A Southern belle with a deep Texan drawl, Elizabeth Lee, outgoing head of school for the Columbus School for Girls, says she'll miss a real warmth she's felt here in Columbus.
Lee will retire July 1, 2014. She said she is making the announcement early enough to provide a smooth transition.
"A great thing about Columbus is it's just a very warm city -- in a funny way.
"Not warm in the Southern way," she continued. "But the people here want to know you and want to be a part of whatever you're a part of ... and that's very nice."
Lee announced her retirement last month after five years at the helm of CSG. She made the decision to retire because it's her time to help usher in a younger head of school, she said, one who can better relate to some of the needs and challenges of today's younger generation.
"For example, I'm never going to be 'tweeting' them," she admitted with a laugh. She'll leave that up to her successor.
"Liza has had a significant and dramatic impact on our school, in the community and most importantly on our girls," said Bernie Ostrowski, chairman of the board of trustees for CSG, in a recent letter announcing the news.
"The girls of CSG will not soon forget Liza or her impact, and we are confident we will see the fruits of her efforts for many years to come," he wrote.
Coming from a family of educators, Lee said she's always known her place was in the classroom environment.
"I always loved school," she said from her office, which provides picturesque views of the CSG campus. "I've always loved the way life was lived in schools."
Fresh out of graduate school, she returned to her native state of New York and her alma mater – an all-girls school in New York City – where she secured her first role in a classroom. She went on to compile more than 35 years of experience in both the classroom and leading schools.
A strong proponent of single-sex education, Lee has helped to promote and open all-girls public schools in Texas, where she will return upon her retirement.
"Boys develop all those skills you need for school so much later than girls do," she said.
"So little girls quickly learn that if they sit down and they're quiet and do exactly as they are told, that is what the teacher is looking for. Well, that's a terrible lesson for girls to learn."
Single-sex schools encourage girls to be active learners, she said, and ask lots of questions.
"And maybe even calling out those questions," Lee added.
While providing strong leadership opportunities, as well as a well-rounded education at CSG, Lee said she hopes she is most remembered for falling in love with a city and a school so far from Texas.
But other accomplishments include construction of the new swimming pool and health and wellness center at the school, along with an updated cafeteria and new theater on the way; a more student-friendly schedule; curriculum changes; and a successful capital campaign.
Accomplishments aside, she said it's the people she will truly miss.
"I think of them as mine -- my students, my families, my faculty. My friends in Columbus."
Resting her eyes on a sunny, yet bitterly cold March morning in Columbus, Lee reflects that same warmth she has come to know and love at her CSG home. She has one more academic year to wrap up loose ends, see the school's new theater completed and help with the transition to a new head of school, who will likely send 'tweets' with parents and friends.
She's hoping, too, that her husband will stay on at Ohio State University, which flies him in from Texas 10 weeks a year.
"Well, it would give me 10 weeks here," she said with a laugh.
Her extensive career has included 14 years of service as headmistress at the Hockaday School, an all-girls private boarding and day school in Dallas. She is the past president of the National Association of Principals of Schools for Girls, past president of the Country Day School Headmaster's Association, past board member of both the Brearley School and the Lawrenceville School, and a current board member of the Brooks School.
Lee has received numerous honors, including a doctor of humane letters from Southern Methodist University, the Excellence in Education Award from the Dallas Historical Society, the Girls' Champion Award given by Girls Inc. and the Elizabeth Topham Kennan award for outstanding achievement in and contributions to the field of education from Mount Holyoke College.
Upon her retirement, she hopes to volunteer her time in Dallas, furthering single-sex public education.