“Because we are so small, this is truly like family,” Richards said of the small school in north Canton serving 106 children and growing. “The teachers and staff are so caring, and the little 3- and 4-year-olds are just awesome. I will miss the students and staff. I will miss my family at Ralph Bunche.”
Richards retired on Nov. 22 from the Cherokee County School District after working exclusively at Ralph Bunche, which houses Head Start, Pre-K and special needs preschool programs for the Cherokee County School District.
While she initially worked in several different capacities for the Head Start program, a federal educational pre-kindergarten program for disadvantaged 4-year-olds, Richards has spent most of her career as bookkeeper at the center.
Over the years, Richards has seen programs expand at Ralph Bunche to include preschool for children as young as 3 who have been identified as needing special services, as well as the addition of Georgia Lottery-funded Pre-K, open to all 4-year-olds.
CCSD expanded preschool services to campuses at Little River ES and Oak Grove ES several years ago, to serve the Woodstock area.
“With Head Start, Pre-K and Preschool Special Ed, it is so wonderful to be able to serve so many kids now,” she said. “I love to hear from parents who are amazed, and so appreciative, of what the services and therapies we have here can do for their child — parents who have seen their child grow so much in their abilities that they are able to start kindergarten in a regular education classroom, something they hadn’t thought possible.”
Richards has seen many changes in her three decades in education — technology, of course, being most noticeable.
“When I started, it was all handwritten journal entries in the books and manual typewriters,” she said with a laugh. Other changes including requiring certification for Head Start teachers, just like all other teachers in the profession.
Donna Adams serves as administrator over the programs at all three locations and will miss the support and professionalism that Richards brought to her job.
“Debbie has been a vital part of the preschool team, not only as our bookkeeper, but as a support to assist administrators, teachers and staff, parents, students, and community partners,” Adams said. “Over the last 30 years, Debbie has gone far beyond her assigned responsibilities and has been a wonderful ‘face’ of the Cherokee County Preschool Program. She will be greatly missed; however, her influence will not be forgotten.”
Richards’ husband, Dennis, retired recently, and the two plan to spend time traveling and fishing. They will celebrate 40 years of marriage in February.
Richards also said she plans to enjoy quilting and leading Bible study classes, as well as spending time with their five grandchildren—among whom she counts two “adopted” grandchildren from Ralph Bunche, former students whose mother had passed away while on staff at the school.
Richards and her family embraced the children after their mother’s passing and continue to provide an extra source of family support for them – a literal illustration of her Ralph Bunche family.