Walt Whitman Principal Alan Goodwin attends a pep rally at the school in 2015. Credit: Liz Lynch
Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin announced Monday that he is retiring at the end of the school year after 14 years at the helm of one of Montgomery County’s highest-performing and highest-profile public schools.
Goodwin said in an interview that he had been thinking about whether to retire since September, but made his decision on March 4, the day after the anniversary of his 43rd year working for Montgomery County Public Schools. His wife, Eleanor, retired last year after 20 years teaching English at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac. Alan Goodwin’s retirement was first reported by The Black & White, Whitman’s student newspaper.
“I felt as though I put in a lot of time and it would be good to refocus on the future in different ways,” said the 65-year-old Goodwin, the father of two grown sons who graduated from Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). His oldest son, Michael, is expecting a son to be born in July and his other son, Christopher, will be married this year in San Francisco. “I still have a lot of energy. I still have a lot to give.”
Goodwin has spent a total of 19 years at Whitman, serving first as an assistant principal before leaving to run Thomas S. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda for one year. He returned to take over at Whitman in 2004 when former principal Jerome Marco retired due to illness after leading the school for 29 years.
“It is truly bittersweet as I reflect on the opportunity I have had to serve as your principal,” Goodwin wrote in a letter to the Whitman community. Describing the community as “wonderful and unique,” Goodwin, the third principal to lead Whitman since it opened in 1962, said he has “thoroughly enjoyed working with the students, staff and families over the last 19 years.”
Over those years, Goodwin has earned the respect of staff, students and parents as the head of a school of high-achieving students in a community defined by wealth and heavy parental involvement. Parents, students and colleagues often spoke of Goodwin’s willingness to empower others and his innate sense of fairness—upon hearing news of his retirement Monday, one parent described it as an “end of an era.” During his tenure, he spoke out strongly against underage drinking and also headed a high school principals professional learning group.
Renay Johnson, principal of Silver Spring’s Montgomery Blair High School, has known Goodwin for years as each rose from the classroom into administration. When she took over the county’s largest high school several years ago, Goodwin gave her his home and cellphone numbers and told her to call if she needed help. “When you’re really challenged with some decisions, you want to talk to Alan,” she told Bethesda Magazine in 2016.
In recent years, Goodwin has guided the Whitman community through the loss of a handful of students due to suicide, a car crash and an accidental death related to underage drinking. Goodwin said there was “not any one thing that compelled” him to retire, but the time seemed right, though he didn’t want to add to the community’s sense of loss. “I didn’t want to be responsible for students feeling more loss at my departure,” but realized there would never be a good time to leave, he said.
He said he will miss the challenge of improving school operations, working through projects to improve the facilities and his passion—helping students solve problems. “I’m thrilled when I’m helping students who are going through a difficult time,” he said. He will leave as some major changes are planned to occur this summer—the school is expecting the installation of an artificial turf field and solar panels on the building.
In his letter, Goodwin thanked his staff and parents for contributing to his rewarding career and said students “have been the motivation behind my work as principal.”
“I have had so much fun seeing your work inside and outside of classrooms,” he wrote. “When my days were challenging, all I needed to do was talk with one of you to remind me of the best and most important part of the job.”