Jim Larkin, St. John Greek Orthodox Day School headmaster, retires after 31 years

PARKLAND ESTATES — Headmaster Jim Larkins first lesson of the day began in the St. John Greek Orthodox Day School parking lot.

I opened every car door and sent them on their way with a smile, Larkin said. I know every student by name, personality and interest.

At the end of the day, he tucked them back into their cars and sent them home with words of encouragement.

But his routine of 31 years has ended. Larkin is stepping down Tuesday to see what waits behind other doors.

I need change, he said, and the school needs fresh ideas.

Fifth-grade teacher Cindy Strickland becomes interim principal for the 194 students in pre-school to eighth grade at 2418 W Swann Ave.

Larkin said he has applied for some interim headship positions but ultimately wants to run a school for boys, utilizing his training in nature-based learning from the Gurian Institute in Colorado Springs.

Boys and girls process information differently, he said. Fascinating new information is coming out on brain-based teaching. I think the education system has dropped the ball for boys for many years.

Larkin earned a bachelors degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida and a masters in administration and supervision from Nova Southeastern.

He was a single, 26-year-old, Irish Catholic public school teacher when he became the schools first headmaster in 1978. Hed had the job nearly seven years when he invited third-grade teacher Mary Katsekis over for dinner.

I was babysitting for some boys and asked her to come over, Larkin said. While the kids were watching television I asked her to marry me. That was it, on our first date.

A cake awaited them at school the next morning, recalled Larkin, now 58, Greek Orthodox and father of two. Sons Nicholas, 21, and Christopher, 22, both St. John alumni, attend Florida State University.

The couple wed at the adjacent St. John Greek Orthodox Church in 1985 and held the reception in the schools gymnasium.

Kids are his ministry, said Laura Colado, school secretary and former St. John parent. Those are very big shoes to replace.

Her daughter, Theresa Colado, salutatorian of the Class of 2004, described Larkin in an e-mail.

He handles every situation with such class and with such heart, she wrote, recalling when she was to receive a prestigious award in seventh grade.

The faculty, her sister and grandparents all knew about it, she wrote, but Larkin demanded secrecy so it could be a wonderful surprise for me and my mom. It was a moment I could never forget.

He is the kind of headmaster that would do that for any one of his students, but still manages to make every student feel like he or she is special. He treats the students like we are one of his own. I have so much respect for him …

The school community will miss Larkins kitchen skills as much as his educational insights.

I make a complete turkey and mashed potatoes dinner for 400 every Grandparents Day, Larkin said. Four times a year I cook chicken and yellow rice or hot dogs and hamburgers for 200 people at the eighth grade senior trip fundraisers.

For years, hes run the buffet line at the churchs annual Greek Festival. He cooks the family dinner every night at their Bayshore Beautiful home.

Change is healthy, Larkin said, but admits its been an emotional roller coaster since giving his notice six weeks ago.

Im opening new doors, he said. Its a leap of faith.