Click photo to enlarge
Marsh Elementary principal Bill Bolio gets a hug from first grader Gerard Bagsby, 7, while having lunch at Marsh Elementary in Antioch, Calif., on Monday, June 3, 2013. Bolio is retiring after 36 years of working in education. Bagsby said about his principal "I like him a lot because he's nice to me." Bolio started teaching as a special day class teacher in southern California. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

ANTIOCH -- He is a principal, who happens to be quite principled.

Just ask the many teachers who've worked for him, the parents who have looked up to him, or the thousands of children who adore him.

Now, after 36 years on campus, Marsh Elementary's Bill Bolio is retiring.

Appropriately, Bolio began his career at an elementary school. It's been a lifelong fit.

When asked how long he was at this school or that, Bolio doesn't quite know; appearing to mark time only by the countless hugs he receives from students daily or by his never-ending to-do list.

He had been at Belshaw for more than 10 years, and with a successful turn as principal there, Bolio could've cruised into retirement easily and comfortably. Instead, in 2009, he took the challenge to take over Marsh Elementary, which was struggling on many levels.

When he spoke to staff there, he essentially told them he would be giving his all and they were expected to do the same because the children deserved it.

That straightforward speech didn't exactly inspire them. Instead, nearly every teacher asked for a transfer, forcing Bolio to start with a clean slate, which suited him just fine.

He took a school that appeared to have derailed, and within three years, he got it back on track. During his time there, attendance has increased and suspensions decreased.

"Yes, it was a challenge," Bolio admits. "One of the things I wanted to do was duplicate the success of Belshaw.

"And, yes, it was accomplished," he added. "The first year, the school went up 14 points in our API and 44 points the next year."


Advertisement

He is confident the scores will continue to rise.

That's about as far as the humble and private administrator will say when pressed about his successes. He prefers putting others center stage and letting them take the bow.

Retired teacher Sally Lucia worked with Bolio at Belshaw for 12 years.

"He was a strong principal," she said. "He was very involved, at all levels, with school life. He was outside to greet students in the morning, on the playground at recesses, in the cafeteria at lunches. He counseled students, visited classrooms. He truly cared, and they knew it."

One of Lucia's favorite memories was a classroom visit from Bolio, who "before I knew it (was), teaching right along with me. That was, is the thing about him -- he never stopped being a teacher and his desire to help children learn is a core trait that I admire greatly."

Bolio has other fans, including current Marsh teacher, Ashley Wilkens, who first worked with him at Belshaw.

"Bill is a wonderfully caring principal. He will do anything for students, and he makes sure the teachers know the students are our No. 1 priority," she said.

"I don't think we will ever truly know how much Bill has done for Marsh until he is gone," Wilkens said, noting that he spends much of his money on clothing, shoes and backpacks for students.

She recalls a day when she spotted a student crying hysterically in Bolio's office, and saw the boy's shoe had essentially fallen apart. "Bill bought that little boy brand new shoes that day," she said.

"That is the type of man Bill is. He never asks for anything in return, and never wants the recognition for doing something to change someone's life," Wilkens said. "I hope that one day I can affect people's lives the way that he has."

Bolio said the time was right to retire.

"I felt I had accomplished what I set out to do. Marsh now has one of the finest groups of educators I have had the privilege to work with ... the goal is still there and will continue," he said. "Now is the perfect time to hand over the reins."

His plans are simple: "Travel, listen to the birds, smell the roses and do some consulting."

He will miss the students the most.

"They inspire you, they make you laugh, he said. "And what job can you have where someone will come up to you, give you a hug, tell you that they love you?"

"And, when someone comes up to tell you are 'the best principal' they have ever had, and you ask 'how many principals have you had?' and (the answer is) one. I say, well, that is a pretty good batting average," Bolio said.

Contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net.