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Last day of school at William Paca, with departing principal, 'exciting but sad'

William Paca Elementary School Principal Gail Dunlap celebrated her last day of her tenth year with the school before moving on. (Bryna Zumer and Jon Sham/Baltimore Sun video)

It was a very emotional last day of school at Abingdon's William Paca Elementary School, with teachers wiping away tears and hugging students while the voice of Kool & the Gang, coming through a large speaker, urged everyone to "celebrate good times, come on!"

Like many Harford County schools, William Paca and its sister school Old Post Road Elementary on Route 7, are bracing for some changes.

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Gail Dunlap, the principal for nearly a decade at the adjoining schools, is moving on to Bel Air's Prospect Mill Elementary in the fall. She will be replaced by Tammy Bosley, who has been principal at Forest Hill Elementary. Two new assistant principals also are coming to William Paca/Old Post Road.

Many staff members were also marking their last day at William Paca, as the school let out for the summer at 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Students poured out of the building and into their awaiting buses for the final time this school year, joining the thousands of children around Harford who won't have to see the inside of a classroom until Aug. 27, when the 2015-16 school year begins.

Dunlap led the way at dismissal time, joyfully clapping to the music and high-fiving exiting students as a bubble machine blew some soapy rings by the doorway.

"The last day of school is filled with lots of emotion for me," she said from her office earlier, noting that she became principal of "a school that was mourning," following the sudden death of her predecessor, Franklin L. Tull.

"As excited as I am to start a new chapter in my life, I am saddened because I have built a lot of relationships with parents and staff and students," she said, calling William Paca "a wonderful community."

"I've watched the parent involvement grow tremendously. You won't find a harder-working staff anywhere in Harford County, and the teachers are here because they want to be here," she said.

"I'm very proud of the fact that we're a PBIS school, which is Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports. We've worked on mutual respect as a community, and while we have challenges here, our challenges are no different than any other challenge in Harford County Public Schools," she said.

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Some fifth-graders seemed especially solemn at the prospect of moving on from their elementary school home into middle school.

"It's sad. I am going to miss the school a lot," a serious-looking Marcellus Robinson said after hugging several staff members. He plans to visit his grandmother and go to Jamaica this summer, before making a fresh start at Edgewood Middle School.

Jeremy Jensen, whom Dunlap mentored through his final year at the school, wore a William Paca shirt covered in signatures from teachers and students.

"Ms. Dunlap was a very interesting and excited and nice principal who helped me with my grades and encouraged me, and I really, really am going to miss her because she's the reason I got better grades in school," Jeremy explained.

He was thoughtful about moving on to middle school, as well, saying it means more "responsibility and maturity."

Media specialist Linda Zvitkovitz was among the teachers who seemed emotional as well.

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"You see so much potential in each child and hope they can reach it, despite any struggles they might be facing, because we know they are," Zvitkovitz explained about her feelings.

For many children at William Paca, school provides a sense of structure and a haven from a troubled environment at home or their everyday life, Lauren Hunter, a reading specialist for third through 5th grades, noted. She was also fighting back tears standing outside the school.

"You worry about them; you don't know what their summer will be like," Hunter said. "We miss them when they are not here. We worry about them."

Friday was a bit of an end of an era for everyone involved, she said.

"It's pretty emotional. Our whole administrative team is going to be different next year," Hunter said. "It's exciting but sad at the same time."

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