Experienced educators set to retire
Brad Thayer: 35 years
Bryan Whiting: 33 years
Jalyne Lessig: 26 years
Doug Bristol: 25 years
Terri Barnard: 21 years
Leah Samuelson: 19 years
Becky Thayer: 19 years
Ginny Badger: 17 years
Ann Deyarmond: 13 years
David Schimd: 3 years
Jan Goetz: 28 years
Lisa Whitmore: 27 years
Cindy Skinner: 26 years
Cathy Partain: 24 years
Kristen Melsen: 22 years
Mark Wisdom: 10 years
Anne Dakin: 6 years
Kathy Keeler: 3 years
Joan Silvertooth: 3 years
Doug Senteney: 14 years
April Hurt: 13 years
Two fixtures of the Glenwood Springs schools system plan to hang up their hats at the end of the school year, as do several other long-serving area educators.
After 25 years with the district, Glenwood Springs Middle School Assistant Principal Brad Thayer plans to move to the Front Range with his wife, Becky, herself a 19-year district employee. Longtime business teacher and DECA coach Bryan Whiting, known affectionately as Dubs, wraps up 33 years with the district.
Roaring Fork School District’s 10 retirees represent more than 200 years of dedication, while Garfield RE-2 and Garfield 16’s departures represent almost as much again.
“We are really deeply appreciative of their years of service,” said RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko. “The impact they’ve had on kids is impossible to measure. You just don’t replace that kind of expertise and experience.”
‘A WONDERFUL 35 YEARS’
Thayer, 57, knew from an early age that he wanted to be involved in education.
“I’ve never thought about doing anything else,” he said.
As a teen in Aurora, he got jobs coaching and worked with the handicapped. He got his degree from the University of Northern Colorado.
In 1980, he landed a position as a special education teacher and assistant football coach at Glenwood Springs High School and moved to the valley with his new wife.
“I had never even been to the Western Slope,” he said. “When I accepted the job, I was only promised one year.”
Nine years later, he decided to try general education at Glenwood Springs Elementary, where he later became assistant principal.
He spent his summers in Greeley, working on additional degrees.
“For a lot of my career, I would hold a position for three or four years, then need a different challenge,” he said. “Finally, I thought, I can’t keep going to school every summer for the rest of my life.”
When Glenwood Springs Middle School opened its doors in 1991, Thayer joined the team as a 6th grade math and science teacher.
“When I finally got to middle school, I felt like I had found my niche,” he said. “I was never a teacher that stood at the front of the room and lectured. I was all about getting kids to learn how to learn. Set up the right way with the right challenges, you can get kids to reach unbelievable levels.”
Soon, Becky Thayer joined the GSMS team as a library aid, allowing both of them to spend their summers with the rest of the “B family”: Brooke, now 29, Blake, 27, and Brianna, 25.
Becky later moved up to librarian, and after more than a decade as a teacher, Brad decided to tackle administration again. He served as a full time assistant principal until the school hired a new dean of students, shifting Thayer’s focus to teacher facilitation.
“Working with new teachers, being a coach and helping them along is something I really enjoy,” he said. “I never felt like I had it mastered. I was always looking for ways to do it better.”
Each class was different, he observed, and both the students and the educational landscape have changed a lot.
“I think it’s harder growing up now,” he said. “There’s just so much they have to assimilate and so much they’re exposed to.”
In his time on the Western Slope, Thayer took up fly fishing, rafting, camping and mountain biking, and he grew to love the town.
“This has been such a wonderful 35 years,” he said. “I’ve loved living here. I’ve seen this town grow from a small, sleepy Mayberry. It was a perfect place to raise our children.”
Still, with both parents and kids on the Front Range and a grandchild on the way, he’s confident in his decision.
“I never thought I would leave Glenwood Springs, but family is really important, and I think it’s the right thing,” he said. “I still absolutely love my job and hope to continue it in some capacity on the Eastern Slope. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world, but it’s the most rewarding job. Sometimes I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to do it.”
‘DO SOMETHING THAT MATTERS’
Whiting, 67, started out in business before he became interested in teaching, and ended up doing both.
He grew up in Wyoming, the son of a one-room school teacher and a motel owner turned superintendent.
“I was working the desk at the motel when I needed a stool to stand on to see over the counter,” he said.
After finishing up his business degree, he started student teaching in Casper. When the teacher got appendicitis, he ended up taking over for months at a time. He later moved to Brush, where he met his wife, Kathy, and set up a business class based on the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA).
They pair occasionally visited Glenwood on skiing trips and got engaged at the Hot Springs Pool. After six years in Brush, he was asked to start a DECA program at Glenwood Springs High School, and they made the move.
The first year, 14 students participated, and for a while he taught other subjects — calculus, history, literature — and coached football, basketball, baseball and golf. Today, 140 students are enrolled in DECA, and about half of them opt to take both years.
Whiting attributes some of that to a nationwide shift from a manufacturing and agriculture economy toward business.
“When I went to college, the business school was almost always the smallest on campus,” he said. “Now it’s the most common major. The kids very much understand that it’s relevant to them, which really appeals. Even if they don’t go into business, it makes them a more informed consumer.”
Soon, Glenwood became a powerhouse in the regional DECA competition, in which students are assigned a business scenario and given 15 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to follow through or solve the problem through role play.
“They get a chance to apply what they learn in class,” he said. “It’s not a memorized thing — they have to do it right now.”
He led the school to organize the first DECA invitational in the country, giving area schools a chance to practice their skills instead of heading straight to districts, state and nationals. The town flocked around him, and each year dozens of local business people volunteer as judges.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without the community support, and of course the kids have been essential to the program,” Whiting said.
He has enjoyed being on the same schedule as his wife and their three children: Amanda, 28, Eric, 26, and Jason, 24. While Kathy Whiting plans to stay on as principal of Sopris Elementary School, Bryan thinks the time is right for him to bow out.
“I really haven’t had any second thoughts,” he said. “I don’t want people saying, ‘about time.’ I want to be done while I still have some gas in the tank.”
The ultimate fate of the DECA program will depend on whether the school can find a suitable replacement.
“A lot of schools have difficulty finding someone to teach it,” he said. “The trouble is, a lot of people would love to come to Glenwood, but it can be hard to make the change. Moving here to teach usually means a pay cut and a house cut.”
Meanwhile, Whiting plans to spend more time managing the family farm and is contemplating writing a book on macroteaching.
“Sometimes I think we lost sight of the big picture,” he said. “Schools are being asked to do more for kids — behaviorally and academically — with fairly static resources, but we also know so much more about teaching than we used to.”
Whiting is a strong believer in different learning style and works hard to teach equally to those who learn by reading, listening, doing or watching.
“Learning should be easy in my class,” he said. “If someone told me that my class was the hardest one they took, that would be a tremendous insult.”
He’ll miss working directly with students.
“That relationship takes time to develop,” he said. “They only work as hard as you work.”
In the end, Whiting identifies as a teacher first and foremost.
“This is not just a job; it’s who I am,” he said. “My dad told me once, ‘You want to do something that matters.’ I think there’s some wisdom in that.”
And Many More
Thayer and Whiting are just two of 20 teachers leaving schools from Parachute to Basalt.
Lisa Whitmore departs this year after 27 years with RE-2 and 36 in education. She spent 20 years as a special education teacher and another five as a special education administrator before she took the helm at Cactus Valley Elementary 11 years ago. She plans to stay in the area with her husband, perhaps playing more golf and enjoying the outdoors.
“As one of my elementary students said, ‘you’re going live your life,’” she chuckled.
“It’s been a real joy,” she added. “I love kids of all ages. I’ve worked with kids from elementary through high school. I love the people I work with. I can’t ask for a better group. They put in a lot of hours, and they do it with a smile on their face.”
Doug Bristol came to the valley in 1982 to enroll in Colorado Mountain College’s photography program. He spent some time as a self-described ski bum before he got his teaching degree and started 5th grade at Carbondale Middle School. After 10 years, he transferred to Basalt High to teach technology, where he’s been for the past 15 years.
A father of two, he credits his longevity as a teacher to “the same as anyone that stays that long — the kids.”
“There’s nothing like walking into a school in the morning and feeling the energy start to rise as the school fills with kids, any age,” he said.
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