Friday, June 4, 2004
Rachel R. Basinger
Connellsville Daily Courier
When Karen Piper says goodbye to the students at C.N. Pritts Elementary School today, it won't be just for the summer.
Piper, the principal of the school in Melcroft for the past five years, announced an unexpected early retirement after health complications forced her to do so.
Over four years ago Piper began taking some medicine to curb symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.
Not long after, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and doctors believe that the drugs taken for Multiple Sclerosis contributed to the condition.
There is no cure for congestive heart failure, so Piper was given a pacemaker and a defibrillator as well as some medicine to slow down the effects of the disease and help her cope.
But the measures taken are not enough to help her anymore. The second week of June, Piper is scheduled to be evaluated for a heart transplant at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh.
And if all of this isn't bad enough, there's already a strike against her chances of getting another heart.
Two years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and although she is clear of the disease today, the fact that she once had it will make it harder for her to be approved.
According to Piper, the rejection medicine is sometimes known to cause cancer and because she was once diagnosed with cancer, the likelihood of her surviving the transplant is less than someone who was never diagnosed with cancer.
"This has all just been very unexpected," said Piper. "I thought I would work for at least another year. I just have so many more ideas."
Wednesday was the day of good-byes to the "queen," with the day's theme being: "Queen for a Day."
In the morning, administrators and fellow elementary school principals within the Connellsville School District made the trip to Melcroft to honor Piper with a special breakfast.
Throughout the day, she was visited by each and every student who presented her with cards and flowers and said their personal good-byes.
In the afternoon, a special program was held where Piper was "crowned" and given a "Queen's Cape."
There a flower ceremony was held where three students from each classroom gave their principal a flower and told her thank-you for some way she impacted them.
"Thanks for challenging us to make good choices," said one student. "Thanks for talking to us in the hall" and "thanks for knowing our names," were other words spoken by the students.
The parent teacher group also made a presentation of a plaque that will honor Piper for starting the math lending library, and it will hang above the math lending library in the school.
The math lending library, which combines reading and math, was just one idea that Piper instituted at the school. She was also involved with "Kindergarten Kickoff" and a program called "Bridges," which helps children to develop visual and motor skills.
"She's done so much for this school," said Lynn Durr, an aide at the elementary school. "We've never had a principal like her before and it's hard not knowing who we will get to replace her."
Nancy Williams, a fourth grade teacher at the school, said that Piper was very hard working and extremely energetic.
"I think the kids are definitely going to miss the presence she brought to the building," said Williams.
"She's so personable," said Durr. "The kids know her and love her and they know they can go to her anytime they have a problem."
And Piper admitted that the kids will be what she'll miss the most.
"I love the children and seeing what they do and hearing what they say," said Piper.
Before becoming a principal at the elementary school, Piper worked as a music teacher at McKeesport and also worked as a teacher for schools within the Greensburg Diocese.
"I didn't know much about Connellsville before I came here, but I've learned that the people in the mountains are wonderfully supportive and they'll embrace you once they get to know and trust you," said Piper.
She added that Superintendent Gerald Browell has been extremely supportive throughout her ordeal as well.
Durr admitted that Piper's early retirement is a blow to her in more than one way.
"I don't think of her as just the principal," said Durr. "She's my friend."
Copyright © 2004, The Tribune-Review Publishing Co.