The Board of Education bid a fond farewell Monday night to a half dozen longtime teachers.
Daniel Mulholland, Karen Devendorf, Dorothy Hart, Penny Whiting, Margaret Sparano and Cheryl St. Clair, all of whom will retire at the end of the school year, were recognized by the board for their contributions to the district.
Virginia Rivette, president of the board of education, presented each teacher with a golden apple inscribed with their name and years of service.
Collectively, the group has taught thousands of students during its 188 years of teaching in the district.
Each of the six teachers began working in the district years before tomorrow’s graduates were even born. Some of the teachers even had in class parents of this year’s graduates.
“I think the interesting thing about this group of teachers is you look back and calculate the number of years of experience they have and it’s close to 200 years,” Superintendent James Watson said. “Those are some very valuable years.”
Devendorf has been with the district for 25 years; Sparano, 26; Whiting, 29; St. Clair, 32; Hart, 33; and Mulholland 43 years. Kathy Greenough, assistant to the elementary school principal, will also retire after 25 years in the district.
“With the exception of one or two, they were all here when I got here so there’s certainly a history here,” said Watson, who last month announced he will retire this fall after more than 27 years as superintendent.
“As a superintendent, they have been a luxury to have on faculty for the experience and stability they bring.”
He said the teachers have served as mentors to the younger staff, many of whom turn to them for advice.
“They can provide a history lesson as to how things used to be and how they have come to be,” Watson said.
Most of the vacated positions will be replaced internally by transferring other teachers into new roles.
David St. Germain, elementary school principal, said even with the departure, the district has a veteran staff that is more than capable of replacing the longtime teachers.
“We’ve been fortunate to have a low turnover since I started. Very few folks have left the district for other jobs. I think that has a lot to do with the community. For all the things we don’t have, we certainly have a supportive community and that helps; they know their efforts have been appreciated,” he said.
Most of the retirees have been more than just teachers in the community, they are part of it. Five of the six teachers are Whitehall alumni who continue to live in the community and have raised their families as part of the district. And nearly all have assumed responsibilities beyond the classroom. Not only have the six been teachers, they have also been coaches, class advisors, club organizers, and heads of teacher unions and committees.
“They’ve all done things above and beyond the classroom,” Watson said. “Their contributions are far-reaching.”
As they were being recognized, some of the teachers took a moment to address the board and administrators.
Mulholland mentioned that he had outgoing board member Bruce Wescott as a student in fourth grade and Sparano, displaying her trademark humor, made light of Watson accidentally excluding two years of service time.
“You’re just trying to cheat me out of two years of retirement,” she quipped.
“Anything to save a buck,” Watson playfully chirped back.
But it was Devendorf who captured succinctly what the retirees were feeling.
“It’s been an honor to work with the children and serve the school district,” she said.
It’s the district and its children, however, who have been the beneficiaries, St. Germain said.
“We are losing some wonderful people who have poured their hearts and souls into the district. There are a lot of students who are better off because they had these individuals as teachers.”