Several longtime Sopris Elementary School teachers wave goodbye
The close of the school year brings transition for Sopris Elementary School, marked not only by an exodus of around 200 students to the new Riverview School but also with the retirement of the building leader and several longtime teachers.
Among them, Principal Kathy Whiting and teachers Sally Friend, Sharon Bishop, Connie Casey and Dolores Montoya have a collective 117 years with the Roaring Fork School District and a whopping 162 years in education altogether.
That’s an average of 32 years of experience among the longtime educators who will be saying farewell come the final day of school this week and the formal end of the school year at the end of the month.
Friend leads the pack, with a total of 38 years in education, 27 with the school district and 19 at Sopris Elementary.
“My favorite memory would have to be seeing those kids run up to you 10 years later and give you a big hug because they remember you,” said Friend, who has taught preschool, first, second and third grade. “That’s a special feeling.”
“Sally’s last name is truly a reflection of who she is,” Whiting said in honoring Friend at the recent district retirement party. “She’s a wonderful friend to kids, teachers and families. … She has a way of welcoming kids unconditionally.”
Whiting herself has 37 years in education, and all but four of those years in the Roaring Fork Schools as SES principal, assistant principal at Basalt Elementary School, reading teacher at Glenwood Springs High School and 13 years as the GSHS girls golf coach.
“I would echo what every single one of you have said,” Whiting said Monday during a quick sit-down with the other four Sopris retirees. “It’s about the relationships we have as educators. If the relationships are in place, then the instruction is going to happen.
“We have an amazing group of professionals in our district,” Whiting said. “And the kids, of course I’ll miss the kids most of all and the good energy that they bring to the table, no matter what age they are.”
Bishop has taught for a total of 32 years, including 10 at Sopris as a second- and fourth-grade teacher and as a reading interventionist.
“The friendships that I’ve made with my colleagues, I would say that’s the best part,” Bishop said. “We’re given a right to educate our children, and they’re the most important thing that we have.”
“Sharon is the one who is always sharing a tomato, orange or whatever she has to make others comfortable,” Whiting said during the retirement party. “She even has a secret stash of chocolate for teachers.”
The students always knew Bishop would be their “moral rock, and that they could find shelter and safety with her in a very busy world,” Whiting said.
Casey has been at Sopris for about a dozen years, and is retiring after a total of 31 years in education, all of it with the Roaring Fork Schools.
“I started my career here fresh out of college and have been here ever since,” said Casey, who has taught kindergarten, first grade and reading intervention.
“The darling children that I’ve loved and worked with for so many years, and the joy of watching them grow up, that’s what I’ll remember most,” Casey said. “There are so many rich relationships that come out of pouring yourself into this kind of work.”
Whiting said of Casey, “Connie always has a smile as bright as the summer sun, a word of encouragement, an enthusiasm for life that is contagious, and a love for teaching and children that has had a huge impact students adults.”
Montoya, who was one of the teachers displaced due to the shift in student enrollment to the new Glenwood school, decided to retire after 24 years in education and 17 in the district as an English language development teacher. Her last five years have been at Sopris.
“I always loved seeing the kids come in not even knowing one word of English, and by end of school year being able to converse,” Montoya said. “I’ve also taught on and off at CMC, so I feel like I’ve not only empowered the students in the elementary level, but the adults as well.”
Whiting noted that Montoya has taught literally hundreds of students how to read, write, speak and listen in English.
“She creatively employs technology, pictures, writing and motions to help build background knowledge into her instruction,” Whiting said. “She loves on our newcomers and helps ease the sometimes scary transition to a new school and culture, while honoring kids’ home cultures.”
Whiting said it’s a good time to transition the school to a smaller, more manageable size with a new leader, Dave Lindenberg, who was selected earlier this spring as Whiting’s successor.
“It’s exciting for me to see the new people coming into Sopris, and I do feel like we are leaving behind a school that’s going to be in wonderful shape,” she said.
One other longtime Glenwood Springs teacher who is retiring this month is Glenwood Springs Elementary School’s Maura Carlson, a former student of the school who has spent 22 years teaching in the district.
“GSES won’t be the same without Maura,” GSES Principal Audrey Hazleton said at the district retirement party. “Maura has called GSES home since she moved to Glenwood as a second-grade student and now is finishing up her career at GSES as a second-grade teacher.”
Her husband, Paul, also went to GSES, as well as their two children.