PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) -- Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh on Tuesday presented a key to the city to longtime school principal Felisa Van Liew, who is retiring after 52 years in the district.
And the impact of a principal is personified in the way the students' pour into her arms when they see her in the hallway.
"I spend a lot of time with my children," she said. "My door is open. They feel very free to walk in. They want to read to me."
She was going to step down 10 years ago but found it hard to walk away. For her, now is the right time.
"This time I want to pass the baton," she said.
She will retire at the end of the school year.
"We want to say thank you for being a woman of excellence, a woman of character, a woman of integrity, and a woman that has led by example," Paterson City Councilwoman Dr. Lilisa Mimms said.
Van Liew began her career as a speech therapist and now leads 600 kindergarten through eighth-grade students at School #2.
"I never thought you'd retire, never," Mayor Sayegh said. "You are the spirit of this school."
This wasn't her first big honor by the city, after she received the Harriet Tubman Award in 2015 from the City of Paterson.
She is praised by her teachers for "never turning a child away."
Van Liew is a staunch advocate for autism awareness and inclusivity, ensuring that all of her students receive the highest standard of education.
Through her leadership, School #2 has partnered with New Jersey Community Development Corporation, Oasis, Jersey Cares, and the Paterson Recreation Department to provide her students and their families with opportunities and resources.
But through it all, she believes her legacy is the children.
"I hope they have learned as much from me as I have learned from them," she said.