ENID, Okla. — After 25 years, Lincoln Academy Principal Jarry Hillman will retire at the end of the school year.
“I just decided it was time,” he said. “No particular plan. Had lots of people offer me jobs and activities to do. In a year, you never know.”
Spending time with family and enjoying hobbies are on his list.
“I have four grandkids that are close enough I can see them. I will spend lots of time with the grandkids,” he said. “Of course, hunting and fishing are some of my hobbies. But, you can only do so much of that.”
For a quarter of a century, Hillman has helped students achieve their goals, often by going the extra mile. Hillman has been known to pick students up for school, take them to breakfast, pass out snacks ... he even has visited a student who had given birth in the hospital.
“It’s been an enjoyable 25 years. The students have taught me a lot, and, hopefully, I have contributed back,” he said. “Having the opportunity to inspire and touch hundred of children lives — priceless.”
Hillman could recall dozens of stories.
“A girl got up and said, ‘I am dropping out of school. I’m leaving this school and never coming back’ and took off out the door. I took off out the door with her,” Hillman said. “I said, ‘I’m with ya. I’m done with this job. I’m quitting and never coming back.’ She stops and said, ‘Mr. Hillman, you can’t quit, you’re the principal.’ I said, Stef, you can’t quit because you need an education.”
Hillman said he went back with the girl and she graduated.
“She is now a nurse working in Oklahoma City, and that’s just cool stuff,” Hillman said. “There are just so many stories of kids that weren’t going to make it that ended up turning into successful stories.”
Hillman said he once got a call from the high school about a 4.0 student who was dropping out because of too many absences. The student had a 2-year-old child.
Hillman said he talked to the girl and told her, “We have two options. I can come to your house every day and teach you or if you come to Lincoln. We’ll work around your absences. She said, ‘You’re not coming to my house.’”
He said the girl graduated and is working as a nurse in Tennessee.
Hillman said Sen. Ed Long, who had helped Lincoln Academy get its first grant, used to invite graduating seniors to his home to celebrate their achievements.
“He would have businesspeople show up, cook hamburgers and told them to keep up the good work,” Hillman said.
Years later, he said Long contacted him with a story. Long’s wife had been admitted to the hospital and when the RN came in, Long told the nurse he thought he recognized her.
“She said, ‘I had hamburgers in your backyard,’” Hillman said. “He just thought that was pretty cool stuff.”
Hillman said there is a misconception among the public about the students that attend Lincoln.
“They think it’s for slow kids and behavior problem kids,” he said. “They’re not here because of their academic ability. They’re here because of other issues in their lives.”
He said Lincoln has had between 50 to 60 graduates the past eight years. The program is often used as a baseline for others in the state because of its success.
“What we do is take care of the student. That’s a passion I think all my teachers have. My job is to create an environment where they have the resources and time to get to know the students. You don’t know which ones are going to be highly successful and which ones aren’t. It just keeps it challenging, I guess.”