Tremont Elementary School principal Maria Wilkes looks back on her 11-year tenure with fond memories as she prepares to retire.

Tremont Elementary School principal Maria Wilkes looks back on her 11-year tenure with fond memories as she prepares to retire.

"We have the best and brightest here. Everyone here values education, and I love that," Wilkes said. "You don't have to convince a single parent here that education is important."

Parents, teachers and students honored Wilkes during an open house last Friday organized by the Tremont School Association. The occasion gave Wilkes an opportunity to reflect on how far the school and the district have come in the past decade.

When Wilkes came to Upper Arlington in 1997, Tremont was the last school in the district to be renovated after voters approved a bond issue.

"When I came in, it was a hard hat area," Wilkes said. "I started in July and I didn't move into my office until January."

Reorganization of classrooms was among the changes Wilkes helped implement.

"The classrooms were randomly scattered around," she said. "We grouped first grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade."

There have been numerous curriculum changes over the years. Wilkes estimates that in the past year, Tremont has acquired $60,000 in new educational technology -- all purchased through fundraisers organized by parents.

"Technology changes are enormous," she said. "In every single classroom, teachers are now using projector screens tied to a computer. They have microphones with speakers placed around the classroom."

Upper Arlington City Council member Wade Steen said Wilkes has been principal at Tremont while all four of his children attended school there. His oldest child, Zack, who is now a UAHS junior, was in first grade when Wilkes became principal. Steen's youngest child, Taylor, is completing her fifth-grade year and will finish out her time at Tremont as Wilkes retires.

"You couldn't have asked for a better educator or a nicer person," Steen said. "It's been a blessing that she's been there while our children were there."

Wilkes' two grandsons also attended Tremont during her tenure. Her grandson Ray is now in sixth grade at Jones Middle School and her grandson Juergen is in fourth grade at Tremont.

"I've had them K-5, which has been a real blessing," she said.

After her retirement, Wilkes plans to volunteer at the school when her grandson enters fifth grade next year and "continue to stay in touch, but in a different role."

Wilkes came to Tremont after her husband, Raymond, who was a professor and dean at Ohio University's Lancaster campus for 19 years, passed away and she was looking for a change. A Marble Cliff resident, Wilkes is originally from Germany and came to the United States with her parents as a World War II refugee.

Raised in Detroit, Wilkes has held teaching and administrative positions in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Vermont over the past 40 years. Tremont is the longest stint on her resume and she said she'll miss the students, teachers, staff and parents.

"It's an amazing community. The teachers are here because they love to teach," she said. "When it's time to retire, they don't want to. When it comes time to leave, they agonize over it. That says a lot. They love what they do. And it's not unusual for people to stay here 30, 40 years."

Though Wilkes will miss Tremont, she is looking forward to having more time to spend time with family and friends, traveling and doing genealogical research and writing.

"I have more ideas than I have time," she said.

Wilkes' successor is Tom Bates, principal of Eli Pinney Elementary School in Dublin. Wilkes said she is hopeful Bates will continue a tradition she began in 2002 when she invited all of Tremont's past principals to the school as part of a history project the students participated in.

Wilkes said she has stayed in touch with all the past principals and hopes Bates will do the same.

"This is a very tight community, it's a very welcoming community, and children come first," she said. "That's something I've seen in Upper Arlington that I haven't seen in any other district. If it's not good for kids, it doesn't happen. The money doesn't go to stuff, it goes to kids. I've seen districts where levies fail and fail and fail. The reason why they're passed here is because kids count."