Next month, when students file in to Anamosa’s Strawberry Hill Elementary to start the first day of the new school year, Principal Val Daily will not be there to welcome the students.
Daily accepted early retirement earlier this year, ending her 24 years in the district. On her penultimate day, she discussed her retirement and looked back on her time in education. The decision to retire was a tough one, but one she had been thinking about.
“When you start nearing the end of your career, you start to wonder, ‘When is it going to be time?’” she said.
What helped her come to her final decision was the early retirement being on the table and the leadership she felt Superintendent Larry Hunt and Vice Principal Erik Johnson could provide.
While she’s at peace with her decision, Aug. 23 is a day she expects to hit her hard.
“I think the hardest part is going to be the first day of school next year,” she said. “I love the first day of school. The pictures and everybody is just so excited. That’s the one thing about education: you get to start fresh every year.”
Daily started her teaching career at Anamosa’s West Middle School, teaching special education. The old middle school was torn down in 2014. She then left the district to teach in the Marion and Linn-Mar districts.
Daily said what her time outside of the Anamosa district taught her was that every district did things a little differently and that there were multiple ways to teach children. While teaching in the building that is now the Grace Baptist Church in Marion, she taught in an open-concept school.
“We had no walls,” she said. “When you were teaching, you could see all these other teachers.”
The school was for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The library was in the center of the building, and they didn’t have desks, just tables for students to sit at, with their own personal cubbies to store supplies in.
It would not be her last unconventional teaching arrangement. While the elementary was undergoing renovations, Daily taught students from a trailer, having to trek all the way back into the main building for lunch, special subjects and even a tornado warning.
“We snaked the kids through construction, it didn’t matter what the weather was,” she said. “During those years, we got really close to the construction workers. We put on a little Christmas program for them.”
The other lesson she learned was that resources were not the same from district to district. Despite the differences in how districts might go about things, she said the goals were still the same and “good teaching is good teaching.”
“I was teaching at Linn-Mar and Ann, our oldest, she was already going to school here, and I remember coming home one night and I was in tears. I told Curt, my husband, I know more about what’s going on in the Linn-Mar district than I do right here,” she said. “He said, ‘Then, well do something about it.’”
From there, Daily returned to Anamosa, where she would spend the rest of her educational career.
Daily served as the school administration manager in 2009-2010 and went back into the classroom until becoming the elementary principal in 2012. Despite getting her first administrative experience in 2009 at the school, she said it was her involvement in the downtown’s streetscape project, which ended in 2003, that encouraged her to go back and get her master’s degree.
Having the background in the classroom gave her an understanding of what teachers went through on a daily basis.
“It is rocket science. It is so hard,” she said. “Having that experience and knowing what the classroom is like…I think that does make a difference.”
The biggest change Daily’s noticed over the years has been the number of hats teachers wear.
“It’s not just about teaching kids anymore. Our teachers get very involved with families,” she said. “That’s different than it was 30 years ago.”
That relationship that teachers build with their students and their family “has more of an impact than it ever has,” according to Daily.
As far as plans for the future, Daily is keeping things simple. She said she’s going to get out of town for the first day of school and plans to “spend a whole bunch of time with my family” in her time off.