Tharp Prepares to Depart

Kate Farmer

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We’ve reached the end of an era here at Maggie Walker. Assistant Director of Operations and long-time administrator Phil Tharp is stepping down into his retirement at the end of 2016. For 25 years, Mr. Tharp has been the metaphoric Gorilla-Glue binding this school together. Fueled by his genuine love of teaching, he has helped create one of the best public high school programs in the country. The Governor’s school program began in the top floor of local Thomas Jefferson High School, with sparse faculty and only 72 students. Because of his hard work and dedication to bringing this program to life, we now have our own complete building, have increased in size by tenfold, and are nationally ranked in terms of academic achievement. The Jabberwock recently sat down with Mr. Tharp to hear his perspective and personal feelings about the school from his many years behind the scenes.


What are some things you’ll miss about Maggie Walker?


THARP: “The one thing I’m gonna miss the most about it is the interaction with the kids, the students, and the faculty. The fact that they’re coming from all different backgrounds, regions, and representing all different ethnicities really makes kind of a college atmosphere. That’s what makes Maggie Walker different from other high schools; that fact that you’re able to bring in gifted students from varied backgrounds, and they feed off each other. And together, they share that love of learning. And that’s the key. That that’s why all the kids are here. They all want to be here. Or, if not, at least their parents what them to be here.”


What is your favorite part of the job?

THARP: “There are very few opportunities that someone has, in education, to be able to be in the ground level of a program and to start a program from scratch and see it fulfill. My favorite part of my job here was the excitement and the challenge in those early years of getting the school up and going, and getting enough support. Not only financially, but publically; getting them to know what an opportunity this was. In the early years, we had no history. We didn’t know if we were gonna make it or not make it, and there were definitely some that didn’t want us to succeed. But, in spite of all that, we’ve done quite well.”


“I love teaching, in the first place, and that’s what got me into it. So, if we needed a biology teacher, or chemistry, or physics, I put myself in. That’s the part I really enjoy.”

The worst part of the job?

THARP: “A not-so-appealing part of this job is getting in the background, managing things and keeping track of the business aspect of it; from managing the insurance numbers, to running the building, developing salary schedules and scales. Oh, and calling substitutes. I definitely do not miss calling substitutes at 9:00 at night and 6:30 in the morning. That is definitely the least attractive part of the job.”


What do you think is Maggie Walker’s biggest challenge going forward?

THARP: “We’re not the only game in town anymore. There are a lot of school divisions, particularly the larger ones like Henrico and Chesterfield, that have their own specialty centers which are very attractive. We always say that we are ‘an option’. We think that we are a very good option, for the students that are highly academic and are motivated and want to do that, but attracting and maintaining the best students and faculty- that’s always gonna be a challenge. And, providing the support systems to provide for those individual students’ needs, that’s always a challenge as well. But, I believe in this school, and I have high hopes for what’s coming ahead.”


The MLWGS Jabberwock would like to thank Mr. Tharp for his outstanding service to this school, and wish him the best going forth into his retirement.

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