OGDEN -- Ogden Preparatory Academy will be saying goodbye to its beloved principal, Kathy Thornburg, in June, but the school's chief administrator is confident that the environment she helped create will serve students well in the years to come.
The academy, a charter school, will undergo a major change at the end of the academic year when it moves to a new location, and Thornburg took the change into consideration when she thought about retiring.
"This has been a work in progress for me. I had very seriously considered retiring about three years ago, but at that point, we decided to expand the school, nearly doubling in size. Not wanting to miss out on seeing it flourish like I dreamed it would, I said I would stay on until we build a new building, and at that point in time, I would call it quits," Thornburg said.
Thornburg began her career in 1971 after she earned her undergraduate degree from Marquette University in Wisconsin. She worked in Florida, Virginia and Vermont as a teacher and assistant principal in several schools, eventually moving to Utah with her husband and two sons and earning her administrative credential from the University of Utah.
She was hired as principal of OPA 10 years ago, and she said one of her proudest accomplishments has been witnessing the school's growth.
"When I opened this building, we had 213 kids. I'm now at 1,025, and there is a considerable waiting list for every single grade," Thornburg said.
"Knowing the parents believe in what's going on here, they have trust in what we do here and they know these kids will get the best education possible gives me a great feeling."
OPA emphasizes family involvement in its criteria for potential students, with each family required to put in 30 hours of volunteer work throughout the year. The school also needs parent drivers, as it does not have a bus system.
Thornburg said what she will miss most about her job is the interaction with the students and her staff, whom she praises highly.
"Their heart is in teaching. They come up with incredible ideas about how to make it more interesting for the kids. They don't mind the time, they thoroughly research what they are going to do, and they bring me the data that supports the decisions they are going to make," she said.
"We offer kids opportunities they would otherwise never have."
Students also have the opportunity to study abroad in Spain and go on trips to places like Yellowstone National Park.
With the heavy workload of moving the school from one location to another nearly behind her, Thornburg looks forward to having a good rest but still feels sad at the prospect of leaving.
"It's a mixed kind of feeling. This was my baby. I'm going to decompress for a while. I'm going to visit my mom for a few weeks, and I really want to get on the road and do some traveling," she said.
Thornburg already looks back on her time with fondness and gratitude.
"You couldn't ask to be blessed as much as when you're given the opportunity to create a school and you have the people who believe in the vision you have and the direction you take," she said.
Thornburg's final day at OPA will be June 14.