David Patton won't be alone when he retires from Thomas Jefferson Middle School in June — because a longtime, four-legged co-worker will come home with him.
"We are a team," Patton, 56, said of Scout, the certified therapy dog, a female golden retriever who will turn 9 years old about the time he retires. Scout was curled up on a cushion on the floor of Patton's office as he reminisced about his career at Thomas Jefferson — a career through the whole history of the building.
Patton started work with Jefferson City Public Schools in 1991 as a high school science teacher, but he's been an assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson ever since the school opened in 1993, 25 years ago.
"Education has a tendency to swing in a pendulum," and he's in a good swing, he said, adding it was a series of events that told him it was the right time to retire.
One event that signaled his cue to exit was voters' approval last spring to build a second high school in the district — a new chapter in Thomas Jefferson's history, as its students will feed Capital City High School instead of going to Jefferson City High School as they have for the building's history so far, he said.
A second high school is something he's been looking forward to for a long time, and it's only one of the changes, challenges and accomplishments he's witnessed over the past quarter century.
The single, most incredible change he's seen is technology, he said, holding up his cellphone.
Learning is increasingly about engaging students instead of just giving them information.
"You can have knowledge without wisdom," he said of a lot of the information available on the internet and the need to teach students how to interpret it.
Building a relationship with students is important, he said. He's proud of the team structure that's part of the district's middle schools, in which students are divided into collaborative teams within their grade levels.
Relationships also are the greatest reward of his career. He said former students come up to him and introduce him to their children, and there's rarely a time he can shop on a Saturday morning at Walmart without someone recognizing him.
The greatest challenge he's faced has been his frustration with not being able to help students enough — students' mental health and poverty-related needs being marginally addressed because those needs have been bigger than the local resources available to help.
"It's what this girl gave to me eight years ago," he said of Scout making him less cynical — one of his strongest memories from his career.
Scout has to retire, too, because she's trained to work almost exclusively with him; but she can still do substitute work at TJMS until a new therapy dog comes along.
Scout is one of four animals — two dogs and two cats — that are a part of Patton's family at home with his wife, veterinarian Linda Patton. David and Linda moved to Jefferson City from Columbia in 1991; and Sioux City, Iowa, is his hometown.
He earned his undergraduate degree from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville and received his doctorate from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
He'll have plenty to do in his retirement: some work at Westside Veterinary Clinic, some property management, work on a safety team at First Assembly JC, and he'd love to get back into teaching at a university or small school.
"I won't be sitting on a rocking chair," he said.