Retiring elementary staff has combined century of service

Herkimer Elementary will be saying goodbye to four staff members who between them have close to 100 years of employment with the district. (Read about high school retiree Franca Wandell here.)

Marianne Jones

Herkimer CSD employee since 1984

Marianne Jones’ path to becoming a special education teacher began when she was in the seventh grade, living on Long Island.

“There was a girl with Down syndrome in my class, and my friends and I took her under our wing,” Jones recalled. “That kind of got me started thinking about it.”

Jones went on to volunteer in a special education classroom while in high school, and never looked back.

“Teaching has been a great career,” said Jones, who works with students in kindergarten and first grades at Herkimer Elementary School. “As a woman and a mother, you couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Over the more than 30 years that Jones has worked in special education, she has seen the discipline evolve so that special education students are less isolated from their peers.

“The special education students are included a lot more, and they’re exposed more to a general education curriculum,” Jones said. “It’s just more inclusive, instead of separating the students completely.”

Asked what she will remember fondly from her years at Herkimer, Jones smiled and said, “It’s the little successes. You might not see huge academic growth, but you see smaller steps.”

Jones teared up describing a student who had begun the year with behavior challenges, but had made a lot of progress during the school year.

“I sat and watched this child during an assembly this morning,” Jones said, “and it’s just wonderful to see how far he’s come.”

And the success of her students, Jones noted, is due to a team of people who support her and her students throughout the year.

“I can’t say enough about our classroom assistants,” Jones said. “They do so much for us. And Kathy Orts and Lynn White, and the other special education teachers — we’ve done so many fun projects together. Those are some of the things I’m going to miss.”

Linda Walczak

Herkimer CSD employee since 1994

When Linda Walczak started working for the Herkimer Central School district more than two decades ago, it was in the special education office. But when another staff member retired, Walczak decided to put herself in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the main office.

Being at the nerve center of the school has its ups and downs, Walczak explained.

“The day flies by — too much so, sometimes!” she said with a laugh. Between ringing phones, visitors checking in and students and staff stopping by the office, Walczak and her colleague Tami Kucerak handle an unpredictable range of issues throughout each day.

And the prominence of the main office has grown in some ways since Walczak started out in the district, she recalled.

“The security aspect has changed things a lot,” she reflected. “Parents used to just be able to walk right in! Of course now we have this system where everyone signs in.”

But, Walczak said, the nature of what she does hasn’t changed that much over the years.

Walczak said she will miss the students and her co-workers.

“It’s been a great place to work,” she said. “It makes you want to get up and come in to work every day.”

Elaine Ray

Herkimer CSD employee since 1997

For Elaine Ray, working as an Academic Intervention Services teacher at Herkimer Elementary School has given her just what she was seeking: the opportunity to work with small groups of children.

“I feel like I can give them more individualized help and attention,” Ray said.

As an AIS teacher, Ray works with students who are below grade level — which can include a variety of different activities, depending on the child’s age.

“We do vocabulary, reading, comprehension questions,” Ray explained. “And for younger students, we go over the basic skills that they need — recognizing letters, fluency.”

In her role, Ray has seen firsthand some of the changes that have come about as a result of Common Core and other changes to academic standards.

“The curriculum has gotten more rigorous,” Ray noted. “You look at pre-k — they’re not taking naps anymore. We’re asking a little more of these students at a younger age.”

Ray said she will take with her fond memories of the students, parents and teachers she has come into contact with during her 20 years in the district.

“I’ve seen a lot of kids who started out in intervention go on to college,” she recalled. “It’s a lot of work, but it pays off.”

Diane Collis

If you add up the years Diane Collis has worked at Herkimer Elementary School, it totals about 25, but it wasn’t all in a straight line.

“I did lunch duty for about five years, took two years off, and I’ve been here ever since,” Collis recalled.

As a support aide, Collis divides her time between the nurse’s office and the main office at the elementary school, answering phone calls and supporting the staff in both offices.

Collis said she has “mixed feelings” about leaving, but that she will look forward to spending time with her grandchildren.

“I’ll miss the kids,” Collis said. “And I have a lot of lovely, really nice people I’ve worked with here. But — we’ll stay in touch.”