June 5, 2013

District says farewell to teachers

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

This year McKenzie County Public School District No. 1 is saying, “goodbye,” to seven teachers who are retiring with over 200 combined years of service to the district. While that much commitment and dedication to teaching will be missed, McKenzie County Public School District No.1 hasn’t wasted any time in finding their replacements.
Not only does the district have to fill its retirees open positions, but three other teachers are leaving the district for positions elsewhere. And eight new positions have been identified and added, bringing the total number of needed new teaching staff to 18.
“We may need to add more at a later date, but we will not know until after contracts expire on May 29,” states Steve Holen, district superintendent.
The teachers who have invested so much of their teaching career in the district are Janet Johnston, Judy Rolfson, Celeste Burg, Cari Liebel, Mark Jokela, Sue Wold, and Kaylene Jepson.
According to Holen, these teachers have worked a combined total of 221 years for the school district, though some have put in additional years elsewhere. Johnston has worked 39 years, Rolfson has worked 31, and Berg, 37, all for the district. Liebel has taught for 33 years total, but her first two years as a teacher were spent teaching third grade in Minnesota. Wold has been a teacher for 32 total years, and spent 24 of them at Watford City High School, Jokela has spent a total of 35 years teaching, 30 of which have been with the district and Jepson has taught for 33 years, 29 with the district.
“Things have changed a lot since I first started teaching,” states Liebel. “For one thing, kindergartners have become more advanced. Now they are reading by the middle of the school year, as opposed to not reading until first grade.”
Though school has changed, those teachers who have decided to make this their last year state that students have not changed.
“Five-year-olds are still five-year-olds,” states Liebel. “They need to learn by a hands-on approach that allows them to move and have fun. The world has changed, but kids haven’t changed that much. They are still kids and they still love school and their teachers.”
Jokela, who has spent his last 30 years with high school students agrees.
“I have not gone to work in 30 years because I love what I do and am always able to have fun with the students,” states Jokela. “Every day someone makes me laugh and its always so amazing to watch them grow throughout the school year. You have the opportunity to observe students achieve something they didn’t think they could. It’s what keeps you going.”
According to Jokela and Liebel, retirement for them is not a result of being tired of their job. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“I decided I was going to retire while I’m still enjoying my job,” states Liebel. “The school needs substitute teachers desperately, so I will continue to associate with the school by being a sub. I will say ‘no’ when I don’t want to work. And I will miss out on all the paperwork, the committees and the meetings. I am looking forward to just coming in and doing the fun part.”
“Every year is a high because it’s filled with new people, so I don’t have a good answer for why I’m retiring, other than I’m looking forward to no commute and not having to answer the alarm clock,” states Jokela.
The school district is losing seven teachers who have each dedicated close to, or more than 30 years of their teaching career to the school system. Teachers who, as Jokela put it, “Try to open their students’ eyes to more of the world and more of themselves.” That kind of dedication will be hard to replace. But it is something that must happen, because the district has 18 positions to fill.
“We have added an additional third, fourth and fifth grade section to the elementary school,” states Holen. “At the beginning of last year, grades K through two had four sections, while grades three through five had three sections. Starting this fall, all elementary school classes will have four sections per grade level.”
Additionally, Holen has hired a new physical education position for the Watford City High School and has added four full-time positions that will essentially share time with other entities in the district. Those positions are a PE/Guidance Counselor position in the elementary school, a part-time high school Music teacher/part-time elementary school Music teacher, a Special Education teacher to work part-time in the elementary school and part-time in the high school, and an English Language Literary/Reading Specialist for the elementary school.
“We have added the full-time positions that include sharing positions across the district because we have many situations where there is a need. But adding a full-time position to fill that need may not be warranted. Adding two part-time positions to make a full-time position will help meet both needs,” states Holen.
Holen currently has 17 new teaching contracts signed for the 2013-2014 school year, with at least one position left to fill.