Wirsing, Byrne retire from Williston Central
By Rachel Gill
Retirement is just weeks away for two Williston Central School educators. Looking back, they were reminded it was the kids that got them hooked on teaching.
Mary Jane Wirsing, a third and fourth grade teacher for 21 years, and Wendy Byrne, a paraeducator for eight years, will retire in June. Byrne has worked in education for 29 years.
Also retiring this year are Bob Mitchell, an administrator from 1969-2002 and a paraeducator for 10 years after that, and Julie Longchamp, who has taught in Williston for 25 years. Look for a story on Mitchell and Longchamp in next week’s Observer.
Mary Jane Wirsing
Teaching taught Wirsing how to laugh every day.
“We do a lot of laughing,” Wirsing said. “If laughing is not part of your day then that’s pretty sad.”
Julie Rodgers, a kindergarten teacher at Allen Brook School who has worked with Wirsing for 21 years, considers Wirsing’s humor a useful tool.
“She could use humor to diffuse situations with children at risk, elevate the classroom climate, lighten the load in a room and make everyone’s day a whole lot brighter,” Rodgers said. “She was the master of infusing humor.”
Along with humor, Wirsing uses music as a teaching staple. Every year, she helps to create an educational musical with her fellow teachers.
Her love of music extends outside the classroom. Wirsing has played the organ at her local church for 30 years, directs the Grand Isle County Chorus and plays with Northern Bronze, a Vermont hand bell ensemble.
“She really is an inspiration to the profession!” Williston Central School Principal Jackie Parks wrote in an email to the Observer. “Professional, skilled, compassionate, witty, focused and humble are just a few words that come to mind when I think of MJ.”
When Wirsing told her students she was retiring, she asked if they knew what that meant and they all laughed.
“One kid said, ‘yeah it’s when you’re too old to work,’” Wirsing said.
The students decided Wirsing should just do another job at school.
“They told me I should come back and be the janitor and another said ‘no, she should be the bus driver. That way we can see her every day,’” Wirsing said.
Wirsing will also miss the relationships formed with her colleagues.
“The people I have worked with have always been fabulous, I can’t imagine teaching any place else,” Wirsing said. “It really has been a wonderful ride in terms of working with colleagues who are bright, dedicated and really committed to children.”
Wirsing is grateful for the community support for education.
“We have been lucky in Williston because we have the resources because the community has always supported the schools,” Wirsing said. “It’s a hugely challenging job. It’s because of that I feel like that I can retire and feel like I did something worthwhile.”
During retirement, she hopes to spend more time gardening and with her animals. Wirsing lives in South Hero with her husband, Dolf Wirsing.
Byrne works with individual students or small groups who need extra assistance with reading or math.
“I support those kids if the teachers are doing something with science or social studies to try and modify the material so it’s easier for them to understand,” Byrne said.
Byrne taught middle school language arts in New Hampshire before moving to Vermont eight years ago. After years as a classroom teacher, working as a paraeducator gave Byrne a new perspective.
“Sometimes a teacher doesn’t get the sense of seeing a child grow and change and improve. Because I am working with individual kids and small groups, I’m doing things where I can actually see changes and improvement.”
Parks said Byrne has been a valued asset at Williston Central.
“She is skilled, dedicated, caring, hard-working and organized,” Parks wrote of Byrne. “Our students have benefited tremendously from her presence!”
Byrne enjoys forming lasting relationships with kids and parents.
“Even going to the dentist, the person cleaning my teeth asked where I work and I said Williston Central and they shared their fond memories of their kids being here and the relationships they have with the teachers,” Byrne said.
Byrne expects retirement will bring change.
“It will be different, I will definitely have to work hard to maintain those relationships with my colleagues,” Byrne said. “I will also definitely miss the kids. Working with kids has kept me younger, so not being around kids all the time is different.”
Byrne hopes to learn to embrace retirement and try new things.
“Retirement is a worry to me, from the standpoint that being an educator and being a teacher, you spend a lot of your time outside of school continuing to be an educator and a teacher,” she said. “I think teachers have a tendency to not develop themselves outside of their job because of that, so that’s going to be my challenge to develop interests that I have had but just never had time to do. I have a trip to Italy planned for this fall so I am looking forward to that.”