CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Good public schools are citadels of hope, where children are shaped to become the best adults within their capacity.
Charleston's Piedmont Elementary has been a shining example -- and much of its excellence arose from longtime Principal Steve Knighton, who is to retire Sept. 13.
During his 34 years at the helm, Piedmont became first in this region to install a computer, the first to have gifted classes, and one of the first to teach year-round classes.
Piedmont has "open learning," without walls between many classrooms. Its pupils don't receive letter grades, but get written evaluations by teachers.
Now Piedmont is full of iPads and online learning, with some classes taught by faraway experts via videoconferencing.
As school reporter Mackenzie Mays related this week, 94 percent of West Virginians are white, but more than half of Piedmont's children come from minority families. Most of Charleston's homeless shelters and public housing complexes are in the school's district. Principal Knighton greets the youngsters by name, and many hug him.
He is deeply involved in their lives and problems. One girl's father, wounded by a gunshot, crawled to the school to tell her goodbye. Another pupil was taken by immigration officers because her family lacked green cards.
One of the principal's proudest achievements is mobilizing 2,000 volunteers to build the large Celebration Station playground adjoining Piedmont along Quarrier Street.
Knighton has helped mold thousands of young lives. His departure will be sad. We hope his successor continues his vital and inspiring role. We wish there were more dedicated educators like him.