Hathaway ‘ties one on’ for Mr. E.

Hathaway School third graders join Principal Robert Ettinger Thursday in a group display of  gaudy ties. Hathaway School third graders join Principal Robert Ettinger Thursday in a group display of gaudy ties.

Hathaway School third graders join Principal Robert Ettinger Thursday in a group display of gaudy ties.

Hathaway School students and staff ‘tied one on’ for Principal Robert Ettinger Thursday afternoon as he heads into retirement.

All gathered in the cafeteria/auditorium late in the school day. There Mr. Ettinger was confronted by a sea of gaudy ties – student recognition of their principal’s penchant for sporting a creative tie for most any occasion.

Kindergarteners sang a special song for Mr. Ettinger, then older students took turns  presenting a David Letterman-style Top Ten Things to do in Retirement list.

“It was really very touching — I had tears in my eyes,” Mr. Ettinger said later.

Hathaway students gather around their principal one last time.

As they departed, all 360-plus students handed him their ties, each of which had a note written on the back.

“Now I have this huge pile of tiles, a wonderful, colorful way to remember this place,” he said.

Several of the students had written retirement suggestions. One, having noticed that he often has a coffee cup in hand, said he should become president of Dunkin’ Donuts. Another, remembering all the ‘pizza with Mr. E’ moments, thought he should be a pizza delivery man.

“Good ideas all,” he said.

In fact, after taking a break, he thinks he might stick around education. “I would really like to do some consulting, mentoring work with teachers maybe … As a principal you do some of that of course but you never have the time to devote to it that you want.”

And he intends to find more time for tennis.

He entered this year fresh off rotator cuff surgery for an injury suffered playing tennis — “The good news was that it was a winning shot.” He plays in leagues and says “they are holding my spot for me.”

When he told the School Committee of his decision to retire, Mr. Ettinger said said he would hope most of all to be remembered as an “ambassador for kids.”

Mr. Ettinger was a fifth and sixth grade teacher and then an assistant principal in Randolph, Mass., before becoming a principal on Holbrook, Mass., for nine years.

He took the job of principal at Elmhurst School in Portsmouth eight years ago and moved to Hathaway after the school department decided to close Elmhurst.

That was a difficult time, he said, for many families and staff members who had deep affection for the school overlooking the Sakonnet River. “But we made a positive outcome of it here at Hathaway.”

“I have loved working in Portsmouth. I knew coming in that it would be a great place and I was right … the parents have been very inviting but also very demanding and I like that. It’s been a great run.

Mr. Ettinger and his wife Kathleen (a retired teacher who now works as secretary for a teachers union) also look forward to being able to spend more time with grandchildren Cameron (3 1/2) and Cassidy (4 1/2) — “They are a real hoot.”

Last week, the School Committee thanked him for his years of  service. It then named Suzanne H. Madden to the position of Hathaway School principal, effective January 2, 2013. She is the principal of Hayden-McFadden School in New Bedford.

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