PERU — Kathy Richard never had to leave the River Valley area to find change and new challenges.

For the past 20 years, she has served as an elementary school principal in the same district, but has seen some of the schools for which she is responsible close, a new one built and her original district, the former SAD 21, become a part of the larger Western Foothills Regional School Unit 10.

And for all those years, her heart has always been in the job for the children.

“I feel like I’ve never been stagnant, that things have changed so much that I’m always learning,” the 57-year-old Dexter native said. She plans to leave her position as principal of the recently constructed Dirigo Elementary School at the end of the school year.

Through all the changes, there has always been one constant.

“I’ve given my heart and soul to this job, I’ve lived this job. I did it my way, and I feel really good about it,” she said.

But now, she said it’s time to leave while she still enjoys her job.

“It’s time to move on, to do other things,” she said.

Besides the 20 years in the SAD 21/RSU 10, Richard also served 16 years in education in Guilford, Sangerville and Exeter, with her final elementary teaching position combined with the duties of teaching principal.

“I came (to SAD 21) knowing I wanted to stay for two years,” she said. She intended to return to the Guilford system, which she really liked.

But then, she discovered that she “really, really” liked it in Dixfield, which was where she did her student teaching while at the University of Maine at Farmington.

During those first two years at the former Dixfield Elementary School, she oversaw a major renovation project. That experience turned out to be the first of many major changes she would see during the next 18 years.

The most recent one was the construction of a $14 million prekindergarten-through-grade five school in Peru that serves elementary students from Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru.

Over the years, Richard was principal of Dixfield, Peru and Canton elementary schools.

Richard said she likes the merged district for many reasons. Among them is a chance to have colleagues who are also elementary school principals. Before, she was the only one.

She began thinking of retirement once the new school was built a couple of years ago.

“I wanted to get everyone settled in, then consider retirement,” she said.

Becoming a teacher seemed a natural thing for her to do.

“When I was in eighth-grade, I baby-sat and taught swimming lessons. I loved the kids and got to teach a little bit,” she said.

In addition to graduating from UMF in 1975, she also earned a master’s degree in administration from the University of Maine in 1985.

Once June 30 arrives, and she is officially retired, Richard plans to rest before deciding what the next stage of her life will bring. She loves painting with watercolors and growing perennial flowers. She also has stacks of books waiting to be read. She’s particularly interested in history and politics and keeping up on what’s happening in the world.

A trip south may be in her future, as well as pursuing her interest in golf.

And eventually, she wants to find volunteer work and give back to the community.

“I have been really blessed wherever I’ve worked. No matter what school, we’ve always worked together,” she said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have good staff who have high expectations for our kids.”

She and her husband, David Pierce, who is a retired SAD 21 superintendent, live in Farmington.

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