Austin Public Schools to bid 16 retirees good-bye

Published 1:57 pm Friday, May 2, 2008

Several staff at Austin Public Schools will soon experience for the first time in many years — and for some, decades — what it’s like to not have to walk through school doors each fall.

Sixteen teachers and support staff are being recognized for their retirements from November 2007 through October 2008.

The Austin Education Association is hosting a retirement celebration at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 7 at the J.C. Hormel Nature Center for certified staff, and Southgate Elementary has planned a Retirement Tea from 3 to 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 28 for its four retiring staff.

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Teacher said it will be difficult not seeing their students five days a week, but they are looking forward to a new chapter in their lives.

“We’ve shared weddings and deaths and births,” Theresa Duellman, first-grade teacher at Southgate, said of her co-workers. “We’ve gone to school our whole lives — it’ll be hard.”

“I have mixed feelings,” said Vergie Asper, who teaches French at Austin High School. “I’m looking forward to it with a little comprehension but also some excitement.”

Some teachers, like DeeDee Marx, a physical education teacher at AHS/Sumner Elementary, want to continue their work in their community; others, like Sumner intervention specialist Jim Klapperich, just want to relax.

“It’s going to take some getting used to,” said Klapperich, a Pacelli High School graduate. “I’m looking forward to a more relaxed lifestyle.”

Many staff retiring have been teaching for decades; some have always taught in the Austin Public School District. Everything from the Internet to the No Child Left Behind Act have changed the way teachers teach and programs are prioritized.

“When I first started, girls and boys were separate,” said Marx, an Austin native who has also taught at Ellis Middle School and Southgate, Neveln and Banfield elementaries. “It was originally sports-specific. It all changed with Title IX. Now, it’s more lifetime skills.

“I think with the No Child Left Behind, the classroom has been the priority,” she said. “We know obesity is huge now … kids don’t play outside as much now because no one’s home.”

“I’ve always been an intervention specialist — reading and math,” said Klapperich, who explained he taught in the previous Title I program. “There’s been a lot of changes at the federal, state and local level.”

Bob Watson, who teaches physical education at Southgate, said he moved to Austin after graduating from college.

“I came from Wisconsin and I didn’t even know where Austin was,” he said. “I’m glad I did.”

He also taught at the former Lincoln and Shaw elementaries as well as Neveln and Banfield.

“I just fell into it,” he said of physical education.

According to Watson, in his time teaching, phy-ed has changed from twice a week, to three times a week, and back to two. Now, first- through third-graders have gym twice a week for 30 minutes; fourth- and fifth-graders have class twice a week for 45 minutes.

“I think they should do it every day of the week,” Watson said.

Most of the retirees said they couldn’t imagine themselves in any other career, though sometimes they wonder.

Lynette Usgaard, a first-grade teacher at Southgate, said she had considered pursuing nursing while in college.

“Teaching was always the thing,” he said. “My college didn’t have nursing.”

Sue Thorpe, a Speech language pathologist at Southgate who will retire in October, said she always thought commercial real estate sounded appealing, but “North Carolina wasn’t ready for a female,” she said with a laugh.

“I can’t think of myself doing anything else,” Watson said after some thought. “I don’t know what else I would do.

“I’ve never felt like I’ve had a tough part of my job,” he said. “You gotta love the kids. I always felt fortunate I had a really good job.”

As retirement nears, the teachers speculate what it will be like not to hear the laughing and bustle of activity in the school hallways as another year begins.

“Seeing kids come and go” is difficult, Duellman said. “You take some ownership. You wonder where they are.”

“What is Sunday night going to feel like?” Thorpe pondered.

“I think it will be hard when September comes and I see all the school supplies in stores,” Usgaard said with a sigh. “I’m used to buying the markers for 88 cents.”