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Ripon Unified marks 14 teacher retirements
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Ross McGinnis on the steel drum as part of the teacher group, “The Suspensions” playing for the retirement dinner. McGinnis is a former music director at Ripon High School. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Fourteen teachers – representing 368 years of service – were retired in a light-hearted roast Friday night at Modesto’s SOS Club.

Emcee for the evening was Ripon’s district superintendent Louise Nan who congratulated the teachers for their years of service saying, “Our kids all read at grade level and you are one of the reasons.”

Four elementary school principals, Lisa Ferrera, Warren Council, Mona Ogden and Mike Larson,   were there to tell a few stories on their staff members who would soon be leaving their classrooms for the last time.  No one was retiring from Ripon High or Colony Oak schools.

Nan called former  retired superintendents Joseph O’Leary and Leo Zuber to the front of the room, joining raised hands together in what was described as a “class act” showing unity and respect for their years of leadership in the Ripon schools.

School district board president Larry Stewart and Ripon High School  student board member Carol Ambrose were there to present the retirement plaques to the retiring educators.

Weston Principal Lisa Ferrera said it was difficult to see the three teachers leaving her elementary school site.  A former teacher at the school herself,  she said she had literally grown up with the trio and now has come back as principal of their school.

“I have to say that all three embrace me in that – it’s a big change to come back as principal after being a teacher.  They have treated me with the utmost respect and I truly appreciate that,” she said.  “When Margaret handed me her retirement letter,” I cried – people don’t appreciate teaching as much as they should, she added.”

Margaret Sivley entered  her fifth grade classroom in 1986 – later teaching third and fourth grades.   “I learned how much fun fifth graders could be,” she said of her first classroom assignment.”  However her principal chuckled,  saying that was the last year she taught fifth graders going to a lower grade the following year.    She is ending her career as a reading workshop teacher.

“It has been a great joy having Margaret on campus – even when she leaves her purse on top of her car in the parking lot,” her principal said.  “I will miss you.”

Ferrera  then  called up Stanley Zaramskas who has always been able to keep other teachers as well as his students “in stitches” while being credited as a most effective teacher and role model.

“When she heard I was retiring, she laughed,” he shouted, drawing laughter from the audience of educators as well.

They created Weston school song
Ferrera  pointed out that Stan has been teaching the eighth grade for the past 21 years – he  dropped his head and put his hand to his forehead in disbelief.  “When you ask why he is the way he is – that is the reason,” she chuckled.   With that, he interrupted the presentation and walked to the first table and greeted former superintendent and his wife Joe and Ann O’leary.

“You see,  it’s really hard at staff meetings,” his principal interjected.  To keep everything in order.  “I have to say, ‘STAN!’

She said that Stan has been a huge part of the staff, creating the culture of the school – “we have a lot of fun,  and there is a lot of comic relief.”

But, one of the wonderful things Stan has done for our campus -- along with teacher Gary Messick – was creating the Weston school song.  As a staff, they all know that song, and the students know that Stan was part of that – with teachers at the ready to break out with their song from the table, she said.

Asked what Stan is  going to miss the most, it wasn’t the strong musk aroma of eighth grade boys’ deodorant, he said.

Ferrera said she had to give retiring teacher Rose Ann Walker her evaluation in the mail – finding it difficult to face a third valuable and caring teacher leaving her staff after talking with the first two retirees.    

Rose Ann joined the staff in 1972.  “I remember that I was amazed that children could actually read at grade level after having taught in another district where most students were at least two years below grade level,” she said.

Her husband Dennis joined the Ripon Unified the same year coaching all the sports at the elementary level.  He currently is teaching a second and third grade combination at Ripona Elementary School.
Praises Walker as a teacher’s teacher
Further commenting on Rose Ann Walker, Ferrera added, “She is the type of teacher that every new teacher should have ( as a mentor)  and loves to have because she is the teacher’s teacher.  She will help you in any way, shape or form, and she does so with great care and finesse.

“As a teacher who worked with her and as a principal, I admire her for the way in which she works with children,” she said.  “She is extremely caring and compassionate with kids, even at their worst.”

Ripona Elementary School Principal Warren Council called all four of his retiring teachers up at the same time,  saying he was somewhat scared because he is losing four excellent primary teachers.  

“If you look up here, you will see I am also losing a big part of the heart of Ripona,” he stressed.  “They have seen fads come and go,  but the focus for them was what was the best for their kids instead of jumping on the latest fad.

He first introduced Dennis Walker saying he didn’t ask his teachers anything – “I just kind of made it up,” he said, which brought laughter from the SOS dining room.

“Dennis Walker has a rare gift that makes everything fun,” Council said.  “This has been a helpful tool while teaching a dreaded combination class.  His principal added that the fun has not just been for the kids, but it has been for the staff too.  

“In fact, when Dennis goes in the staff room – we go on a lock down.  We close the doors, close the windows, because, otherwise all anyone will hear is the laughter coming out of the staff room.  His Austin Powers’ imitations and Halloween costumes have been fun for the entire student body.”

The principal said one year Walker dressed as a shower – shower head, bath tub and curtain included.  “Boy were the kids grateful that the curtain was included,” he chuckled.  

Council said that his other male teacher retiring, Ted Schut, is one is the smartest, nicest and articulate men he knows.

Schut first walked into his classroom in 1985.  “I remember starting the year with 31 eighth graders at folding tables and folding chairs, and no books because the new classrooms were not finished until after Christmas,” he said.

Council said that Schut never has an ax to grind and that when he speaks people listen noting that his talents have served him very well as a primary teacher,  not only for the students,  but for the many parents who are trying to figure out how to parent.

Height counts for a principal
“Having a male primary teacher like Ted has been a true gift.  I can’t imagine any boys in his class not thinking, ‘I want to be just like Mr. Schut.’”

He added that one day Ted had told him a story about a first grader – the first grader said to him, ‘Mr. Schut, Mr. Council is taller than you, isn’t he? ‘Then the student thought for a moment and said, ‘That’s why he’s principal!’”

At the same time the two men  turned to each other and said in unison, “That’s why Leo is superintendent.”  He added that the district has 14 retirees - all taller than the current superintendent – retiring because they don’t want to wake up from a “nightmare” that they have her job?

Council went on to say that kindergarten is “a very special place” especially at Ripona School.  “How I’m going to fill the two vacancies created by Sherry and Naomi is impossible to imagine,” he said.

Sherry Branscombe has been a kindergarten teacher at Ripona School since 1971.     

“I remember how hard it was to be the first person to teach the first single session of kindergarten.  It was the first year California went to having kindergarten teachers only teach a single session.”

Council said he knows many people feel that teaching kindergarten is easy.  “After all, you just play with kids, right? – but kindergarten is not for the weak.”

He said kindergarten is the gateway to the educational system – kindergarten teachers set the standard and open the door to the future.

Council said that while his kindergarten teachers are different in their approach, they are truly gifted in the way they provide excitement, love and amazing learning experiences for the kids.  He added that the schools are getting many students in kindergarten today that have never had limits established for them at home – with those special teachers working their magic to make everything better.

Nan said 1971 was remembered as a  difficult year of change in California schools and Branscombe would not have a teaching partner,  but she stuck with the system and what a delightful place for children to be – in Branscombe’s kindergarten classroom.

Kindergarten teacher Naomi Tramblie joined the Ripona staff in 1985.  In a light-hearted vein she said, “I remember the day that I didn’t hear the dismissal bell.  When I got out to the bus area, no one was to be seen!  I was 10 minutes late.”    

Carol Shelly-Jack joined Ripon teachers six years ago in 2002 coming from another district for a total 25 years in education.   “I remember the wonderful, mannerful children,” she said.  Principal Mike Larson said she was one of the first teachers he hired seven years ago.  “She has done an absolute great job in the resource department,” he said.

Ripon Elementary School‘s Jane Zaramskas joined that staff in 1984 where she fondly remembers co-teacher Kathy Woodson in the sixth grade.  “She was wonderful,” she said.  Of special note was the fact that she has a new granddaughter Isabelle Marie Zaramskas.  Of her 28 years in teaching 25 were spent at Ripon Elementary School.

Peggy Loop is also retiring from Ripon Elementary where she has taught since 1969, currently teaching fourth grade.  “In my first year a fellow teacher told me not to smile until Christmas,” she chuckled.  All 36 years of her teaching career have been at Ripon Elementary.

Larson said that the letters Loop has received from parents thanking her for being involved in their children’s education has made her feel good about what she does – just the recognition from the parents.  Larson said that Peggy has always been very steady and very concerned about her students.  “She comes to my office when she has a problem with a student, and you can just see the concern – really her concern is what it’s all about and what she can do to help a student.”   

Janice Freeman came to Ripon Elementary in 1987 meeting many challenges head on with many innovations of her own – currently teaching eighth grade.  “The one thing I remember about that year is that the remodeling of our site was not completed by the time we started school.”

Larson noted that 22 of her 25 years were spent teaching at Ripon Elementary School saying she had also taught military dependents in Germany.  Larson cited her most significant memory as seeing former students walk back through her classroom door and say thank you.  It was especially significant when the students were ones who had difficulty and now say her class made a positive difference and led to their success.

Larson said Freeman has been very serious about her students’ academics – very serious about raising their test scores – very serious about holding them to the standards they should be held to.  “At our site Mrs. Freeman has been a workhorse.  She does so much at our site, not only in student council, the “Honor the Veterans” event the school presents, and with the Academic Decathlon.  “She does so much behind the scenes – and she never says much about it – but she will be a big void in our school when she leaves.”

Superintendent’s son was in his first class
Principal Mona Ogden introduced Jeff Scholl , who began teaching in 1977,  and who is retiring from a fifth grade at Park View Elementary School.  “I’ll always remember my first sixth grade class of 21 students, including the superintendent’s son! he said.

Ogden mentioned Scholl’s military career before coming to the Ripon district – one year in Vietnam.  “He’s taught for 32 years – started off at Ripona with Tom Freeman as a student teacher,” she said.  “You never hear Jeff – he never raises his voice,” she added.  

Ogden said there was one occasion at the beginning of his career when one of his students – who didn’t know his Vietnam background – thought it would be funny to get a squirt gun and sneak up on him and to squirt him right in the face with the gun.

“He told me he can yell when he needs to!” she said.  He then spent some four years at Ripon Elementary and decided he didn’t want to be a teacher any more – just not what he wanted to do.  So, he decided he was going to go to work for the post office, Ogden said.

After working a summer at the post office he retreated back to Ripon Elementary at the beginning of the year – wanting a “real job” again, he was quoted as saying.  Before joining the Park View staff, he was at Ripon Elementary for over 21 years.

Science camp was a favorite – a place he enjoyed playing practical jokes on his peers.  

Ogden lauded Scholl for making the GATE program the excellent resource that it is today.

Ogden’s second retiring teacher Deanna Kirschenman came to Ripon in 1988 after two other careers – first in senior nutrition feeding the elderly – and then as a social worker.  “I guess we can call the third time a charm because once she fell into teaching, she never left – a 22-year classroom teacher.”

Ogden said Deanna was there to help to open Park View School “and her expectations are built right into that kindergarten program.”  She added that the students have always lived up to her expectations.
Ripon Elementary was her first home before she was asked to go to Park View.  “I remember my busy class of 21 student boys and 10 student girls.  I spent days running and evenings coloring big books,” she said.  One of her students told her she was “half of a genius.”  When she asked who the other half might be, she was told, “my dad.”

Deanna was also credited with starting the Peer Helper  program at Park View that spread district-wide under her leadership.    

Long-time Colony Oak Elementary School kindergarten teacher Donna Weaver is actually retiring from Park View Elementary School’s kindergarten after 21 years in the district. “I remember coming to school in the dark and leaving school in the dark,” she mused.  She actually started her teaching career at Stanislaus Union in 1976.

Ogden said Weaver has always taught kindergarten.  She remembers her first day in the classroom when she sported a bright blue dress.  When she got home that day a family member asked about  the marks around the hem of her dress – it was the finger prints from those first-day kindergartners who had latched onto her dress at school.

Ogden said that Weaver’s teacher preparation was to teach high school history.  “Once she started teaching kindergarten, she couldn’t imagine teaching anything else,” her principal said. “Donna is a really good sport and an excellent team player,” she said.