School district honors retiring teachers
It was a night of stories. It was a night to relive memories. But, more than anything, it was a night to remember for West Linn-Wilsonville's retiring staff.
In total, 17 staff members from throughout the district were honored at the Al Kadar Shrine Center in Wilsonville Thursday, May 18, as teachers and administrators joined together to celebrate their colleagues' careers.
"To all of you retirees, thank you for your years of dedicated and beautiful work in this district," Superintendent Kathy Ludwig announced to the crowd before retiring staff members received awards commemorating their time with the school district. "We are proud of your professional contributions and proud to be your colleagues. We are so happy that our lives crossed paths."
Retirees included Nutrition Services Manager Cynthia Abel, IT Specialist Patti Millage, district nurse Paula-Apa Hall and senior accountant Jolene May —all from the district administration office.
Following introductions from Ludwig, Board Chair Keith Steele and West Linn Education Association President Lane Johnson, IT Director Curtis Nelson took the stage to introduce Millage, thanking her for her long service to the district and crediting her for tracking much of West Linn-Wilsonville's data.
"She helped the rest of the state recognize how successful our school district is by collecting information and making sure that it was accurate. Things that you may not realize where they come from when you see them in the newspaper, things like graduation rates, attendance rates, those kinds of things, are all data that went across her radar," Nelson said. "She helps everyone realize and understand how wonderful our school district is in very tangible ways. In numbers."
Operations Director Tim Woodley introduced Abel, crediting her for the profitable lunch program she helped create, and said he can't imagine replacing her. Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Jennifer Spencer-Iiams, meanwhile, presented Apa-Hall with a token of appreciation, calling her instrumental in the nursing system the district enjoys today.
"There is no one that I've ever met that cares more about children and families. She is all in to make sure every child is safely at school every day," Spencer-Iiams said of Apa-Hall. "You cannot go to Paula without knowing her laughter and her sense of joy she brings to her work every day. She has helped create a legacy and a team of school nurses, systems that work, and people who love what they do."
Boones Ferry teacher Janet Lewis, Boeckman Creek teacher Vicki Woolhiser, Trillium Creek's Doreen Vokes and Stafford teachers Kathy Kriesel, Joann Madsen-Fordyce and Julie Wilhelm were also honored, as school principals talked about each teacher and their time with the school district.
Boones Ferry Principal Angela Freeman called Lewis the "quintessential" teacher, and the type of educator that every parent wants teaching their children. Stafford Principal Sara McCarney, meanwhile, shared a wealth of stories that came to mind when thinking about her retirees and what they've meant to Stafford, including the trio's secret sign language they developed during this past year during staff meetings.
"We've got a big hole left in our Stafford family. I hope they come back and hang out with us because their legacy lives on," McCarney said.
Athey Creek Principal Joel Sebastian introduced the three retirees from his middle school, including Dawna Bell, Jaylin Redden-Hefty and Joan Sarratt. He noted that there was 96 years of teaching experience between the three of them, including 34 for Sarratt and 33 for Bell. Rosemont Ridge Principal Debi Briggs-Crispin followed, highlighting the decorated teaching careers of social studies teacher Pamela Busch and art teacher Lisia Farley, who taught more than five combined subjects during their Rosemont tenures.
"Both of these amazing women have had a tremendous impact on many, many, many students who they have taught over the years," Briggs-Crispin said. "I am grateful to them to their dedication and their commitment to adolescent learners and their respective disciplines."
West Linn High Principal Kevin Mills closed the night out with words about English teacher Bret Freyer, Math teacher Keely Jacobson and secretary Sheree Little. He called Freyer "the most humble man I know," adding that he admired Freyer's constant efforts to become a better teacher, even in his final year. He said he will always appreciate Little's loyalty and commitment to West Linn's staff and students, and that the entire student body will miss having her welcoming presence as they enter the school's doors. He also presented Jacobson — who is well known by Portland Trail Blazers fans as 'sign lady' for the signs she displays during games — with a handmade sign of his own, thanking her for her service.
"I can't imagine West Linn High School without these three," Mills said. "It won't be the same without them."
And while it was their peers who did the talking during the celebration ceremony, it was also a night for retiring to teachers to reflect on their time as educators and recall the many memories they've gathered during years and years of teaching. Madsen-Fordyce said she'll cherish her 22 years working at Stafford Primary, but that she, like her fellow retiring colleagues, is looking forward to the next chapter in her life.
"I honestly knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a second-grader. It's always been who I am, and the passion is still there," Madsen-Fordyce said. "The staff that I've worked with, they're friends and family now. Of course the kids and the parent community, too, it's all intertwined.
"Every year is its own magical thing. I honestly am going to take a deep breath and reflect. You hear the cliché that it's a new chapter, but it really is. As I see all my (students) grow and flourish, and start their own lives, that's the rewarding part I think."