by SUSAN FLEWELLING
Troy College & Career High School
Walking across the stage one more time, Deb MacDonald Linford “graduated” with the class of 2019 Wednesday, but her commencement is a bit different than her students as they begin college and careers and she moves into retirement.
After 24 years as principal at Troy College & Career High School in the Troy School District and 35 years in education, Linford, founding principal of the nontraditional school (formerly Niles Community High School), officially retires at the end of the month.
“In these 35 years, I have been on a wonderful journey. I never saw it as a job. It is a joy,” Linford said. “It isn’t just the kids that I have connected with. I have worked with wonderful people in education. This is family, and it is going to be tough leaving. Our school has always had that small, personal, family essence.”
Linford said she estimates she keeps in contact with some 500 graduates, mostly through Facebook, and she has seen much growth in the program that she was hired to start in 1994.
“We increased our student population during a time when other schools didn’t. Open enrollment rapidly grew, and we added new teachers. We have a strong reputation, and many students have sought a Troy diploma. We were also one of the first alternative education programs to encourage dual enrollment which began around 2006 with Baker College and has expanded to our students attending Oakland Community College,” she said.
Staff at TCCHS honored Linford at Senior Recognition night recently by establishing a Legacy Scholarship in her name. The first recipient was senior Diamond Marchant.
Having worked with Linford for nearly 20 years, Jeff Rainwater, an English teacher, said he is appreciative of all he has learned from her.
“I admire Deb’s one-on-one interaction with the kids. Whenever I have been in her office for a student academic, disciplinary, or attendance issue, I have always learned something from her about working with students,” Rainwater said.
Before being hired by the Troy School District to create an alternative education program, Linford said she had been studying to become an elementary school teacher, but working with teenagers while she was an adult enrichment education supervisor in Brandon changed her course.
“I began to develop nontraditional methods to help at- risk students graduate on time and pioneered the ‘Choices’ alternative education program in Brandon in 1992,” she said.
Among the numerous memorable moments Linford said she has appreciated through the years, one of the most profound occurred on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.
“I saw one of our graduates come in at the end of the long hallway of our building. He very quietly hung a flag and walked just as quietly back out of the building. I wondered how long it would remain. One year later, he came back in, and we held a ceremony. That flag is still in our hallway,” she said.
That student, Bobby Ruple, was the alumnus keynote speaker for this year’s graduation ceremonies.
“Bobby now works for an advertising agency and owns his own company. He is a wonderful humanitarian who engages in community service and gives back,” she said.
Among other notable alumni that Linford will never forget is Pam Heuer from the class of 2001. “Pam graduated from U of M Flint in education and worked in southern Indiana in the inner-city schools. Forbes magazine named Pam one of the seven most influential educators in the U.S in 2010,” Linford said.
Although she is looking forward to traveling with her husband in her retirement, Linford said she still sees herself working with students in some capacity in education. She also said she would like to write a book.
“Down the road, I would like to write about the experiences, interactions, and joys of working with often misunderstood kids and interactions with staff,” she said.