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Thank you BLISS • GARDNER • GROTHEER • KOLATH • OWINGS • RIES • SCOTT • SLACK • STAHL • WHEELER

SPRING HONORS RECEPTION MAY 9, 2012


“A good teacher is like a candle - it consumes itself to light the way for others.�


Message from the Superintendent The men and women recognized in this magazine have given most of their lives to enriching those of the countless number of students who entered their classrooms. It’s been a true honor to work in the same school district as these driven, passionate educators, and it’s with great sadness that we prepare to say goodbye. Yet, this is also a moment of great happiness. These outstanding teachers have earned every minute of the peace and relaxation that they are soon to enjoy. I could not be more proud to say that I’ve gotten to know each of them not just as colleagues, but as friends. I and the entire USD 250 staff wish them all the best in their new adventures. Most importantly, I thank them for their service to Pittsburg Community Schools. They may be leaving the classroom, but the effect they had on this district, this community and this world will forever remain through the students they touched and inspired. Thank you for everything! Sincerely, Destry Brown USD 250 Superintendent


Glenn Bliss Pittsburg Community Middle School Physical Education Teacher After 40 years in education, it would probably take less time to list what Glenn Bliss did not accomplish. From becoming the first coach of the girls’ freshman basketball team that was formed as a result of Title IX to helping create a bicycle safety video that was shown nationwide, Bliss has enjoyed a career that featured a little bit of everything. All except music. “When I went to PSU in 1964, it was as a music major,” he said. “I changed that after the first year. There seemed to be a lot of classes that music majors had to take, but you didn’t actually get credit for them. I always enjoyed coaching, so I switched to P.E.”

and I always admired his leadership and his demeanor with young people,” Bliss said. “He had a lot to do with my wanting to be a teacher.” Bliss, who this year received the Clyde U. Phillips Distinguished Service Award from Pittsburg State University, has served in a variety of coaching and leadership capacities since becoming a Purple Dragon. He taught at Eugene Field, George Nettels and Westside elementary schools before moving to PCMS, where he’s coached boys’ and girls’ basketball, football and track. He also initiated a swimming and water safety program for Pittsburg elementary students, developed a bowling program for PCMS 6th-graders and a roller skating program for 3rdgraders.

It was one of the best decisions of his life. Since joining the USD 250 staff four decades ago – 20 years at the elementary school level and 20 years at Pittsbug Community Middle School – Bliss has been able to live his dream of teaching and coaching students on the importance of physical activity.

Bliss said this year was the “right time” to retire from teaching, but he will still be involved with students in many ways.

“The kids are definitely the best part of this job,” he said. “I enjoy teaching kids how to play a game and how to do it right. I’ve always liked to coach. I had an uncle who coached baseball, and he was someone I always looked up to.” He also looked up to one of his own teachers.

“I’m still going to come back here and coach some, and I’m going to continue to be a referee, which I’ve done now for more than 40 years,” he said. “Being around kids is something I really love to do. I always have, always will. I always wanted to get a smile on a child.” Bliss will also continue serving as a youth pastor at his church.

“I had a high school teacher in Kansas City-Wyandotte,

Thank you, Glenn!


Valorie Gardner Westside Elementary School 2nd Grade Teacher As the third of eight children, Valorie Gardner feels like she began her teaching career at a young age. “We had a big family, and we had a lot of responsibilities to the younger siblings,” she said. “We had to help take care of the little ones and set an example. So, I think being a teacher was something I knew I always wanted to do. It was just instinct.” Gardner has put that instinct to good use for the past 39 years, all as a 2ndgrade teacher at USD 250. She began at Lakeside Elementary, where she taught for 19 years. The Girard native has spent the past 20 years at Westside Elementary.

they’re also incredibly unpredictable. “They’re just a lot of fun, they have energy and they get excited about so much in life,” she said. “They help keep me feeling young.” Gardner said she also enjoyed working with a countless number of fellow educators who continuously strived to make each other better. “I had so many great mentors at Lakeside, and I’ve always had great co-workers in this district,” she said. “It’s been a blessing to be a part of such a wonderful group.” While Gardner still has a passion for teaching, she said she is ready to experience the next phase of her life.

“I can still remember walking into my room at Lakeside after getting the job,” she said. “It was this big empty space, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but it was mine.”

“This just feels like the right time to retire,” she said. “I can go out while still successful and while I still love doing what I do. That’s a good feeling to have.”

Gardner holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education from Pittsburg State University. As it was growing up with five younger siblings, she said the best part about being an educator are the “teachable moments.”

any set plans.

“To see the children as they are learning something for the first time is a great thrill,” she said. “You can almost see the discovery going on in their heads, and it’s so exciting. The children are definitely the best part about being a teacher. They are very predictable in many ways, but

Immediate retirement plans include moving north to the Kansas City area, where she will be closer to her children. She also hopes to travel some, although she hasn’t yet made

“Honestly, if you say ‘let’s go,’ I’m ready to go,” she said. “I’m ready to do it. I love to travel, and I do hope to see the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That’s definitely on the bucket list.”

Thank you, Valorie!


Carol Grotheer Meadowlark Elementary School 3rd Grade Teacher She was a hair dresser, a stay-at-home mother and the owner of a flower shop. Then Carol Grotheer decided to try her hand in accounting. “I went back to school,” she said. “I was in my 40s, and I was actually in college at the same time as my four children.” One day, while struggling to enjoy accounting as much as she thought she would, Grotheer by mistake found herself in Pittsburg State University’s education department.

Grotheer taught at Lakeside Elementary School before moving to Meadowlark when it opened in 2003. She said she’s enjoyed teaching second- and third-grade students, as they are the “bridge between little kids and big kids.” “Even though there’s one less recess, it’s a fun age to teach,” she said. “They’re starting to move out of the little kid stage, but they’re not quite at the big kid stage. There is a ton of development going on at that age, and it’s fun to watch.” Her favorite part of teaching, she said, is the new start each August. “I really like the feeling of getting a new class,” she said. “The fall comes, and we each get a class full of new kids and new stories. We get to redecorate our rooms. It’s a new beginning each year. That’s what I love so much about teaching. It’s a new challenge every year, every week, every day.”

“Walking through there and seeing all of the posters on the wall,” she said, “something just clicked. I knew that it was where I was supposed to be. I changed my major that night. I knew where I wanted to be.” Grotheer earned from PSU a bachelor’s degree in education, and for the past 20 years, including the last 16 at USD 250, has given her all to what she described as a “last chance career.” “I love working with the kids,” she said. “I always have. When things like paperwork get you down, the kids are always there to pick you back up. They’re a ton of fun, and I enjoy every day that I’m around them.”

Grotheer said she is retiring to focus on her health and to “take it easy.” “I still think I’ll connect with the teaching world in one way or another,” she said. “I’m going to spend a lot of time with family and a lot of time relaxing. I’m looking forward to it.”

Thank you, Carol!


Pam Kolath Lakeside Elementary School Kindergarten Teacher Becoming a teacher may have been in the cards the whole time, but it took her a while to realize it. “I’m not one of those who can say that ‘I always wanted to be a teacher,’” Pam Kolath said. “It wasn’t until college, really, that I discovered that it was the route I wanted to take. Looking back on it all now, I’m so glad that I did.” Kolath has spent all 24 years of her education career at Lakeside Elementary School, where she served as a 1stgrade teacher, reading coordinator and, for the past three years, kindergarten teacher. With a strong desire to and passion for helping children, Kolath said her favorite part of teaching has been playing an active role in the students’ development.

Kolath, who holds from Pittsburg State University a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a master’s in reading and an education specialist degree, said she has especially enjoyed getting to teach at Lakeside, a school that has long meant much to her and her family. “I entered Lakeside Elementary in the fall of 1955 as a Kindergartener,” she said. “I attended school in the same building for 10 years, as did two of my siblings. In later years, my daughters all attended Lakeside during their elementary years. Now nearly 57 years later, I will leave, again as a Kindergartener, though on the other side of the desk. “You can see why I have such a fondness for my building,” she said. “The Grand Lady has certainly served the families of this community well after nearly a century of service. I am proud to have been a small part of the history of this amazing building.”

“What I love the most about this profession is getting to see the difference in the kids from the beginning to the end of the year,” she said. “I love seeing how they grow in so many ways. These kids learn so much and really blossom in a year’s time. It’s really a remarkable thing to see and be a part of.”

Kolath said she’s retiring “with a smile on my face,” and that she plans to spend her free time spending time with grandchildren and traveling – she and her husband have children in Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, India and Germany.

Kolath said she’s always enjoyed teaching the early grades. “Children, especially at the kindergarten and 1st-grade ages, really have a different perspective on things,” she said. “You never know what they’re going to say, and everything about them brings a freshness to life. It’s been such a joy to be around them all these years.”

“The main thing that I want to make sure that I do is still be productive and still have a sense of purpose,” she said. “I’m not retiring from life. I’ll still find ways to contribute to my community. I still have a lot of energy, and I love to work.”

Thank you, Pam!


Pam Owings George Nettels Elementary School Physical Education Teacher There are many benefits to being a physical education teacher, but for Pam Owings, one perk stands above all others. “You get to play and wear tennis shoes all day,” she said. “How can you beat that?” Owings has served as a physical education teacher at USD 250 schools for the past 21 years, most recently at George Nettels Elementary School. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical education from Cottey College and Pittsburg State University, Owings said she has long enjoyed being a part of the students’ education about physical fitness.

always aspired to be an educator. “I knew I’d grow up to be a teacher,” she said. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do. There is a rush that comes from watching the kids grow and improve. I’ve very much enjoyed my career.” Owings’ only deviation from her professional passion was a 2000 trip to Taiwan with her husband, for which she had to take a leave of absence from work. “That’s the only time in the past 21 years that I haven’t been teaching,” she said. “That opportunity was tough to pass up, though. It was a fun experience.”

“I like pretty much everything about it,” she said. “I enjoy doing what I do. This job is a lot of fun, and there are times that it doesn’t feel at all like a job. It’s just a great time with the kids.”

With retirement on the horizon, Owings said she feels both excited and a little sad about starting a new chapter of her life.

With increasing attention paid to childhood health and wellness, Owings said her role as a physical education teacher has been to give the students a fun and healthy outlet for constant movement.

“I am anxious to see what’s next, but I will miss doing this every day,” she said. “I’m going to miss it all. There isn’t just one thing that I’d miss the most. It’s the whole thing.”

“The main thing is to keep the kids moving,” she said. “P.E. is just one way of doing that. A lot of kids, especially these days, go home and do nothing. They find entertainment in ways that don’t involve much movement. So, when I have them in class here, I make sure to keep them moving all of the time.”

Owings said she plans to do a lot of traveling with her husband, and she may even help do some of the chores around the house.

Owings, whose mother was a teacher, said she had

“He’s been retired for several years,” Owings said. “He’s ready to stop doing the cleaning and the cooking.”

Thank you, Pam!


Connie Ries Pittsburg High School Math Teacher When it came to early career aspirations, Connie Ries had quite the range of desires. “I thought about being a cowgirl,” she said. “I also flirted with the idea of being a phlebotomist.” There was always one thing, however, piqued her interest above all else. “It started in kindergarten, when I learned that numbers existed,” she said. “From that time on, I always loved numbers. I loved counting. I wanted to teach numbers. There’s just something in the brain that makes one fall in love with something, and for me, it was numbers. I’m continuously counting and always processing numbers in my head.” As she grew up in a period when, she said, the only real professional opportunities for women were in the medicine, education or secretarial fields, teaching became her way of channeling her love of numbers into something productive. For the past 43 years, she has taught math in a variety of places, including the last 10 at Pittsburg High School. She is a 1968 graduate of Northern State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. She also holds a master’s degree in mathematics from Southwestern Oklahoma State. Her career began in Germany, where she taught math in schools for the Department of Defense. After five years abroad, she returned to the U.S. and taught at an adult education program in North Dakota before moving to Okla-

homa to teach in Altus and McCloud. She retired from the Oklahoma public education system, but wasn’t quite done working. “I was looking to teach in either Kansas or Texas, and (former USD 250 Superintendent) Gary Price was looking for three new math teachers at Pittsburg High School,” Ries said. “It was the only application I put in, and it worked.” For Ries, teaching allowed her to combine her love of numbers with her passion for helping students learn and grow. “It’s always been about the kids,” she said. “It’s about making a difference in their lives. We’re not in education for any other reason.” The “difference” she was making was made clear to her when in 1975 she received a letter from a student she taught in 1968. “This was at a time when it wasn’t easy to find someone,” she said. “We didn’t have the Internet or cell phones or anything like that, but this student took the time to find me and write a letter telling me how much I helped him. I don’t know that I realized until then how much of an impact a teacher has on a child’s life. “It’s the students that I’ll miss the most.” Ries said she “hasn’t yet figured out” how she’ll spend her impending free time. She does know, however, that much of it will be dedicated to raising her 9-year-old granddaughter.

Thank you, Connie!


Janie Scott George Nettels Elementary School 4th Grade Teacher All she needed was a sliver of hope, and Janie Scott could take it from there. So, when former George Nettels Elementary School Principal Don Porter told Scott, then a student teacher, that he may have an opening at the school, the sliver of hope had been delivered. “I hounded poor Don Porter about a job after he led me to believe he had a spot for me at Nettels,” Scott said. “I was so anxious to have a job that he probably wished he hadn’t mentioned it.” Her persistence paid off, and Scott has spent nearly four decades at the school in which she got her start.

cation from Pittsburg State University, said she is the only teacher in her family. She said many of her relatives didn’t understand the ups and downs of “our lives involving students.” She understood, however, and she’s loved every minute of it. “We as educators may have the same routine, but the students make it so that each day is unique and never boring,” she said. “What a great feeling it is to know that each day will be an exciting one. Students always have interesting stories to share, even if they are not true. It’s always a new day with new experiences. How could life get any better than that?”

“I found my way into a wonderful school,” she said, “and I never had to leave.”

Scott said she has “mixed emotions” about retiring, and that she’ll miss most the students and her co-workers. She is excited, however, about having more time to do other things she loves.

Scott has taught 4th grade at George Nettels for all but eight of her 37 years at the school. Her first position was as a kindergarten teacher. No matter the grade, Scott said she’s always had a love for the students and her fellow educators.

“I have will more time to spend with my grandson, and I have a few small travel plans with my recently-retired sister,” she said. “Life has been really good to me in so many ways. A big part of that life has been teaching, so I will leave the profession in good hands with all my cohorts.

“I chose education as I always loved kids,” she said, “and I thought teaching was my calling. I guess it was.”

“I will also be able to drink that second cup of coffee,” she said, “and not worry that I won’t have time to use the restroom.”

Scott, who holds a master’s degree in elementary edu-

Thank you, Janie!


Carol Slack Lakeside Elementary School Special Education Teacher It was a pull she could not deny.

know I’m here as a teacher and as their friend.”

“When I was doing my student teaching,” Carol Slack said, “I found myself always gravitating toward those kids who needed extra help.” For nearly four decades, Slack has dedicated herself to those very children. All but one of her 38 years as a special education teacher have been spent in Pittsburg – her first teaching job was in Jasper, Mo. For the past 24 years, she has served as the Lakeside Elementary School special education teacher, a role she has cherished from the beginning. “I genuinely and passionately love the children,” she said. “All students have the same challenges, but they have them in different ways. That’s what I love so much about our Inclusion program. We’re working with the same kids, but we do have individual plans to fit each student’s individual needs.” Slack, a graduate of USD 250 schools, said one of the greatest joys of working with special education students is seeing the happiness on their faces upon learning a new concept or skill. “My favorite part has always been the children,” she said. “I love seeing them gain self-esteem and seeing them laugh. I get to help them and watch them learn, and they

Slack, who works at Lakeside through the SEK Interlocal 637, holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Pittsburg State University. She also earned from PSU a master’s degree in education, with an emphasis in special education. She was inspired to become a teacher by one of her own. “When I was in high school, I had a teacher who worked very hard and taught us very well,” she said. “I enjoyed listening to him, and I thought he was fair to everyone. It was then when I thought that I wanted to be a teacher just like him. “It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said. “My own school experience was great in this district, and I was very fortunate to get to teach in the school in which I grew up. We really are a family here.” Slack said she’s looking forward to “starting a whole new life” upon retirement from education. “I feel like I’m 20 again and starting all over,” she said. “I plan on visiting my grandchildren in Wichita whenever I want, doing some traveling and working on the yard and house. I’ll also be able to be there for my children if they need anything.”

Thank you, Carol!


Becky Stahl The Family Resource Center Director of Early Childhood Services The decision in 1997 to close Eugene Field and Lincoln schools in Pittsburg meant that Becky Stahl would return to teach at Lakeside, and she was just about ready to go.

that all students come to school ready to learn, is enough to get you excited about working here. Watching it grow into what it has become has been a true thrill for me.”

“I got back into Lakeside and was setting up my classroom,” Stahl said. “Then my phone rang. I got a call from Monica (Murnan), and she asked me if I wanted to jump off a bridge with her.”

Stahl, a great-niece of Clyde U. Phillips, said she always felt destined to become a teacher.

Murnan was spearheading the effort to create what would become The Family Resource Center, and she wanted Stahl to be her partner in the endeavor. Stahl took the plunge and became the Center’s first Director of Early Childhood Services. “The rest is history,” Stahl said. “Monica and I were the only two employees until three days before the Center opened.” The Pittsburg High School graduate with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in early childhood, is retiring after 36 years in education, including 19 at USD 250. She began her career in Athens, Ga., before moving west to San Diego, Calif. She joined the USD 250 staff in 1993 as the Education Excellence Grant Coordinator, and later became part of the Transitional 1st Grade class at Lakeside and the multi-age team at Eugene Field. Of all of her educational endeavors, though, Stahl said she has most enjoyed her time at The Center.

“I have a lot of teachers in my family,” she said, “and I truly think that education chose me. I always wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t know what type of teacher. I knew that I always had a love for early childhood.” For 18 years, Stahl owned and operated Building Blocks Preschool, where she developed an even greater appreciation for early childhood development. “It was a great experience,” she said. “I got to know many of the families, and I loved watching the kids learn, watching the fascination on their faces when they picked up on something new. That’s my favorite part about being in education. There is nothing better than watching a child’s mind grow.” Stahl said she hopes to use retirement to focus on her health, visit her new granddaughter in Aspen, Colo., and to travel. “It’s time to get the next phase of my life in order,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

“This has been one of the greatest experiences that I’ve ever had,” Stahl said. “Just the idea of this place, which is

Thank you, Becky!


Tom Wheeler Pittsburg High School Art Teacher Ten words.

in Joplin, Mo.

One defining moment.

He joined the staff at Pittsburg Community Middle School in 1988, and in 2001, transferred to PHS.

“If you want to change the world, become a teacher.” When Tom Wheeler’s father made that statement while the family was driving through a Najavo reservation in New Mexico, the young boy felt his fate decided for him. “It was like an angel came down and kissed me on the cheek,” Wheeler said. “I knew in that moment that I would become a teacher.” The subject he would end up teaching, most likely, was decided at an even earlier age. “I was always drawing, painting,” Wheeler, who joined USD 250 as an art teacher in 1988, said. “I always felt that it was a better way of expressing myself, that writing did not complete enough of the picture. When I was really young, I used to draw on walls in our apartment. My mom would cry because she’d always have to erase them. “She told me to draw on paper,” he said, “so I could keep it forever.” Wheeler, who holds a bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing from the University of North Texas and a master’s in art education from the University of New Mexico, began his 37-year education career at Francis Scott Key Middle School in the Houston, Texas area. Before joining the USD 250 staff 24 years ago, he taught in Winnebago, Neb. and

As teaching and art are among his most fervent passions, Wheeler said he doesn’t like to describe his work as a “job” or “career.” “Do everything you love to do, for as long as you have the energy to do it,” he said. “If you can find some way to get paid for doing one of those things, you’ll never have to work a day in your life. I haven’t worked for most of my life. I’ve just got paid to do what I’d be doing anyway. It’s pure joy.” One of Wheeler’s lasting legacies at PHS will be the Adaptive Arts class that he created in 2004, a class that gives students with special needs the chance to work with various art projects. “It’s the only class like it in Kansas,” Wheeler said, “and I’m very proud of this school for supporting it and for the students who give it their best every day. I think I’m more proud of that class than anything else I’ve accomplished.” Wheeler said he is retiring “while it’s still fun,” and hopes to use some of his free time to visit his granddaughter in Connecticut. He has already begun work on a personal art studio and plans on paying it a visit at 7 a.m. every morning. “It might be noon on golf days,” he said.

Thank you, Tom!


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