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WEST WHITELAND — After 16 years, it was time for Bill Winters to say goodbye.
The founder and CEO of Collegium Charter School in Exton has decided it was time for him to enjoy retirement.
“I haven’t gotten used to it yet,” Winters said. “It has been fun.”
Going out on a high note, Winters’ last official function as CEO was the Class of 2015’s graduation ceremony June 18.
“Things were changing a little bit and I’m getting older, too,” he said. “I’m 73 now and it’s getting to the point where I had to do it sometime.
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“I’ve gotten the buildings set the way I wanted them so (the school) can carry on indefinitely.”
It has been a long run for Winters from beginning to now.
And it couldn’t be more evident than in how well the school is doing.
“It is hard to believe it has grown this much,” Winters said. “We will have about 300,000 square feet of space next year. It has really gotten very, very large.”
The school opened its doors with just 39 students and now, with the upcoming 2015-16 school year, Collegium will have 2,800.
It all began in 1999 for Collegium Charter, but even earlier for Winters himself.
Funny enough, during his first retirement.
Winters was working with the West Chester Charity Ball and a teacher suggested he worked with kids.
“I went to a (charter school meeting) and sure enough, I walked out as president of the Board of Trustees,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
Winters and the other founders started from scratch.
“We worked for almost a year to get ready to go in August, through a lot of trials and tribulations,” he said.
The founders had to build a teaching staff, order materials, create a curriculum, order books and tables and countless items more.
But the school did open, though a month later than planned. They had 39 kids on the first day, but immediately grew to 150 by that January.
What surprises Winters is that Collegium is able to continually draw students from all across the area from superb districts.
“It’s not as though we’re in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh,” he said. “We’re sitting here in Chester County, the wealthiest county in the state and we’re within West Chester, Downingtown and Coatesville. We still have a high enrollment, which is unusual, but we enjoy it.”
Though he’s ready to step back from Collegium, it hasn’t completely sunk in yet.
“I was sitting out there looking at the parking lot, thinking about how we need to do some work on the parking lot in some areas,” Winters said. “Then I went, ‘Oh wait a minute, I’m not going to be here to worry about that.’ I can’t divorce myself from it. It’s hard to do that.”
But this won’t be the end of everything for Winters, at least in an unofficial way.
“I’ll be visiting,” he said. “I really try to support the arts in our drama, music and fine arts.”
However, officially, it’s now time for Winters to take the big step away from Collegium Charter School.
“It’s matured now, in a way, and time for me to let somebody else take over and run it,” Winters said.