Mid-Prairie School Board honors retirees
WELLMAN — With 168.5 years of total service, the eight retiring Mid-Prairie staff members honored at Monday’s school board meeting expanded language boundaries, taught math skills using Girl Scout cookies, developed a learning community and teamwork and taught innumerable students to be ready for “tommorrow.”
Repeatedly, those who spoke during the informal session, told of how much passion the five teachers and three administrators had for what they did.
Persistence helped too, especially for Title I teacher Susie Swartzendruber who, drawing on her own experiences and skills, initiated teaching Arabic at Kalona Elementary School. With the aid of federal grants, the program expanded to include Chinese and increased the district’s existing Spanish courses.
The Arabic program attracted national attention, including a visit by a New York Times columnist.
“This really addressed our goal of preparing students for tomorrow’s world,” said board member Jim Hussey.
Swartzendruber in turn, said the exploratory program worked because the school board was open to trying it.
Mary Gregg, Title I teacher at Wellman Elementary, is ending a 23.5 year career that started when the then 35-year old applied for and did not get an associate’s post. Instead, she was told to consider getting a teacher degree. She did and for Wellman Principal Evan Parrott became “the real spark plug in our building.” That translates into “doing whatever it takes to see students succeed,” and to Gregg “never stopping learning to learn.”
For one parent’s son, Gregg made all the difference in his love of school and between tears she thanked the teacher for her “passion” for all things, but especially for reading.
In her 28 years with the district, PE teacher Jackie Bailey made a lot of friends, to the point said former Kalona kindergarten teacher Pat Anderson, “Sometimes I got jealous. The kids went to her class and had all the fun.”
Bailey worked with students at all levels, including the handicapped, often adapting programs for each one.
“She taught them discipline and pride in what they did,” said Kalona Principal Jim Cayton, adding “you could see her love for the kids.”
Lynda Wilson, who taught 4th grade this year at Washington Township “the first ever,” is leaving with 31 years of memories, including “Pilgrims in the front hall,” teaching 4th grade math by having students calculate how many boxes of Girl Scout cookies it would take the principal to provide four for everyone, and using a big red dog known as Clifford to help students get to know each other.
Superintendent Mark Schneider told her “you were a very important part of my life,” as his autistic son’s teacher, thanking her on behalf of the son.
Kalona Elementary kindergarten teacher Vanessa Spring, 24 years, was unable to attend, but colleagues noted she called the staff her Iowa family.
Principal Parrott also is retiring after a dozen years and without exception all noted his unflagging optimism and willingness to listen. Parrott who served both Wellman and Washington Township schools, said listening came easy “I had two buildings filled with women.”
But there was more, as others recalled his support in times of accidents, illnesses and deaths.
Parrott, though, had thanks for fellow principal Nancy Hurd (middle school) who is also retiring after 13 years with Mid-Prairie, calling her “my rock,” as one he could call on.
It is a sentiment shared by Cayton, who when he began at Kalona Elementary went to talk to Hurd about some students starting at the middle school about whom he had concerns, “and I learned she already knew and had them under her wing.”
Teacher Jeff Foster thanked her deeply for “your vision” that allowed him to “teach what I am best at” which was Ag Science.
Hurd, saying, “This was a night I thought would never come,” stressed she cannot recall any time “I went home and was not happy” with her job. She also talked about the meetings with the other administrators,”all men” who “said I never listened.” Except, she stressed, that was because they talked and made decisions when she briefly left the room.
Gerry Beeler, retiring high school principal, also could not be present and board member George Schaefer, noting Beeler’s dry humor, suggested the board refuse to accept his resignation. For another board member, Chuck Freeman, having the Beelers offer to babysit one time “made me a little nervous. Then he told me I have a whole high school full of kids. So, I figured okay.” When “we came to get the kids, they didn’t want to leave.”
All eight early retirement resignations were accepted “with regret.”
In other business, the board:
•approved the School Funding Resoltion prposed by the School Administrators of Iowa;
•approved applications for grants from the Washington County Riverboat Foundation (WCRF); and
•reviewed the financial impact of the sharing arrangement between Mid-Prairie and Keota for the last four years that has brought M-P more than $1 million in funds from Keota and the State Charing Inventive program.