Principal Joan Benz on Wednesday announced her plan to retire at the end of the academic year after 21 years at the helm of Winston Churchill High School in Potomac.

In a brief message, Benz wrote that leading Churchill has been the “highlight of my career.”

“My Churchill students, I am committed to you and passionate about your success. Parents, I greatly appreciate the unending support you have given to Churchill and to me personally. Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog!” she wrote to families in the 2,100-student school.

Bruce Adelson, president of Churchill’s parent-teacher-student association, said Wednesday Benz’s retirement announcement caught him by surprise.

“Her 21 years at Churchill is significant, and her service has been quite remarkable for that span of time,” he said.

Adelson said he appreciates that under Benz’s leadership, the high-achieving school embraced the study circles program that encourages conversations about race and the factors that can lead to the achievement gap. The school has also participated in No Place for Hate, an Anti-Defamation League program that seeks to combat bullying and bias, he said.

Benz has worked for more than four decades in Montgomery County Public Schools as a teacher, teacher specialist, assistant principal and principal, school system spokesman Derek Turner said. Before arriving at Churchill, she’d spent time as principal of Poolesville High School and of the Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents, a special education school.

She’s also worked as a teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda and assistant principal at the now-closed Mark Twain School, Turner said.

Benz’s announcement means that at least four high school principals in MCPS will be vacating their posts by the end of the school year. Walt Whitman High School Principal Alan Goodwin revealed last month that he would be retiring when the academic year ends, and the principals of Gaithersburg and Quince Orchard high schools are also stepping aside. Turner said new principals should be announced between now and early summer.

Adelson said he hopes Churchill’s new principal will prioritize information-sharing with the school community.

“I think communication is essential when you’re … in a public school environment where you have 2,100 students in a very high-achieving high school and in a very diverse community,” he said.

He said he’s not concerned that the change in leadership will cause any drastic disruptions, expressing confidence in Churchill’s administrative team. Churchill’s administrators stepped up to fill the gap while Benz was out on medical leave earlier this year and kept a steady hand when the school was evacuated for an unfounded bomb threat on Feb. 21, he said.

“I think the administrative staff is good, and I think MCPS will be very involved in guiding the school through the next steps,” he said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at