said.
But he was well-prepared by his experiences. He had 11 bosses in 15 years, and each one was able to teach him something new and different.
The two biggest lessons he learned? Keeping a sense of humor and staying focused on the kids.
Price tried to take that philosophy to Doe Creek Middle School, but lost out on the job to Jim Voelz, who is still serving as principal. Price later interviewed for the Mt. Vernon job.
“Lucky for me I got it, and I’ve loved it ever since,” Price said. “The people here, the kids here, the staff, the families have been nothing but amazingly kind to me since I got here.”
The students and staff also feel lucky for having Price in their school.
“He gets me out of a lot of trouble,” Montana Hoseclaw said with a laugh. “If we needed anybody to talk to, he’s always there to talk.”
But for now, Price is looking toward retirement. The time off will allow him to spend more time with his grandchildren and finally realize his dream of living in Florida part time.
“I like that lifestyle, to be able to relax and travel, cruises, going to the beach every day, and I will (still substitute). But I never want to work a Monday again,” Price said. “People think I’m too young to go, but you know when it’s right. It was always a goal to retire at 55, but it took me a while to get my act together.”
Over the course of his 11 years at Mt. Vernon, there were many Mondays, but Price said he always tried to bring his best to his work.
“My motto has always been right’s always right, wrong’s always wrong, and as long as you can run a building with that kind of philosophy, you’re going to be OK. It’s worked for me,” Price said.
Price said he was especially appreciative of Superintendent Bill Riggs, Assistant Superintendent Mike Horton and the members of the school board, who have always been supportive of Price and the middle school.
“Despite all of the trouble we’ve had with money, they still had kids as their focus,” Price said.
Part of the fallout from the financial woes was the school board’s decision to close a school and realign grades. The result was a big change for Price and the middle school: After working with seventh- and eighth-graders, the realignment moved the older students to a new Eighth Grade Academy and brought sixth-graders to the middle school.
The transition was hard on the middle school, which saw eighth-grade teachers leave for the new academy and a new set of sixth-grade teachers move in.
“We pulled it off,” Prince said.
With Price’s departure, the school system will be shaking up some of the district’s leadership roles in a move that was approved by the school board with unanimous support from school officials.
Eighth Grade Academy Principal Scott Shipley will take over as principal for the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Assistant middle school principal Ben Williams will stay on in that capacity, and there will be another assistant principal position at the Eighth Grade Academy.
“That’s the way it’s going to go, and I think it’ll be just fine,” Price said.
Mt. Vernon Middle School might be in his rear-view mirror now, but Price said he will always treasure his time spent there.
“I will go to my dying day saying this is the best school I’ve ever worked at,” Price said. “I would never have been successful without the backing of Dr. Riggs, the board, my teachers and the parents. It’s been a wonderful privilege to be the principal of their school.”