Jenny Putnam has spent 38 years in education living out what she believes is her calling. And her way of following that calling has undoubtedly made an impact on the thousands of students and families she’s encountered during her long career.
Those 38 years will end in June when her retirement from Abilene ISD is official and she gives way to Julie Wilson, the district’s new Director of Early Childhood. The end of the years working in the district and, for the last 19 years, leading the Early Childhood Program, won’t be easy for Putnam. She is emotional about her job – and what she’s leaving behind.
“I believe this has been a sweet calling from the Lord for me,” she said recently. “This job can be hard because these kids are 3-and-4 years old, and they’re coming to us from hard places. But this is a mission field, and we get to do it every day. We’re given the opportunity – and it’s really a privilege – to influence families. We have the honor, for a time, of influencing generations, and what that impact will be we might never know.”
The opportunity to positively impact generations will be Putnam’s lasting legacy, according to Long ELC Assistant Director Nicole Churchill.
“Ms. Jenny exudes joy everywhere she goes,” Churchill said. “If you’re having a rough day, she is there to give you some form of encouragement: a hug, pep talk, or another hug. One statement she always leaves our staff with is that ‘we will never know the generations we will impact.’ That’s what makes her time at Long and in the AISD so special: 38 years’ worth of generational impact.”
Putnam has lived her life as a servant to others, something she learned, she says, from her parents: her late father, Alton “Sandy” Davis, and her mother, former AISD Board of Trustees member, Betty Davis.
“My parents married very young, and they decided they would live differently than what they saw around them,” Putnam said. “They spent a lot of time teaching me and my siblings how to live and that you get to choose your life and how you live that life. They taught us that nobody is better than you and that you walk humbly before the Lord. We were also taught to stick up for people and try and make the world a better place.”
In her tenure at Long, she and her staff have tried to make their piece of the world a better place.
“The first thing I think about when I think of Jenny is her deep love of Jesus and how she desires to be His hands and feet,” Wilson said. “She has a deep desire to build relationships with students, families, and staff. That’s evident in her daily interactions on campus and the community.”
Putnam was also shaped at an early age by a foster child who lived with her family for about five years. Charlie was a young boy when he was accepted into the Davis home, and he lived with them until his Muscular Dystrophy condition got to the point where he needed full-time nursing care. Charlie lived until he was 21 years old before passing away, but those years were as impactful on Putnam as the lessons her parents taught.
“Charlie taught me a sensitivity to people,” an emotional Putnam recalled. “We don’t know someone’s story because we aren’t walking in their shoes. Don’t look away from them when you see someone who looks different than you. Look them in the eye because there’s a soul and a life inside that body and our job is to try and help make that life better. That’s one of the things I’ve loved about working in early childhood. Like every campus in the district, we love families, and we try to show that every day. We’ve got families that come to us who need help, and our community is very generous to give them that help.
“I hope this is known as a loving campus; I believe that it is,” she said. “And hopefully that changes interactions at home, and that changes interactions in the community, and then our community becomes a different place. We’re teaching reading and writing here, but we’re also potty training and helping them learn how to tie their shoes. But when you understand the significance of what we’re doing beyond the child sitting on the carpet on the floor, you understand that this is a soul and there’s an urgency in that.”
That loving campus is built on the camaraderie that Putnam said she will miss the most when she leaves this summer.
“When people come and stay a few years you understand when you come to work every day it’s going to be challenging,” she said. “But when you decide to stay and make a difference, you know those challenges are just going to be part of it. The camaraderie is evident when you’re walking across with one another or you’re in an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) meeting with a parent and they’re hearing things for the first time that they’ve kept tucked inside. And now their heart is laid out bare and you’re speaking truth into them. And you slow things way down to give that parent a chance to process what they’re hearing. That’s how you build camaraderie because those are holy moments. And I’ll miss the holy moments.”
Putnam’s final year at Long hasn’t been an easy one from a personal standpoint. Her husband, Joe, passed away last October just two days shy of their 20th anniversary, and that loss played a role in Putnam’s decision to retire. With a daughter at Abilene High School who will be a senior next year, Putnam wants to be around more to do “mom things” for her.
“One of the things I regret as a momma is how much I missed over the years,” she said. “Educators tend to be workhorses; they aren’t show ponies. They’re built strong and sturdy and they’ll come to work sick if they don’t think there’s a sub. My kids went to school here (at Long) when they were younger, and I can count on one hand and have fingers left over the number of times I ate lunch with them. I wanted so much for people to not think I was taking advantage of the time. They went on field trips and I didn’t go. Mommas need to be mommas. And daddies need to be daddies. So, I’m going to go be a momma.”
And what will it be like to not have to start another year at Long when August rolls around?
“I’m leaving with a mixture of sorrow and joy,” she said. “I will miss being here, and I’m sad about it. At the same time, Julie Wilson is ready and she’s going to do a great job. Nicole is one of the smartest women I’ve ever met, and she has the drive and grit to get things done. I’m incredibly joyful about what’s going to happen next. Julie is capable. Nicole is capable. This entire staff is capable. They are sturdy and strong, and they are going to do things I never thought about doing because they think differently than me. This place is going to explode with new ideas and programs and things they probably haven’t even thought of yet.”
But there will always be a part of Jenny Putnam inside the halls of Long Early Childhood.
“Long will forever be impacted by Ms. Jenny’s legacy,” Wilson said, using one of Putnam’s favorite phrases when addressing others. “She has created a true school family. She has cried with us and celebrated with us through all of life’s experiences. There has never been a time over the last nine years we’ve been together when Ms. Jenny wasn’t willing to take on any task. She has led by example in every situation, no matter what it might have been.
“I hope that our campus will continue to thrive as we build relationships and serve others as she did here for 19 years,” Wilson said. “Her legacy will always drive our efforts.”