The end of the year always is a time of celebration and parting, but these days at Lakeland Senior High school, a deep velvet finality accompanies the rituals of transition and farewell. Hazel Haley, at 89 the longest-serving public-school teacher in Florida — and, as far as anyone knows, in the country — is retiring after 69 years, 67 of them in this school, 54 in this book-crammed, pink classroom. A few years ago, the Florida Legislature ruled school districts could hang on to veteran teachers, but now time has run out, and Miss Haley must go. Network camera crews have dropped by to record the milestone. Miss Haley’s beloved LHS Dreadnaughts may have snared the national football title this year, but there is no question as to who the school’s real champ is.
”She’s the teacher I’ll remember all my life,” says senior Travis Britton. From now on, everything about this place will occur within a new, peculiar context: missing Miss Haley.
”I’ve always said that . . . we’re such a big place, there’s not anything that actually stops the world,” says Mark Thomas, the first LHS principal in decades who will have to make decisions by himself. “ . . . The nice thing is, the kids next year won’t know what they missed. I think they’ll get a great education. I think they’ll learn a lot about British literature, . . . but Hazel is Hazel.”