Students, colleagues surprise 2 Elvin Hill retirees

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA — When Elvin Hill Elementary paraprofessional Jennifer Bulger and physical education teacher and coach Chad Baker walked outside the school on Wednesday, Aug. 26, they thought they were getting ready to hand out media. But the two were surprised to see a parade of students and colleagues sharing their appreciation and congratulations via a special retirement celebration.

Bulger, who spent the majority of her 31-year career at Elvin Hill, and Baker, who spent all of his 25-year career there, were visibly surprised and touched as students, coworkers and their families held up signs and handed out cards as each passed through the school’s car rider line beside the building.

“I just love kids,” said Bulger. “Even when I was younger, from the time I was allowed to babysit which was when I was 11 or 12 years old, I would always keep my older cousins’ kids.”

Bulger spent her first 12 years at Chelsea, back when the school was K-12. She worked in special ed and moved up with the same group of students until they graduated.

“I still to this day talk to them. I have a lot of kids from Elvin Hill too,” she said, noting that she has a heart for special needs children and one autistic child in particular.

“I put off retiring for two years because I literally could not leave this student. I love him so much,” Bulger said.

She was especially surprised when a former Elvin Hill student came all the way from Georgia just to congratulate her and show her how much she meant to them.

“It was truly amazing just to see them come from all that way. It was really nice,” she said, adding that she plans on volunteering at the school in the future.

Meanwhile, longtime P.E. teacher and coach Chad Baker said P.E. was always his favorite subject in school, and the influence his teachers had at the time made him want to have that same influence on kids because he thought it was “pretty cool.”

Baker not only taught at Elvin Hill but for about 15 years also coached basketball at a private school and, for his final six years, taught P.E. at Wilsonville Elementary for half-days.

Interestingly, Baker even taught current Elvin Hill Principal Courtney Madison, among others now working at the school.

“They’re really great people, and it was a good note to go out on, honestly, to feel like you’re kind of leaving the school in the same hands that were there,” Baker said.

He added he was thankful to Shelby County Schools for giving him the opportunity to teach, and said he was surprised by the celebration.

“It surprised me the people I had known through years past that were there,” Baker said. “Really, the most special thing to me that day were the students that I had years and years ago, and they took the time to come back, shake my hand and recognize me on the day I was retiring.”

Principal Courtney Madison said both retirees have a great rapport with kids, many of whom have not known Elvin Hill without them.

“We just wanted to honor them, although COVID of course made things a little more difficult. Both of them have been huge parts of the Elvin Hill family over the years,” she said. “(Bulger) works hard, she is very intentional about forming relationships with anybody she comes in contact with. She’s always a right-hand woman to anyone she works with, and it’s apparent that the parents trust her with their students, and in the long run the work she’s done has made a huge difference.”

Madison also remembers when she was one of Baker’s students.

“Our work relationship has come full circle now that I have come back to Elvin Hill in the last year or so,” she said.

Madison recognized Jennifer Long, the social committee chair, for her help in planning the celebration and said she is excited for their journeys ahead.

“They both have been a part of our family, and we will definitely miss them and wish them the best of luck,” she said.