What makes a good school principal a great one? There's no one answer.
But if you ask anyone who knows Dr. Terri Thomas Klemm, principal at George Washington Elementary School, you'll hear at least one thing mentioned over and over.
"She knows the name of every kid who goes to her school," said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach. "She greets them by name. If a kid looks a little sad, she always talks to them."
Klemm is retiring at the end of June after 11 years as principal.
"It's been the most exciting experience of my life," Klemm said. What does Klemm think is the secret to being a good principal?
"Always putting the kids first," said Klemm. "Every day revolves around what's the right thing to do for the children. If you do that, everything else falls into place."
Friday was declared Dr. Terri Thomas Klemm Day Roach at a ceremony to honor her. The ceremony was part of the school's annual Family Fitness and Fun event. This year the event was called Last Lap with Dr. Klemm Farewell Tour. Parents and past students came to honor her and wish her well.
"She's one of the most interesting people I've ever met," said Roach, who has had two children attend Klemm's school. "It's all real. She's a great educator. From her first year, she's gone to every high school graduation. She follows her kids after they leave."
Eileen Oddo, a parent whose children attended GWES, was on the search committee that hired Klemm.
"We'd been changing principals [a lot]," Oddo said. They "told us there's no knight on a white horse coming in. You have to hire a principal. She was [a knight] to us. She saved it. She brought the school back."
Oddo's daughter, Annie, now 17 years old but once a first grader at the school, recalls Dr. Klemm more personally.
"When I was 10," she said, "I went through a phase when I didn't want to go to school. I wouldn't get out of the car. But Dr. Klemm would come out and call me out of the car by name. She made it much easier."
"It's funny because I have trouble with adult's names," Klemm said. "It just happens. I was not a high achieving child. I came from a broken home and when someone knew my name it meant a lot. By knowing someone's name, that honors them as an individual. It's from my heart."
George Washington PTA President Suzi Bryden called Klemm "inspirational", saying Klemm has made her job "easy." Klemm, her 90 year old mother by her side, smiled throughout the evening, greeting people left and right, leaning down and talking earnestly and happily with children who zoomed up and then zoomed away.
She kept an eagle eye out, too, milling with purpose, it seemed, at ease but still at work. The campus is hers until June 30. Darrel Stinchcomb is now the Principal at Church Street Elementary School, but was Klemm's Assistant Principal. He says he learned from Klemm.
"Academics are important, but you do have to provide a nurturing and caring environment," Stinchcomb said. "Her door was always open. She knew every kid's name, that's something I do. It makes kids feel like they're walking on water."
"We do School Spirit Day every Friday at Church Street," a practice carried over from Klemm's practice. "Administration is a resource. I got that from Terri."
Cynthia Predmore, a PTA volunteer and an educator herself, paid Klemm one of the highest compliments. Given a choice of White Plains elementary schools for her own children.
"I chose for my child to have a 20 minute ride and be with Dr. Klemm," said Predmore. "I knew they'd be taken care of."
Parents at the school are installing a reading nook at the school, Klemm's Korner, that will carry on Klemm's dedication to reading and teaching at the school. Donations can be sent to George Washington PTA, 16 Fay Place, White Plains, NY 10604.