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Brent Belveal had every intention of retiring this year, to spend more time with his three grandchildren and take his upgraded fishing boat to as many lakes as possible.

The South Albany High School principal will do both — and, technically, he is retiring at the end of this month, or at least from Greater Albany Public Schools. But instead of leaving the workforce entirely, he'll start a new job July 2 as a program manager for AVID for Oregon and southwest Washington.

AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a private, nonprofit college and life skills preparation program.

South Albany has used the program for four years. Belveal gives it some of the credit from helping to change the school's culture from a "finish line" mentality to one focused on academic achievement as a necessary step toward the future, whatever that future may contain.

When he became principal in 2010, Belveal said, he felt most of his students saw graduation as the endpoint. Now, he said, they see it as just a stop on the timeline.

"Eight years ago, that was not a conversation I had very often with parents or kids," he said.

Belveal has been in education for 37 years total, all but two of those with Greater Albany Public Schools.

He grew up in Sweet Home and graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1976. Teachers and coaches had been wonderful mentors there, he said: One even helped him buy a used travel trailer, which made it possible for him to afford college because he didn't have to pay for housing. 

With his mentors in mind, Belveal enrolled at what was then Western Oregon State College (now Western Oregon University) to pursue a degree in education. He did his student teaching at South Albany.

Belveal changed his major to business toward the end and transferred to Oregon State University to finish a business degree, but then reversed course again after reconnecting with a former girlfriend — Candy Belveal, now his wife of 39 years — who was also studying education.

His first job was teaching at a business college in Portland that has since folded. But right afterward, an opening came up to teach business at South Albany High School.

Belveal got the job and never left GAPS again. In his next 23 years at South, he taught personal finance, accounting, business law, marketing and entrepreneurship, along with starting the first computer applications course offered in Albany. He also coached football, wresting and baseball.

A desire to try his hand at improving the process of administration made him seek his administrative license from Portland State University. He then joined West Albany High School as an assistant principal for three years. He spent a fourth year there as assistant principal and athletic director, then came back to South as its principal.

Belveal said it's a cliche to say it was simply "the right time" to retire, but it's  how he feels. Superintendent Maria Delapoer, who hired him for the principal's job, charged him with creating a school that's safe, welcoming and open to all, and he said he feels he's done so.

"I think it's time for somebody with a little bit different vision than my own to take this school to the next level," he said.

That doesn't mean he won't miss it, especially the students.

"What really kept me involved was the kids; the ability to impact a person's life through words and actions. The inner satisfaction from seeing a kid understand and seeing it applied — I continue to talk about applying the knowledge. 'How do we get kids to put their hands on this?'"

About 10 percent of the job he won't miss, such as the constant struggle for resources, and the emotional toll that comes from scrambling to help ever-increasing numbers of students gain access to the very basic building blocks of society: food, shelter and clothing.

Belveal said he's proud to have helped South Albany mark a variety of milestones, such as building a weight room with donations and volunteer labor, and finally establishing the school's first football stadium in 1998.

Among his favorite memories are the various home playoff games South teams won, especially seeing "the reactions from our student body ... the exhilaration, pride, hope, I saw."

He'll also never forget watching the graduation ceremonies for his own daughters, Jessica (class of 2004) and Samantha (class of 2006).

Some of the memories are a little harder. Belveal said he won't forget the 3 a.m. phone call from the Albany Police Department in 2015 that was his first indication an arsonist had destroyed the building that used to house the school cafeteria.

And all this school year, Belveal worked with students, staff, parents, alumni and other residents on the question of whether to lay aside the "Rebel" team name the school has borne since its construction in 1971.

Though connected in team name and imagery to the Civil War, the school had never seen itself to be a potential symbol for racism, and the decision to change wasn't easy. South Albany will be the RedHawks when school starts again this fall.

"It felt like the right thing to do," Belveal said. "One thing I felt I was in the position to do was to to handle that. That would have been hard for a new person." 

It will be hard not to be in his office at South Albany when school starts again this fall, but Belveal's wife helped make the transition easier by arranging for the two of them to visit a number of college football games. North Dakota State, Oklahoma at Iowa State, Nebraska at Michigan, and Stanford at Notre Dame are on the list.

Assistant Principal Nate Munoz will hold the interim position next year while Greater Albany looks for a successor. Belveal said his only advice would be to remind him that no matter how much weight budgets or facilities seem to carry, the real job is always about people.

"Don't get lost in the 10 percent," he said. "The 90 percent is absolute joy." 

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