Summit School District bids adieu to retiring faculty
May 16, 2016
Karen Miller, administrative assistant to the principal at Dillon Valley Elementary, may be retiring from her post after 23 years, but, like many who have arrived to area for similar work through the decades, she wouldn't dare think of leaving Summit County.
"I don't change jobs very often," said the 61-year-old, who is originally from California and has also worked part time at Copper Mountain Resort for most of that same period. "I look forward to retiring, but I'm definitely staying in the community. This is our home."
After several years as a part-time resident of Summit County, Miller — known affectionately in the school and around town with former students as just "Ms. Karen" — committed to the county fully in 1990 in Frisco before more recently moving to Silverthorne. But, while she still very much enjoys showing up to the school every day, she decided to hang it up at the end of the academic calendar just a few months back.
"I still absolutely love my job," she said, "but, like an athlete, I wanted to go out on top while I still enjoyed it. I wasn't even sure I was going to retire until February."
Annually, the Summit School District faces the departure of a handful of long-term teachers and critical support staff. On average, between six and 12 faculty and other personnel leave the district among 450 total staff, creating important holes needing to be filled.
This year, eight members of the district are retiring, perhaps most notably Superintendent Heidi Pace among them. The hugs and tears can be difficult both within the district's six elementaries, lone middle school and two high schools between Summit and Snowy Peaks as well as for the individuals involved, —but the memories last forever.
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"Every year, we end up saying goodbye to educators who have given a great deal of their time and talent to our students, helping them learn to successful men and women" said Julie McCluskie, director of communications for the district. "Certainly that is a loss for us, but we look to replace them with folks who will bring new experiences and new skills, and we are obviously sad to say goodbye to our retirees."
Following the 2015-16 school year, aside from Miller and Pace, the latter of who spent five years locally after many more in the Colorado Springs, the district will offer farewells to six other longtime employees. They include at Frisco Elementary, 21-year district staff member Renea Hill, presently the school's principal; first-grade teacher Marguerite Ritchey (16 years); and literacy resource teacher Rosie Pohle (10 years), who has spent a total of 33 years in education, including years with each of the Cherry Creek and Jefferson County districts.
"I guess I was born to teach," said Pohle, who specializes in helping young children with reading deficiencies. "It's my home, and I just feel comfortable there, and I love it. It's very rewarding, and I'm glad I got into it. I have no regrets; it's been a wonderful career."
Like Miller, Pohle, 65, plans to stay in Summit County, in her home in Breckenridge. She anticipates occasionally volunteering at the school to continue helping those kids who have struggles with reading, as well as catching more days each season on the mountain with her husband.
"We love Breck," she said, "and I'm looking forward to being able to ski on powder days. We're both Colorado natives, and we've learned that you only go when there's good snow. It seems like the powder days are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday."
To make up for these losses, the district takes a comprehensive look each year at both its staffing needs and enrollment growth. After examining the numbers of kindergartners enrolled, in addition to the fifth- and eighth-grade graduations moving into the middle and high school, respectively, staffing guidelines are set and openings are filled by July 1, so new hires can be prepared to start in August.
"We're replacing people and often adding people," said McCluskie. "The retirees fold into that process, and we post their positions at this time of year."
Kerry Buhler, Upper Blue Elementary's long-tenured principal was awarded the superintendent position in March, and Robyn Sutherland, a special-education teacher at the school, was recently named Buhler's replacement there as principal. There are others, too — Hill's replacement at Frisco Elementary, meanwhile, will be outgoing Summit Cove Elementary kindergarten teacher Laura Rupert, and Kendra Carpenter, a literary resource teacher at Dillon Valley, was also promoted to the school's principal starting next school year.
Miller, who has worked with Carpenter for a number of years, is disappointed not to be able to work with someone she believes will do an incredible job in the chief role.
"I would love to work with her," said Miller, "but it was time to move on, to pass the torch. I know without a doubt it's the right time to go."
For Miller, the desire to spend more time with her three grandchildren — a 4-month-old local from her daughter, a Silverthorne Elementary teacher herself, and two others, ages 6 and 1, in New Mexico from her son who is also a teacher — was too big a calling. As a self-proclaimed "baseball fanatic," she also hopes to attend more games around the country through travel, in addition to more camping and National Parks trips, plus some international visits as well.
Through Dillon Valley's dual-language program, the school has brought in any number of native Spanish-speaking teachers through the years, and she looks forward to visiting Spain to see some of her erstwhile coworkers.
"The blend of different teachers from South American, Spain and Mexico has been wonderful because I've made lifelong friendships with the staff I've worked with," she said. "It's not like I'm just going to say goodbye at the office and never see them again. These people are like my family, and so I'll continue seeing them either in travels or around the community even after I retire."
Also retiring this year are Upper Blue counselor Barb Ellis (11 years); Therese McGraw, a severe needs teacher at Summit Middle School (20 years); and Judy Hren, kitchen manager at the middle school for 24 years. All can now look forward to many more days off pursing other aspects of their lives, as well as making their own schedules.
"I will miss working with kids," said Pohle. "The joy of watching them learn and how excited they get … you realize that you have a big part in that. The light bulb comes on, and they get that grin, and you can see how proud of themselves they are. It's been great.
"But I have to say," she added, "Monday morning getting up to go school, that was always hard for me. I'm a late sleeper, so I'm going to enjoy being able to sleep in, too. That's a positive of retiring."