Steamboat Springs Steve Kaufman gets a little bit choked up when he talks about his students.
The long-time principal at Soda Creek Elementary told a story about a fourth-grader who came up to him, shook his hand and thanked him for being his principal over the years. Those are the moments and there have been many of them over the years that Kaufman, who is retiring, will cherish.
"One of the neat things about this job is that no matter how bad a day is, you can walk into a kindergarten classroom and always get a hug or a story and the world is suddenly OK," he said.
Kaufman has been principal at Soda Creek since 1982 and was assistant principal for four years before that.
A Kansas native, Kaufman started teaching in 1966 and spent 12 years in the classroom before becoming an administrator.
Kaufman could have very well spent his days in Walden, rather than Steamboat. He and his wife, Marsha, were in Montrose when he applied for an open job in Walden. He didn't get that position, but was referred to Steamboat Elementary School, which eventually became Soda Creek. At the time, it had 714 students in the one building and a modular building for the kindergartners on Logan Street.
When Strawberry Park opened in 1981, Soda Creek principal Robert Bentley moved there and Kaufman took over on Park Street. He said that when the school needed a new playground and hundreds of parents came out to help build it, he was pretty sure he had made a good choice.
"I knew then I was in the right place," he said.
Kaufman still misses the contact with the kids he had as a teacher, although, as an administrator, he was known for pulling out his magic cart and spontaneously wheeling it into a classroom to perform a few tricks.
"If I could combine everything I love about being in the classroom and being an administrator, it would be an ideal job," Kaufman said.
He is proud of the open and warm atmosphere at Soda Creek and said that caring and close feeling in the building has fed on itself and grown over the years.
"I think that's one of the reasons I'm still here," he said.
Kaufman was a veritable renaissance man in the school building, where he had to be a custodian, groundskeeper and mechanic at different times. He joked that his legacy was that he was the best custodian ever, but in reality he said he liked the building management part of his job.
Kaufman is retiring because he said the job of a principal has changed and is filled with the constant demands of Colorado Content Standards and tests.
He will definitely miss the children who constantly give him hope in a world that can seem grim sometimes. He also will miss the teachers with whom he has shared uncounted laughs over the years.
Kaufman will stay busy in retirement, he said, but not too busy. He is an active volunteer for the Steamboat Springs Fire Department and will keep that up.
"I'd like to take a year and do whatever I want and see what that feels like," he said. "I've been saying for five years that I'm going to paint the house."
To reach Jennifer Bartlett call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org