ALAMEDA -- After 40 years as an educator, Ruby Bridges Elementary School Principal Jan Goodman -- who took the helm of the West End school when it opened in 2006 -- is retiring.

"Eight years is the longest I've ever spent at a school in my career," said Goodman, who turns 63 this month. "Ruby Bridges has sustained me; it's where my heart is."

In 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first African-American child to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, where she experienced racism and bigotry. She is now the chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which promotes "the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation of all differences."

Those values are close to Goodman's heart and she has tried to promote them throughout her career in education, working in high-poverty schools in the East Bay and trying to leverage available resources to bring change. At Ruby Bridges, 50 percent of students are at or below the poverty level.

"I believe the playing field has to be level so that all kids have the opportunity to be whatever they want to be," Goodman said. "I don't want race or socioeconomics to be predictors of success. The one consistent force in whatever I've done is my passion for equity, and Ruby Bridges embodies that."

She believes our society has a system of "institutionalized oppression."

"Schools are not here to replicate that system, but to stop it," said Goodman, adding that "there is still an enormous amount of work to be done."

Under her leadership, Ruby Bridges has outperformed schools with similar demographics on state tests since its second year. Goodman doesn't take all the credit.

"I'm not a savior," she said. "The Ruby Bridges staff is remarkable, the best staff on planet Earth -- they have a deep commitment to equity for students and families."

Cheryl Wilson, who has been vice principal at Ruby Bridges for the past year, will take over as principal after Goodman's retirement.

"Cheryl is such a gift; we're so lucky to have her," said Goodman, adding that the school will be in good hands under her leadership. "I've never worked in tandem with someone so remarkable."

One of Goodman's proudest accomplishments is initiating the Peace Path at Ruby Bridges. Fifty students in grades three through five are trained to work in pairs to resolve small conflicts among students.

"We have a lot of leadership roles for the students including the junior coaches who assist with games and promote good sportsmanship and cooperation," Goodman said. "We have a fabulous student council that was initiated by one of our teachers, Kristen Furuichi-Fong, who also came up with the idea for a Martin Luther King Jr. oratorical assembly."

Goodman is also proud of the annual three-day science camp for fifth-graders that is now in its sixth year, and the school's reading clinic -- both of which are supported by the Faith Network of the East Bay. Goodman believes that good leadership doesn't mean dictating from the top.

"Leadership fosters collaboration, vision, integrity and engagement of all stakeholders in the community," she said.

Wilson described Goodman as "a fighter for students and families, who never loses her positive spirit or sense of humor.

"She's a very strong advocate and negotiator and very good at finding resources to eliminate barriers to education," Wilson said. "Our students notice her extraordinary sense of humor. We have crazy hat day, silly socks day -- her spirit really inspires the students."

She noted that the Alameda Unified School District presented a special award to Goodman on Jan. 15 for her work with the Peace Path program. The plaque reads in part: "In recognition of your unwavering love and support of the Ruby Bridges Elementary School families and compassionate commitment and dedication to the children you serve."

Furuichi-Fong said she has two words to describe Goodman: "innovator" and "advocate."

"She's a tenacious advocate for every stakeholder at the school," Furuichi-Fong said.

Student Adel Benean, 10, said she'll miss her principal.

"She helps all of us and makes us laugh," Benean said. "In science camp, she was very cool and loving about nature and always put a smile on my face. She's the best principal ever, and I'm going to miss her."

Vaikia Thomas, 10, is also sad to say goodbye to Goodman.

"She's the best principal that we'll ever have -- she helped me with my African-American report and helped me to be able to go to science camp," Thomas said.

"Jan is kooky and fun, and that's what most kids appreciate about her," said teacher Beth Gentille.

Looking ahead, Goodman plans to spend more time with friends and family, including her 2-year-old granddaughter. She plans to write a memoir about working in high-poverty classes and the lessons she's learned. She's also taking improv classes at Berkeley Rep with plans to do some acting and even write a one-woman play.

"My dogs will be happy when I retire -- I'll be able to take them for more hikes," said Goodman, who also plans to keep in touch with Ruby Bridges and help chaperon the next science camp. Goodman said that Ruby Bridges Elementary School is like its guiding principles, STARS (Safety, Take responsibility, Act with courage, Respect and Soar to excellence).

"We're the shining star in the West End of Alameda and proud of the work we've done," Goodman said.

Although she is retiring from Ruby Bridges this month, Goodman's official retirement date from the district is Dec. 31. Until then, she will work on "special assignments," including behind-the-scenes help with the leadership transition at Ruby Bridges.