Phil Kent, Aquebogue Elementary School principal. Courtesy photo: Riverhead Central School District

The last day of school is always a day of mixed emotions for elementary school students and their teachers. This year, emotions will be especially conflicting for Aquebogue Elementary School principal Phil Kent. It’s the first time in decades he won’t be planning to return to school the following September — he is retiring after 31 years working with young schoolchildren.

Kent began his teaching career in the Southampton Union Free School District where he taught fifth and sixth-graders for a few years.

He moved to the Riverhead school system 25 years ago and never left.

First he taught second and third grade in Phillips Avenue Elementary School, which brought his classroom career to a total of 11 years. Then he moved into administration where he has spent the last 20 years.

“I loved the job so much — there’s nothing else I’d rather have done,” he said, his voice affirming his enjoyment as he looked back on the past. “I loved the kids, the parents and the camaraderie of the staff.”

Kent chuckled as he reminisced that he’s at the point now where he can look at a student and recognize features that he saw in the child’s parent when the parent was a student in his class so many years ago.

He still plans on keeping a foot in the educational door, though. With two kids in college, he’s not at liberty to completely retire. But the option to say how much he’d like to work appeals to him. He said he’d like to keep working at least part-time in the public sector.

Kent said he had too many great stories from his years of teaching to pick just one as a favorite but he was certain about what brought him the greatest pleasure.

“I have to say the part of my job that was always the best was seeing the look on a child’s face when the lightbulb above their head goes off — the ‘AHA!’ moment — when they get the concept you’re teaching.”

As Kent looked back on his years in education he said that “the kids are always the best thing” about working in any capacity in a school building.

“When administrative pressures get to me, or other administrators, I always say, ‘[We] need to stop and smell the roses. Get out of the office and get to the kids. There’s just so much fun and joy when you’re around the kids.’”

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April is a writer, reporter and copy editor for the LOCAL news websites. She is a retired educator and proud grandma. April lives in Calverton. Email April