As December closed and students began to prepare for winter break, principal Roger Sites revealed his own holiday surprise: after 45 years at FHS, as a marketing teacher, assistant principal, and, finally, principal, Sites will retire at the end of this school year.
“I had made definite plans a couple of years ago about when my time would be, but it was kept very close-knit – only two or three people knew,” Sites said. “It went along with the opening of this new building. I think it’s a good time for a transition. I know every crack and wall, and it’s a good time for someone to learn everything about that building as I know this one.”
Sites became principal in 1993 after years of striving for the post. Although he only expected to be in the position for a short time, his relationship with the school has lasted.
“During that time, I had said I’d like to be principal for about five years, and then go on and do something else,” Sites said. “That was 20 years ago. It’s been one of the greatest things I’ve ever done, other than family and my faith.”
As a teacher, Sites was the senior class advisor, and, for many years, planned graduation with math department head Tyrone Baltimore. After overseeing over 40 graduations, including the ceremony that Elizabeth Taylor attended with Senator John Warner, the observance has become the pinnacle school event for Sites.
“Graduation is an experience that you can’t really define,” Sites said. “I will miss thanking the kids for what they’ve done, thanking the parents, thanking the veterans. The majority of them have been times of joy and happiness with the graduates smiling, screaming, and waving. It’s just a great experience.”
Baltimore and Sites also planned and attended many eventful senior class trips, including an adventure to the 1982 World’s Fair in Tennessee; three buses of students arrived in Knoxville to a hotel that was still being constructed. (The seniors were relocated to Gatlinburg.)
“Those senior class days were very nice,” Baltimore said. “It’s really a pleasure working with him; he’s a great person, role model, and administrator. I was surprised when he made the announcement that he’s going to leave. I couldn’t believe it.”
Stephanie West, who has been Sites’ secretary for 19 years, has also enjoyed working with Sites, and will lament the loss of day-to-day moments with her principal.
“I get him his coffee or water each day,” West said. “I know that doesn’t sound like what a secretary should do, because people don’t do that anymore, but I’m going to miss those daily little small things.”
West, who describes Sites as “genuine, sincere, supportive, and a good listener,” has worked with him through thick and thin; after another job opportunity opened up at the School Board Office, West left FHS for a few months. She returned, gratefully, to a welcoming Sites.
“He’s definitely been supportive of me over the years,” West said. “He likes to tell people how I left him – as he likes to say, ‘you came crying back.’ He never lets me forget it. I just told him, but you’re leaving me and you won’t come crying back.”
After retirement, Sites doesn’t plan to squirrel himself away or sit still; he will be spending more time with his family and at his West Virginia farm, as well as continuing to be active within the FHS community. However, he does believe this is the time to step down.
“Every day, I’m just thankful for another day,” Sites said. “[But] when things are really great, that’s when you go out. It’s a good time. I didn’t want to leave with deficiencies or voids. I want to leave a smooth-sailing ship.”
Sites is also grateful for the students, parents, faculty, and staff who have made his years at FHS more than worthwhile.
“It doesn’t get any better than that for a principal,” Sites said. “If there’s a school any better than FHS, I can’t think of it. It’s a joy for me every day. If I weren’t the luckiest person in the world, I wouldn’t have stayed for 45 years.”
~ Sophie Byvik, editor-in-chief