“An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.”
– Carl Jung (1875-1961)
Bishop Unified School District said farewell to more than 200 years of teaching experience, guidance and touching of the “human feeling” of its students when it said goodbye to six veteran educators this month: BUHS mathematics teacher Wayne Decker, Palisade Glacier High School Principal Tom Pederson, BUSD mathematics teacher Jim Rowbottom, BUHS mathematics teacher Bob Siefken, Bishop Elementary School Special Day Class teacher Marcella Siefken and BUHS social studies teacher Bruce Veenker.
District Superintendent Barry Simpson views these veteran educators from a truly unique perspective: as a student, as a parent of students, as a principal and as a superintendent.
“Jim, Wayne and Bruce were there when I was in high school and it’s a real honor to have their retirements (occur) during my tenure. We appreciate everything they’ve done. We wish them all the best and hope that they enjoy their retirement” to the fullest.
And on a personal note, “Jim coached me in Little League and Bruce was my basketball coach when I was a freshman at Bishop High.” A generation later, “Bob taught both of my sons and the boys had a great appreciation for him as a math teacher. They really liked him.
Bob was also a coach for the Mathlete Teams, which were always highly successful … We will miss him in the Math Department immensely.”
Segueing to the elementary school teacher retiree, Simpson said, “I served as Marcella’s principal and superintendant. She is one of the strongest Special Ed teachers I’ve ever met. I admire her and I learned a lot about Special Education from her.”
Of his fellow administrator, Simpson said, “Tom did a wonderful job at Palisades. He was a great part of my administrative team, both at Palisades and as principal at Keith Bright School at Inyo County Juvenile Center in Independence for the past two school years.”
And now a parting word or two more by and about these veteran educators.
Decker said he joined BUHS’ staff in 1974 and there he spent his entire 37-plus-year career as a Spanish teacher. “(Although), on an average day, a high school teacher makes more decisions than a (metropolitan) air traffic controller, I will miss being in the classroom, the daily performance, interacting with kids … I was still having fun in my classroom,” said Decker, but retirement turned out to be the most financially astute thing to do at this junction in his life.
And retirement has other upsides for Decker. He said he will definitely not miss “endless meetings about the same stuff year after year” and the WASC accreditation process. Decker looks forward to being able to vacation with his wife – their work schedules have rarely coincided over the last 40 years – starting with an upcoming trip to Mazatlan’s Emerald Bay. “We can enjoy doing things together now – and I finally get to ski mid-week.” Outside of school, Decker plays guitar and used to be a cantor at Spanish mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Hope.
When a career spans four decades, the memories and changes are many. Decker has taught generations of students, including the grandchildren of former students, and current faculty colleagues, such as foreign language teacher Cindy De La Mora. He remembers when fellow-retiree Tom Pederson was an English teacher at BUHS. Decker has “been through seven different (BUHS) administrations.”
In the early ’80s, he “wrote the original computer grants,” putting Apple computers in the library, math classes and reading lab. He co-created the School Improvement Site Council, serving two 10-year stints as president. Decker sponsored the soccer club, before it became a team. For nine years, he was the Inyo, Mono and Eastern Kern County teachers Site Council representative and, for 10 years, was president of the BUHS Teachers Association, the local chapter for the state- and nation-wide teachers unions. And he said, “It saddened me deeply that we lost our French program” around 2006. The one constant throughout the years, said Decker, is that “I tried to be as consistent as I could.”
Of his fellow retirees, Decker said he “enjoyed working with (his) colleagues” who were always supportive.
One of Decker’s colleagues, former English teacher Tom Pederson, is retiring as principal of Palisade Glacier High School after 25-plus years in education, the last 13 years of which were spent with BUSD.
In 2004, he left the classroom to become an administrator. “They are entirely different kinds of jobs,” he said. “Establishing positive student relationships is (more) challenging” in the discipline-oriented administrative field than in the classroom, while coaching basketball, which he did for about six years, or as an athletic director, a five-year stint.
“I will miss the very wonderful and dedicated and effective teaching and support staff (at PGHS) that made it a pleasure to go to work … And I will also miss watching students … mature and grow and come into themselves in the last couple of years of their high school careers.” And then just aesthetically, he’ll miss the early-morning commute which was “wonderful. I would drive very slowly and watch the morning unfold.”
In the 2010-11 school year, Pederson added the Keith Bright School principalship duties. He said that he enjoyed working with Scott Hoffer and Diane Cunningham, “a couple of great teachers,” and that the new responsibility was a “nice fit” affording him the “opportunity to maintain contact with students” whom he had known at PGHS.
For Pederson’s his send-off party, PGHS staff compiled complimentary commentary: “We have a system in place that never gives up on students … Tom Pederson’s leadership and philosophy is the reason this system works … It has been an honor to work with … someone so simultaneously intelligent and humble … a man of principles and convictions, willing to stand up for what he believes in the face of adversity.”
PGHS English teacher Rose Sabo said she was grateful for Pederson’s leadership, which was always colored by “the embodiment of integrity. Everything he does is aimed at helping the kids. He values a multitude of different intelligences equally. And he leads by example for students and staff alike.” PGHS science and math teacher Kurt Mulder echoed Sabo’s sentiments. “He models the behavior he wants to see in himself and others in a remarkable manner – and he never has an off-moment in his leadership style.”
Asked about his plans for retirement, Pederson said, “Live as long as I can – at least until my wife decides to retire,” and chuckled. Retirement is “an interesting transition that it’s difficult to wrap your brain around” because one has a sense of finality in this phase of life. On the other hand, said the avid gardener, “horticulture can be quite interesting.” Again he laughed.
“I’m interested in the serendipitous, the unplanned,” said Pederson, so he won’t turn down the right opportunities if they arise.
The Joseph Campbell quote “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are” in the PGHS year book closes the book on 2012-13 and bids farewell to Pederson.
BUSD mathematics teacher Jim Rowbottom has left the building, again. And this time he means it. Rowbottom taught everything from basic math to calculus at BUHS for 28 of his 50 years teaching.
Of the other BUHS retirees, Rowbottom said, “Bob, Wayne and Bruce are good friends who contributed a lot to students of Bishop High and I feel they will be missed.” However, he is closest to Siefken, his teaching partner, with whom Rowbottom taught the accelerated math program. He said that Siefken is “the best math teacher I have ever taught with.” Rowbottom said he and Siefken had complimentary teaching styles, conservative methods of assigning homework and so on. “We’re in line. We coordinated so, as students flowed from teacher to another, they felt comfortable with the change … we both had high expectations. It’s been successful.”
For 19 years, the math maestro also taught at Bishop campus of Cerro Coso Cummunity College “so high school kids could get full college credit.” After his first retirement in 2009, Rowbottom taught Calculus I and II part-time, working in Cerro Coso Learning Resource Center, computer lab and classroom settings. “Teaching is teaching,” whether at BUHS or the college.
Regardless of the student population, “in 50 years I’ve seen a lot of changes but one thing that’s the same is that kids are kids. They may have more gadgets but they still learn the same way. I’ll mis the kids (but) I won’t miss the politics.”
“I like to read and workout … hike a little bit,” said Rowbottom, when asked about retirement plans. “I will reinvent myself” again, he added. He and his wife also plan to relocate to Carson City and being closer to any airport, he added that they might travel a bit even though that’s not really his thing.
Rowbottom said that this seemed like a good time to “leave the building.”
“This last class (in 2011-2012) was uncannily similar to the first one I taught in 1962 in Stevens Point, Wis. – in personalities, the class dynamics and their ability level. I came in with a wonderful group of kids and went out with a wonderful group of kids. I thought … this might be the time to go” with a laugh.
Bob Siefken began his teaching career in 1986 and came to BUHS in the fall of 1988, said Resa Roberts, Human Resources. He came to BUHS from the Richmond, Calif. school district, said his close friend and colleague, BUHS math teacher Lynn Hughes.
Stacy Van Nest, who has been with BUHS for 12 years as math teacher and is current athletic director, said, “I’m very sad to see him retire although he certainly deserves it. He held his students and the teachers around him to very high standards.” And he always helped when Van Nest was recruiting help for supervision duty for athletic events, she said; a valuable contribution since the supervision volunteer line is a pretty short one.
Hughes said he was close friends with Siefken, sharing the dilemmas and challenges common to math teachers, and teachers in general. Hughes said that he and Siefken were mutual “mentors and sounding boards” with regard to teaching strategies and the like. “You know, ‘What are you doing to get work out of this boy.?’ ‘Yeah, that’s not working for me either,’” Hughes laughed. “I appreciated Bob’s straightforwardness and honesty.”
Siefken also stood out in a former student’s mind. “He started every class period with a Jeopardy question-of-the-day calendar and all the students got into it. In general, he was funny and had a wry sense of humor and I looked forward to going to his class. It was like having Jerry Seinfeld as a teacher,” said a former student, Class of 1998, who had Siefken for math two years in a row. “He made math fun.”
His sense of humor shows on his BUHS website webpage at bishopjtunion.ca.schoolwebpages.com, where Siefken states, “Welcome to my webpage. I hope you may eventually find this to be helpful … I will be including my course outlines, links to other math sites, a BUHS Math department course flow chart, and maybe even my homework unit sheets once I have time to figure out how this website thing works.”
Some of Siefken’s retirement plans are apparently unfolding at this writing because he was unavailable for commentary as he and his wife, Marcella, are on vacation.
The “better half” of the Siefken educator duo, Marcella Siefken began her teaching career in 1984, joining Bishop Elementary School in the fall of 2000 as a special education teacher, said Roberts.
“Marcella was wonderful. She always went above and beyond and spent a lot of time working with parents of her kids,” said colleague Cindy Tobey, a fourth-grade teacher who has known Marcella during her entire 12-year tenure with BUSD. Tobey went on to say that Marcella was always meticulously prepared both in the classroom and outside of it. When it came to field trips, for example, she double-checked everything to ensure that every contingency was covered so the children would have a safe and enjoyable experience. “She taught them a lot and held them accountable,” said Tobey, challenging the students to grow as individuals.
Tanya Zaleschuk, BUSD psychologist and Special Education coordinator, said, “The distinguishing factor about Marcella is that she has an innate sense for what students need and she gives them that … She can help any kid be successful and to experience a sense of success,” giving children the opportunity to metacognitively appreciate how far they had come from where they started. Zaleschuck went on to say that Marcella was a true collaborator, consulting with any teacher who needed special materials or guidance. Marcella had the most physically, psychologically, emotionally and academically challenging students yet “she doesn’t see them as challenged.” She understands them and “doesn’t accept any limits for a child,” said Zaleschuk.
Tim Tiernan, a resource specialist who has served Bishop Elementary School’s special needs population for 27 years, said “(Marcella) is very loving and caring … and always made sure her families came first. She was a strong advocate for (them) … She had tons and tons of experience.” And yet, Marcella remained “open-minded and willing to try new things.” Case in point, last fall, Tiernan and Marcella wrote a successful grant to put iPads into the hands of special needs children. Then she spent a lot of time at home looking for appropriate apps, especially for improving writing skills, he explained. The iPads will be ready for the 2012-13 school year, said Tiernan, so that, even in retirement, Marcella will still be enriching students’ lives.
In terms of extracurricular duties, Marcella had also been involved with the Retired Teachers Association before the organization itself retired, said third-grade teacher, Ellie Pachucki, adding “I wish her well.”
Principal Betsy McDonald said, “I have never known an educator with such passion, compassion, expertise and dedication. She is an incredible teacher and an exemplary human being. I’m honored to know her and hope she will grace us with her presence every now and again. We will miss her terribly, but wish her the best.”
Bruce Veenker began his teaching career in 1970, and came to BUHS in 1974, said Roberts, serving as “substitute teacher, social studies teacher, administrative assistant and guidance tech.”
Van Nest added that Veenker had also been an “Opportunity teacher – more power to him for that. He also coached track and football.” And like Siefken, Veenker was always available to cover athletic events, noted Van Nest.
Hughes, who was close friends with Veenker, said that he and Veenker had many things in common. They were both educated in the Los Angeles Unified School District system. Both educators had served as BUHS athletic directors and assistant principals for short terms. Hughes said that even though they taught in different disciplines – Veenker in social studies and Hughes in math – he and Veenker were also mutual mentors and sounding boards, sharing teaching strategies and tips.
According to Veenker’s brief bio on his BUHS webpage, where he invited students to “step back through time to examine World and U.S. History,” Veenker was one of the “negotiators for the Bishop Union High School Teacher’s Association. He and his wife Jo Ann have lived in Bishop for more than 30 years and all three of their children graduated from BUHS. Pictures of his grandchildren … are available for extensive bragging upon request.”
Perhaps the PGHS 2011-2012 year book’s goodbye missive says it all as students, colleagues and the community bid these six educators a fond farewell: “We have all been enriched by your tenure.”