Archive for Tuesday, December 30, 2003

So long, Mrs. Williams

December 30, 2003

When Jeanie Williams closes the door to her second-grade classroom at Tonganoxie Elementary School for a final time in May, she will have no regrets.

But she knows she'll miss her co-workers and students.

"I love the kids," said Williams, who will retire at the conclusion of this school year. "I love teaching. I know that I'm going to miss a lot of that. I'm not going to miss some of the paperwork."

Williams will retire at age 54. In fact, both Williams and her husband, Phil, a highly regarded Tonganoxie High School math teacher and cross country coach, are retiring this year.

For Jeanie Williams, who began her teaching career in 1971 in Belle Plaine, retirement likely will be anything but dull.

¢ Jeanie Williams, a longtime Tonganoxie Elementary School teacher, will retire at the end of the school year, taking advantage of the so-called "85 and out" option. Under the program, teachers and other school district employees can retire when their years of service and their age total 85.

¢ "It allows someone who has been in the education field early on to retire at a young age," said Gail Drake, clerk for the school board. "And they can draw their full retirement benefits. In the next three to five years, we have the potential for a major turnover because of the longevity of a lot of our staff."

¢ Other retirees this year include:

¢ Sarah Kettler, who teaches second grade at the elementary school.

¢ Phil Williams, who is married to Jeanie Williams and who teaches math and coaches cross country and track.

¢ Art Sorensen, maintenance director.

¢ Mike Bogart, Tonganoxie High School principal. Sorensen left the district this month.

¢ Kettler, Bogart and Williams will retire at the end of the academic year.

¢ The Mirror has profiled Sorensen and Phil Williams in previous editions, and profiles of Bogart and Kettler will be published in upcoming editions of the newspaper.

"I can't imagine that I'll have trouble keeping myself busy," she said. "I have a lot of interests and a lot of things I like to do."

She plans to volunteer and spend more time with friends. In addition, she enjoys yoga, step aerobics, walking, gardening and reading. And she loves projects around her house, such as building new flower gardens. Any outdoor activity likely will catch her attention.

"Phil and I hope that we can travel some," she added.

The Williamses started investigating the possibility of early retirement about three years ago. And as the time approached, they decided it was the right choice for them.

"I want to leave while I'm still enjoying it so myself," said Jeanie Williams. "I still feel like I have lots of energy and lots of enthusiasm, and I don't want to get the other way."

Before Williams began walking the path to teaching in the late 1960s when she was in college at Wichita State University, she actually had thought psychology might prove interesting as a career.

"I liked all of those classes," she said. "But they really needed teachers and they were really encouraging people to go into education. I really enjoyed the first few classes I took in education, and it was something I really wanted to do."

Williams earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1971 from Wichita State University and later a master's degree in gifted education from Kansas State University.

After teaching third-graders in Belle Plaine for two years, Williams and her husband interviewed for jobs in Tonganoxie. That was in 1974.

"We came to interview, and there was only an opening for math," Jeanie Williams said.

But an elementary school teaching job opened up. And the couple decided to climb aboard.

"We did not know a soul," she said. "We came here, and mainly it was because of the location, and we both were offered a job. Phil got recruited by the Methodist softball team, and that got us acquainted with other couples. We've made a lot of good friends here, and it's a good place to raise our kids."

Those children now are on their own. Daughter Courtney, who's 27, majored in marine science at Texas A&M University and works as a project testing coordinator for Prosoco in Lawrence. She married Chance Murdock on Nov. 21.

Son Matt, 23, will graduate in May from Kansas University with a degree in geography. He's engaged to Aña Duran.

Jeanie Williams said she and her husband didn't consider leaving Tonganoxie to pursue jobs at other schools.

"I think we've been very content," she said. "We've made lots of really, really good friends. We love the area. And we've worked with many really good people. I really didn't have any desire to leave.

"You can always hope for more money," she added, smiling.

And now, as her career nears its end, Williams tries not to dwell on retirement. And she's not letting down her intensity during her last year at TES.

"I love my class," Williams said. "I love that the little kids are so eager. They're just so much fun because they have all of that energy, but they also have all of that enthusiasm for learning. That makes it fun. Challenging, but fun."

During the years, there have been many high points. Elementary school teachers are on the go during their entire workday. They must change activities often, to adjust to students' attention spans.

And Williams, like other teachers, always is thinking about adding activities for her children and about how to improve lessons she's teaching.

"It's really fun when you see the light come on and kids get stuff, whether it's math or reading," Williams said. "And you see so much maturity. Second-graders begin the year, and they're really limited in reading and writing -- and by the end of the year, they're writing stories and reading material. And that is rewarding."

In one short semester, Williams will walk out of the elementary school and into the next phase of her life.

"It's a change and it is kind of scary," she said.

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