By Rachel Gill
Champlain Valley Union High School will bid a fond farewell to a combined 115 years of teaching as four longtime educators retire this June. For all four, retirement means saying goodbye to a school full of family.
Retiring this year are: Claudia Moore, school nurse for 24 years; Patricia Heather-Lea, mathematics teacher for 35 years; Gay Craig, science teacher for 22 years and intermittent Latin teacher; and Cynthia Pasackow, mathematics teacher for 34 years.
The school honored the four retirees during a party at Catamount Golf Club in Williston on May 23.
CVU teacher Norm McLure helped organize the event.
“There are two feelings. You feel sad because they will not be here to talk with and you feel happy for them because this is what they want to do,” McLure said.
Moore considers retirement to be bittersweet.
“There is a camaraderie here,” Moore said on May 24, as her voice quivered a bit. “This got me all choked up at the party last night because I think of school as family, the teachers and the kids.”
Being a mother of three and the school nurse was a perfect partnership.
“I always felt like my kids always helped me with my job at school and my school kids helped me with my job as a parent because you knew what all the kids were going through,” Moore said.
One of Moore’s cherished CVU memories is graduation challenge, a senior year student community service project.
“It’s a chance to see how gifted and talented the students are,” Moore said.
Moore was also involved in many student trips abroad.
“Chaperoning those trips has been very special. I got to go to France and Costa Rica,” Moore said. “The kids make you so proud. They are so respectful and thoughtful.”
Another favorite is student advisory. Teachers are assigned a handful of students to meet with daily for attendance and to check in about school and life.
“Having an in-depth relationship with a group of kids over four years is really special,” Moore said.
Moore started at CVU in 1989, after nursing positions with the Vermont Department of Health, the Veteran’s Association and the Winooski School District.
CVU was a bit different then.
“There were 740 kids, now there are 1,365 kids,” she said. “Then, I used to take the yearbook home and memorize all the kids’ names.”
Moore plans to keep busy after retirement, continuing to work part time at Fletcher Allen Health Care as a maternity nurse.
She also wants to spend more time with her family and might volunteer with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. Moore did similar work when she worked at the Vermont Department of Health.
“We helped families when they first came to the United States, so that’s always been a love of mine,” Moore said. “You see all these people come from different cultures and they do so well. I’m always just so amazed.”
Heather-Lea believes she was meant to teach.
“When I was a kid, when I played, I made fake lists of students so I think I always wanted to be a teacher,” Heather-Lea said. “Growing up, kids would come to me to ask for help with school work, so I’ve been doing some form or extension of teaching for a long time.”
From her first day in 1978, she knew CVU was a special place.
“When I step into the school, even way back then, I say, ‘this is a good place for kids,’” Heather-Lea said. “There’s just something special here, I’m grateful for that.”
The students made the job really stick.
“It’s a job and, two, it’s important work in the world,” Heather-Lea said. “It’s never boring and you get to touch kids lives and they touched my life so there’s not much in life better to do what I do.”
Connecting with kids pulls at Heather-Lea’s heartstrings.
“I get gushy about this,” Heather-Lea said. “It’s like a passage. You do what you do and put yourself out there in life for adolescents who are potentially going through emotional ups and downs to basically be an even-keeled and opened-hearted teacher.”
When it comes to what she will miss, Heather-Lea hopes to fill those holes in other ways.
“The things I will miss I hope to get from other places in life,” Heather-Lea said. “We teachers have to move on every year, graduates move on, and now I’m the one moving on… I’m sure I will be doing some crying when I’m packing up.”
Heather-Lea plans to give herself time to unwind.
“If anything, I hope I’m going to undo,” she said. “What happens with teaching or any intense job is school becomes a very busy place to be with all these elements to deal with so those busy hysterics, I won’t miss.”
Heather-Lea is looking forward to keeping it simple.
“I plan on doing Thai Chi, saying my prayers, I love to sing, maybe write more letters to the editor, I like to sew, and just being present with my husband, the simple things,” Heather-Lea said.
For Heather-Lea, life always offers new opportunities.
“Others things will unfold in your life, that would be my message to any high school student,” Heather-Lea said.
Heather-Lea is planning a nonalcoholic potluck and story sharing celebration for all present and past students June 22 from 5-7 p.m. at Holley Hall in Bristol. Attendees should bring their own plates and utensils.
Craig, who came to CVU in 1991, wanted to be a water quality researcher until she was bitten by the teaching bug. During her first few years at CVU, she continued doing lab research and made a discovery.
“I realized this is not nearly as much fun as teaching,” Craig said. “There is no profession more fun than teaching. We have fun every day… Could you imagine coming to a class every day with someone who is not having any fun?”
Craig does not call her next step retiring.
“I am what we call rebooting,” she said.
While Craig is stepping down from teaching, she plans to continue working with water quality in Vermont or Massachusetts.
“We may pull up stakes and move to the children and grandchild area in Boston,” Craig said. “My son said, ‘we have water in Massachusetts, Mom.’”
Craig taught water quality as part of the freshman core science curriculum, including an annual trip to Lewis Creek in Charlotte so students could practice water quality screening skills—one of her favorite parts of teaching.
“My favorite is kids swimming in Lewis Creek, really testing the water,” Craig said.
The students themselves are another favorite aspect.
“They are funny, fun and curious,” Craig said. “They are all little scientists—they just need a little direction as to what to investigate.”
The desire to learn is something Craig will miss in her colleagues as well.
“I think I will miss my colleagues because they, too, are always learning and are willing and able to do anything that will enhance the education of our students,” Craig said. “People that get hired here are just very curious lifelong learners.”
Corinna Hussey, a fellow freshman core teacher for the past 11 years, said Craig always reminds her why she is a teacher.
“She always reminds me to focus on the kids and to make sure the units I teach are interdisciplinary, which has helped me become a better teacher,” Hussey said.
Hussey said she looks at Craig as a mother figure.
“Teaching in a core makes people you work with a part of your family and Gay has become my school mom. She challenges me and support me. She’s all things in one,” Hussey said.
Pasackow said she has enjoyed every moment of teaching math in her 34 years at CVU.
“It’s great to work with kids in math,” Pasackow said. “Oftentimes kids don’t like math, but if you make it fun and a little humorous, it can make it better. I have a good sense of humor so my classes tend to be fun.”
Watching students learn is something Pasackow will miss.
“I will miss watching kids grow over the course of four years,” Pasackow said. “I teach tenth to twelfth grades, so to see them mature is special and I will miss the stimulation of teaching math.”
Pasackow said teaching calculus has been particularly rewarding.
“It’s such a rich course and the kids have to work really hard and it’s very rewarding to see them get so much out of the fact that something really hard can be mastered if you put the work in,” Pasackow said.
Pasackow has also enjoyed watching students’ talents outside the classroom.
“I have always enjoyed sports events. I’m a big sports person,” Pasackow said. “I’ve really enjoyed going to all the sports events at CVU over the years, as well as watching all the wonderful opportunities students have been given through the work of the drama department.”
As 34 years of teaching come to a close, Pasackow is looking forward to enjoying her retirement years.
“I consider it my endless summer,” Pasackow said. “I plan to start playing tennis three days a week and do some traveling.”
Pasackow said the idea to travel came from her girlfriends.
“My girlfriends who retired before me told me I had to plan a trip,” Pasackow said. “So my husband surprised me and planned a trip to Portugal.”
Exciting travel destinations aside, Pasackow said CVU has proven to be one of her favorite places.
“This is a great school to teach in, my colleagues are terrific, there is lots of support from the school and community,” Pasackow said. “It has always been a wonderful place to teach.”