After 29 years, Scott Houseknecht will retire as principal of Edgewood Elementary School at the end of this school year. Known for his student-centered pedagogy, Houseknecht, now 64, moved to the Scarsdale school district from Pennsylvania, where he was a teacher in State College for nine years and a principal in Strafford for four. “I feel older,” he said while considering his lengthy tenure. “[But] the things I believe in ... haven’t changed so much.”
Assistant superintendent for HR & leadership development Drew Patrick announced Houseknecht’s retirement at the school board meeting March 1, and Houseknecht addressed the Edgewood community directly via the PTA’s weekly email blast March 10. “I never intended to stay 29 years,” he wrote, “and yet as I approach the final four months of my time with you, I find it hard to leave. ... I will always treasure [it].”
The Inquirer spoke to several Edgewood community members about Houseknecht’s retirement.
“I think we were both shocked,” Edgewood PTA co-presidents Susie Smith and Heedan Chung-Goh said of Houseknecht’s announcement.
“It’s bittersweet,” Smith added. “It’s such a great year because we’re celebrating 100 years of the school, but at the same time, now it’s going to be a little sad because we’re losing [our] principal.”
Patrick praised Houseknecht’s leadership, noting he is one of the village’s longest serving school administrators. “He takes time to learn people’s stories,” Patrick said, “and how Edgewood got to be the way it is and why it’s such a warm school. He really embodies the values of the community.”
Houseknecht said he wrestled with finding the right time to leave his post at Edgewood. “I still really love my job,” he said. “But I’ve seen people stay too long, and ... the longer you stay, the harder it is to reinvent yourself and move on to new interests and challenges.”
Houseknecht plans to retire “at least initially,” as of July 1, “until I decide where things are going to take me.” He and his family will move to their vacation home in Buck Hill Falls, Pennsylvania and spend time traveling.
Under Houseknecht’s tutelage, Edgewood has seen several new initiatives form and flourish over the last three decades, including the school’s Student Involvement Council — which meets with Houseknecht fortnightly to exchange ideas about student programming — and the hugely popular Edgewood University program, a six-week course that allows students to study student-prescribed topics in multi-age groups. This year, the program was rebranded as Edgewood Academy and aligned with the school’s centennial anniversary. Classes explored innovations within the last 100 years, spanning dance, woodshop and puzzlemaking. There was also a storytelling course inspired by the students’ interest in the legendary Edgewood Ghost.
“[Houseknecht] loves this school,” Chung-Goh said. “If there is an institutional memory of this school for close to three decades, it really is him. He’s the continuity.”
Houseknecht was present in 1994 when Edgewood sealed up a time capsule, which the school opened last fall to kickoff its centennial celebration. He will also be present when the school closes up another capsule later this year for future revelation. With such breadth, Houseknecht said he’s purposed to be a “constant learner,” gleaning wisdom from students, teachers, aides, custodians and parents alike.
Edgewood community members said learning with Houseknecht is mutual.
“He really is somebody I’ve learned from deeply,” assistant principal William Yang said. “He’s always thinking about the kids first, and … that has always been contagious for the rest of us.”
Plans are underway to honor Houseknecht at the Edgewood centennial gala April 6.
The district’s human resources department launched a search for a new principal this week, according to Patrick. The team is organizing, advertising and considering the candidate pool drawn during the Fox Meadow Elementary School principal search last year.
“We expect to have a principal hired for next year by the end of this year,” he said.
Looking forward, Yang said he believes Houseknecht is leaving the school with a strong foundation and is hopeful about the next era.
In that vein, Houseknecht offered a piece of advice to his successor: “Do a lot of listening; ask a lot of questions. Trust and facilitate the ideas of the people who are here, because they have great [ones].”