Educators reflect on years of serviceThe public will have an opportunity to say farewell to the educators and staff who are retiring and to recognize them for their years of service during an upcoming program.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
The public will have an opportunity to say farewell to the educators and staff who are retiring and to recognize them for their years of service during an upcoming program.
The Dickinson Public School District is hosting its annual staff retirement and recognition program at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Dickinson High School Risser Auditorium.
A reception will follow in the DHS commons area.
Several of the teachers and staff reflected on their years of service with the district:
Carolyn Blake is retiring as a second grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary after 33 years spent in the school’s classrooms.
“Actually, I taught in Williston, and with those years, it’s over 40 years,” she said.
She has remained with the second and third grades throughout her career.
“I’ve always liked the lower grades,” she said. “I did my student teaching at this level and I really loved the kids. It’s never boring.”
Blake credits her childhood in Columbus for the inspiration to pursue teaching.
“Well, I’m the oldest of all my cousins. I’ve always been around little kids. Growing up, I did a lot of babysitting,” she said.
Throughout the years, Blake has seen numerous changes in the curriculum and advances in technology.
“I absolutely love technology. I was into computers when they came out. I love working with them — that’s something I’ll continue to do, but probably for fun,” she said.
Besides advanced teaching tools, she has appreciated the help of a paraprofessional.
“It gives me more freedom for the students,” she said. “And they have such a range of abilities — you try to meet everybody’s needs.”
She also credits the Dickinson School District for offering continuing education training.
“I’m fortunate to have had wonderful principals and staff …. and the parents too. Their support is so valuable for the education of the students,” she said.
Blake realizes she will miss the students and staff, but she is looking forward to retirement as well.
She is married to Pat, who is a retired educator. They have a daughter, Alison, who teaches in Fargo and has a daughter. Their son, Jaden works for Microsoft. He and his wife are expecting a baby in September.
Blake has a few more days remaining with the students, but has started cleaning out her files.
“I spent 12 hours last weekend cleaning. Over 40 years, you accumulate a lot of stuff,” she said.
Phil Moormann, who has taught math and coached in the Dickinson Public School District for 24 years, is retiring at the end of May.
He taught at Dickinson High School for 14 years before transferring to Hagen Junior High School where he teaches seventh-grade math.
“It’s time to try some other things — 32 years is plenty for education,” he said. “I wanted to go out while still enjoying it.”
A native of Stanton, Moormann said he was heavily involved in sports in high school.
“That was my life. The only way to stay in coaching was teaching. It all fit together,” he said. “So I spent the first two years at Terry, Mont., and came back to Trinity for six years. I’ve been with the public schools since then.”
Working as a teacher and coach has been enjoyable, he said.
“What’s been best for me is the relationships I’ve built with the kids. As they go into adulthood, we keep in contact,” he said. “We talk about the good old days and how many fun things they did as students in the classroom as well as athletics.”
He has coached basketball, football and track at all levels for the district.
“I’m coaching high school track now,” he added.
“Of course, I’ll miss the staff, but I can always come back and visit. They’re not out of the picture totally,” he added.
Moormann is married to Pam, who teaches at DHS. Their family includes Lucas, who is teaching math at Bismarck and Betsy, who is graduating from Northern State in Aberdeen this year.
Moormann hasn’t made any plans for retirement, but would like to coach for the school district next year.
Joan Allen is retiring as the home-to-school coordinator for Hagen Junior High School — a title she’s held for the last 19 years.
“As home-to-school coordinator, I work with parents, staff and community agencies to make sure all the students’ needs are addressed — social, emotional, cultural as well as academic,” she said.
A native of Dickinson, Allen attended Dickinson State University and the University of North Dakota. She received a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi-Hattiesburg.
“After I finished college, I moved out of state for 20 years. I lived in Portland and Phoenix,” she said. “Then I moved back in 1985 to raise my four sons.”
Allen feels it was the best decision for her family.
“I have wonderful friends here, colleagues. It couldn’t have been a better environment for my boys to grow up,” she said.
Her sons are Mark, an ob-gyn at Beaufort, S.C.; Barnaby, an accountant and Gabe, who works in finance at Manhattan, N.Y. Son Trevor is graduating from law school this spring and also is moving to Manhattan.
Allen said the rewards of her career are working individually with students and their families.
“I work with them on social skills, decision-making, anger management. I tie in actions with consequences in decision-making,” she said.
The greatest reward comes after the students graduate.
“It’s running into prior students in the community and seeing how well they’re doing, what jobs they have and hearing about their families,” she said. “I’ll really miss that if I move out of the area.”
Allen also expects to miss her colleagues after retirement.
“I feel I’ve been so blessed with such a wonderful group of teachers, administrators and co-workers. I love this job,” she said.
While she is leaving Hagen, Allen hopes to stay in the area.
“I’m interested in looking for new challenges in the field of social work and maybe explore some things in the private sector,” she said. “Hopefully, I can find something in Dickinson or definitely in the state.”
Kathleen Kessel, a sixth grade teacher at Berg Elementary School, is leaving the Dickinson School District after 15 years.
“I’m not retiring. I’m moving to Bismarck and have applications with the Bismarck-Mandan Public Schools,” she said.
The move is related to her recent engagement and to explore options to further her education.
“I’m looking for a position with new experiences and new opportunities,” she said. “I’d like to pursue an advanced degree — a master’s in education technology or the gifted and talented.”
Kessel is a native of the Fargo area and earned an undergraduate degree from Dickinson State University in 1994. After spending a year as long-term substitute teacher, she accepted a fifth grade teaching position at Lincoln Elementary.
“I worked there for 12 years. This is my third year at Berg,” she said.
“I really enjoy working with upper-level kids. They are excited about learning. The challenge is keeping them engaged,” she said. “Students are then able to work cooperatively together and use skills previously learned in other grades in order to accomplish their educational goals.”
Kessel has enjoyed her tenure at Berg — the school reserved for sixth graders.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity, not only for the staff, but for the students as well,” she said.
The students become acquainted with each other in school, but still spend the majority of their day in home rooms, she said.
Kessel also teaches science in cooperation with another teacher who teaches social studies for both classrooms.
“I have really enjoyed working with everyone — students, fellow teachers and parents. It’s an awesome community — everyone working together for the benefit of the students. It’s an awesome place to raise a family and to teach.”
Kessel’s family includes a son Taylor, living in California and a daughter Danielle, a DHS senior.
As a vocational guidance counselor at Dickinson High School, Susan Larsen helps students set career goals, enroll in college or work on other issues.
She will retire this spring after 32 years in education — 20 spent at DHS.
She works with sophomores and juniors, along with one-third of the senior class that is split among the three counselors on staff.
The senior year is a huge transition for the students, she said.
“They turn 18, they’re an adult now with grandiose ideas, but sometimes they end up in my office,” she said. “We work very closely with their college plans.”
In the counseling process, Larsen goes through the interests that the students have identified. Those interests are compiled in electronic portfolios. She provides them with scholarship applications, financial aid applications and curriculum guides.
Students may seek assistance for other issues, as well.
“I work mental health and family issues — everything from depression to suicidal thoughts,” she said. “We do refer out to agencies in the private sector.”
Larsen was inspired to pursue education while working as paraprofessional at Taylor. She received her degree at North Dakota State University and spent 12 years working as the home economics teacher at Richardton-Taylor High School.
Students would come to Larsen for advice, and that’s when she decided to pursue a degree in guidance and counseling.
“It was a field I was very much interested in,” she said.
Larsen’s rewards are associated with the students’ success.
“Sometimes, you don’t think you’ve made a big impact, but parents let me know how I really helped their children — it’s that feedback,” she said.
While she enjoys counseling, she’s looking forward to retirement and the opportunity to wind down from the day-to-day stress.
“I’ll be working with my mom, who’s 87 and living in an assisted living home. I plan to spend some time with her,” she said.
Larsen’s family includes four daughters, Sandra, Ale, Ruby and Alison and six grandchildren.
Linda Binek is retiring from Dickinson High School as a special education instructor after 19 years of service.
“I think I have made a difference for a lot of students — helping them graduate when they could have fallen through the cracks,” she said. “We become an advocate for them.”
She worked as a paraprofessional for three years before returning to college in 1990 to receive her teaching degree.
“I was an OTA (older-than-average student). It was really refreshing to know you can do it. You got into the groove with the younger ones and we all worked together,” she said.
Binek fostered an interest in the field of special education from personal experiences.
“One of our children is learning disabled and also gifted — it’s a mix,” she said.
When she started teaching, students with learning disabilities were grouped in contained classrooms.
“We helped students with their class work and also taught strategies for learning,” she said.
Today, Binek accompanies students into the regular classrooms.
“We attend classes with the students and retest students to meet any of their special needs,” she said.
Binek said the retirement will be bittersweet.
“I’m looking forward to it. I enjoy my job, but it’s just getting to be too much,” she said. “I have all kinds of hobbies and want to spend time with my granddaughter, Korbyn.”
Binek is married to Arnie Binek, also a retired educator. They have a son, Beau and a daughter Marya Jimison.
Binek considers teaching as a privilege.
“I think it’s a very honorable profession,” she said.
Toni Fosaaen helps students with math and reading as a school-wide instructor at Roosevelt Elementary. She is retiring this spring after serving 26 years there.
“I give them a different approach than what they have in the classroom — it’s not as much paper and pencil,” she said.
Students from kindergarten through second grade come in groups of five to 10 to spend 45-50 minutes in her classroom. Laurie Olson serves as paraprofessional.
Fosaaen made the decision to pursue education after graduating from high school.
“Originally, I wanted to be a child psychologist, but my father thought what kind of profession is that for a young lady. So I became a teacher because I wanted to work with kids,” she said.
She taught eighth-grade English at Cando before transferring to Garrison. There, she taught seventh and eighth grade and also high school psychology and sociology.
She moved to Dickinson, took off several years to rear her family and started teaching at Roosevelt in 1984. The Federal government funds her program, which was called Chapter I, then Title 1 and now school-wide, said Fosaaen.
“I think the program gives kids the self-confidence to become risk-takers in the classroom,” she said. “I think the small group gives them the opportunity to speak up. If they get something wrong, they may not feel bad about it because there’s only five or six kids with them. Generally, I give them the push they need.”
After 31 years in education, Fosaaen said the last day of school will be tough.
“I love the kids. I absolutely love every moment I’ve had with the kids,” she said.
Having taught students from kindergarten through senior year, she added, “They all have such unique things that have touched my life. I still stay in contact with a lot of former students.”
She is married to Brian and they have two children, Misty and Rob who live in Minnesota.
The Fosaaens are moving to Zimmerman, Minn., where she will babysit her granddaughter and grandson.
“I’ll still get my time with kids, but this will be extra-special time,” she said.