After 46 years of working in the Milford School District, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School Principal Jean Wiley has decided to retire and begin a new chapter in her life.

Since the 1990s, Jean Wylie has started her work day by greeting elementary school students and reading their expressions to predict any challenges the school day might bring.

But after 46 years of working in the Milford School District, Wiley has decided to retire and begin a new chapter in her life.

“Milford School District has been my home for these 46 years,” the principal at Benjamin Banneker Elementary School said, recalling the thousands of students she’s seen walk through the doors. “I know I’m going to miss the children.”

Banneker’s Assistant Principal Bobbi Kilgore said Wiley’s ability to sense what children are going through during her morning routine is uncanny.

“It’s quite a knack she has. It’s a practice, but she knows these kids so well,” Kilgore said. “She is as much a detective as anything else. She looks at all the little clues and puts them together. And she’s just become so much of a family figure. It’s like your own children – she knows when they’re trying to get away with something, when they need a hug, if they’re going to have a great day or bad day. It’s something I aspire to be able to do one day.”

But for Wiley, paying close attention to the children she sees on a daily basis is just second nature.

Four years ago, for instance, she sat in her office with a student and his mother near the end of the school year. The fifth-grade boy looked at Wiley and his mother and said that he tries his best, but never wins any medals.

His mother looked back at the little boy and said, “He’s my star.”

From then on, Wiley decided, every student would receive a medal as they left fifth grade at Banneker.

“He was so elated when I put that medal around his neck,” she said this week. “When I see the success in children, especially those whose faces light up because they didn’t think they could do anything, [that’s my reward.]”

From new school buildings to multiple district superintendents, Wiley said she’s seen an immense amount of change in the district, and expects that new growth will bring new challenges and opportunities.

“When you’re a principal, you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none,” she said. “I’m going to miss it, but I’m looking forward to someone taking over and doing what needs to be done. I wish them luck and hope they enjoy it as much as I did.”

The changes Wiley has experienced started with her own education, which began when she was five at a segregated, one-room school in Ellendale. Her experience with her teacher, Elsie Young Cephas, who found a way to juggle lessons for six grade levels, inspired her to return to the classroom as an adult.

“She encouraged me,” Wiley said. “I think I really had a good support team around me all my life.”

And when changes at school presented challenges in her own work, Wiley said she’d take the day home with her and reflect on how she could do a better job the next time around. She said it hasn’t always been easy, but challenges, like good experiences, are just a way of life.

“Every day is a learning day,” she said. “Each one of us has a journey and each one of us has a path to take, but it’s also our choices and attitude and what we make of it. I had a lot of dreams of what I could do, but I managed to always stay here in Milford and in education. And for those who had faith in me, I appreciate that.”