School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III is retiring at the end of this month after 47½ years with the Loudoun County public schools. He has been superintendent since 1991.

Hatrick graduated from Loudoun County High School in 1963 and returned to his alma mater as an English teacher in January 1967. He later served as the school’s principal and had various administrative positions before his appointment as superintendent.

Hatrick, 68, recently met with The Washington Post to talk about his career and his views on public education. In this first of a two-part Q&A, Hatrick discusses his career and plans for the future. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

What did you envision for your career when you first started as a teacher at Loudoun County High School?

That I would be there one semester and then go to graduate school. I fell in love with what I was doing and decided to stay. And then I met the person who would eventually be my wife, and so life just took a change.

I had known for a long time that I eventually wanted to be a teacher. I went to the University of Richmond as a pre-med student. But one of my goals, if I became a medical doctor, was to teach medicine. The advice I got was, if you want to be a really good teacher of doctors, you ought to be a doctor first. I found that I really did love teaching and loved being around high school kids, and kids in general. And then, 47½ years later, here I am.

How has the culture of Loudoun County changed during your career?

When I started teaching, there were 8,000 kids in the school system. The population was predominantly Leesburg and west. The east was just starting to develop, Sterling Park being the first landing on the moon, so to speak. But the Sterling Park kids were all coming to Loudoun County High School. In the eastern part of the county, all the land was in big dairy farms. In the western part, you had smaller farms, dairies as well, but you [also] had the towns. In the east, until Dulles Airport arrived, it was just big dairy farms.

When I was a kid, I rode a bus that started picking up high school kids way down Gum Spring Road, at the Prince William [County line], came all the way up Gum Spring, through Arcola, then came to Ashburn, picked kids up in Ashburn — we still didn’t have a full bus, going to Loudoun County High School in Leesburg. And then we’d ride to Leesburg, and we’d do a little route around Leesburg to try [to] fill the bus before we got to Loudoun County High School.

After all your years in the school system, what accomplishment are you proudest of?

There’s so many things that I am so happy about. I am so over the top that we have such a strong string music program, because it took us so long to get it. And in the 10 years that it’s been there, it’s just magnificent.

But I think the thing that I’m the most happy about is something that Horace Mann said. He believed public education was the greatest creation of man, because it brings together people from all walks of life and gives opportunity to people who would not have that opportunity were it not for public education. So I think what I’m the most proud of is that we have been able to develop an inclusive environment that really sees the needs of all children and doesn’t favor one over another.

That’s a reflection of our community, because if you don’t have strong community support for the programs that kids need, then you don’t get those programs.

Do you have any immediate plans for your retirement?

We’re going to have an opportunity to spend more time with our grandkids, who live in Maine and New Mexico. We also want to do some traveling here in this country. I’m also going to do some consulting with an energy company. We’re not ready for me to be fully retired.

You ran for the Board of Supervisors once, didn’t you?

I did, in 1978. I look back on it and I think, “God does look out for people who try to do things they shouldn’t do.” It would have changed the whole course of my life. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

Being in a different place in your life now, do you ever see yourself running for public office?

I don’t right now. I’ve had a number of people suggest I should. But right now, I need a break. I just need some time to regroup with my family. It suddenly dawned on me that the first seniors I taught in the Class of ’67 are collecting Social Security this year. They are 66 years old. So it is time to retire. And the great part of that is, I know some of those kids, and they have been wonderful contributors to our community. They have made a difference.

Jim Barnes is a freelance writer.