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Retiring Upper Valley educators reflect on careers that have grown and changed

  • Margot Holmes, of Sharon, Vt., center, talks with retiring Marion Cross School Principal Bill Hammond in the woods behind the school on June 7, 2019 in Norwich, Vt. Holmes said that Hammond was her favorite teacher when he was teaching at Hanover High School. Holmes was with her husband Dave Holmes and sons Devin, 11, Benjamin, 4 at a community event for Hammond. The school had just dedicated the outdoor classroom at the school to Hammond. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • On the way to the Marion Cross School outdoor classroom, messages from students at the school blaze the trail during an event to honor Bill Hammond who is retiring as principal at the school. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Marion Cross second-grade students and twins Elizabeth, left, and Maria Turner sign a book of messages and drawings for retiring Principal Bill Hammond during an event for Hammond on the Norwich Green on June 7, 2019, in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 17, 2019

When Bill Hammond needed an occasional break from the rigors of teaching at Hanover High School, he didn’t pop in a movie for his students or give them busy work. His way of relaxing was a bit different. He’d grab one of the costumes he’d secured through an enrichment grant and spend the school day impersonating Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Archimedes or one of the other great mathematicians of history.

It’s difficult to imagine a person like that retiring. And for many people in Hanover and Norwich schools, it’s difficult to imagine Hammond not being around.

But after 36 years, the beloved teacher and principal is indeed saying goodbye to the Hanover-Norwich School District.

“I feel grateful that I’ve been able to be in a field that I’ve loved,” said Hammond, 58, one of many long-time educators around the region who are packing up mementos and pulling thumbtacks from classroom walls for the last time as the school year comes to a close. “It’s never felt like a job. I have felt useful, and I’ve met some extraordinary people. … I just feel lucky.”

Hammond, who has served as principal of Marion Cross Elementary School in Norwich for the past seven years, got his start as a student-teacher at Hanover High while earning his teaching certification in math and English from Dartmouth College. His versatility kept him there filling in for teacher sabbaticals and eventually earned him a permanent teaching position.

Among Hammond’s favorite classes was Russian Literature. “No one else wanted to teach it. I never took a course in it, but I was always intrigued by it,” he said. “There weren’t enough rooms in the school. … I would just go wherever the empty rooms were.”

One of those rooms was a social studies classroom, where the regular teacher worked at a desk in the corner while Hammond was teaching. “He would get mad at me because the conversations were so interesting, he wanted to be part of the conversation,” Hammond recalled. “The power of Russian literature is really about the power of what it means to be a human being.”

Hammond also loved weaving stories about mathematicians into his math classes. In 1990 he wrote and self-published a book titled Eureka: Anecdotes About Archimedes and Other Mathematicians, which he shared with his students as a means of drawing them into lessons. “He recognized full well that math is not everyone’s favorite subject, so he did whatever he could to make it fun,” said John Donnelly, a fellow Hanover High School math teacher who worked alongside Hammond for about 10 years.

Those creative ventures included teaching his senior honors classes to play bridge and then coordinating games at the senior center across the street, making a film about effective high school math teaching, putting on talent shows as fundraisers and working as an advisor for the Footlighters theater group. 

Hammond was awed by the way theater could bring people together, whether it was the school’s most gifted actors staging a smash success like Les Miserables or students from different backgrounds and abilities collaborating in a drama class. “It’s a delightful venue for everyone to succeed,” he said. 

Hammond had a way of helping others succeed, too. “He’s just a terrific guy. A terrific mentor. A person who has things in great perspective,” Donnelly said. “He was just a huge asset to our school and to me.” 

In 2012, Hammond left Hanover High School to serve as principal of Marion Cross School in Norwich. 

In a new role that required him to answer to multiple constituents, he never lost sight of his purpose. He made classroom visits for every student’s birthday, kneeling down to perform a magic trick or share a joke, and he took the time to get to the bottom of discipline problems. 

“He had a sincere, empathic interest in kids,” said Jonathan Fenton, a fifth-grade English and social studies teacher at the K-6 school. “He had an ability to reach them at their level.” 

Hammond recalls a student who was sent to his office his first year there. “He was rolling his eyes at me,” he said. “We talked it through … and that kid came back to me in May, and he apologized. I thought, this kid has learned something.”

As time went by, fewer students were sent to Hammond’s office and more came on their own to talk through problems, knowing Hammond would offer a sympathetic ear. 

“Usually something’s happened, but the reason that something’s happened is because of something else altogether,” Hammond said. “I’ll let them know, that’s a hard thing to deal with. … We have to find a different way to deal with it though. Then I ask them what they can do to repair it.” 

That fix-it attitude applied in other situations as well. Over the years, Hammond subbed in every class, from French to gym, when a sub couldn’t be found, Fenton said. Once, when someone pointed out that one of the play structures on the playground felt a little shaky, he immediately crawled underneath it to find the problem and repair it himself. And just last weekend, Fenton caught Hammond repairing the countertop in the staff room. 

“He’s quick to fill in in virtually any role that has a need,” Fenton said. “He devotes himself 100% to the school.” 

Hammond, who said he’s leaving the demanding job of principal for health reasons and hopes eventually to return to teaching in some capacity, is not the only devoted educator retiring. Around the Upper Valley, numerous teachers and staff members are closing out long careers. 

At the Windsor School last week, first-grade teacher Louise Wall and third-grade teacher Deb White took a moment to reminisce about their years of teaching, sitting at a child-size table with tennis balls affixed to its legs, in a classroom cleared of decoration except for the many class photos on the entryway wall. 

“Those will be the last things to go,” said White, who had just completed 32 years of teaching the day before. “The kids love looking through those and finding their parents or their uncles or aunts.” 

Being in the same school for so many years has allowed White and Wall to build close friendships with students and their families, they said. Wall, who taught there for 28 years, loves that the school houses students in grades K through 12, allowing her former students to come visit and sometimes help out in her first-grade class. 

“They’d say, ‘Were we like this? … I’m exhausted,’ ” Wall said with a laugh. 

Wall kept a journal of all the funny things her students said through the years and had a tradition of sitting on her deck at home and reading them on the last day of school. One of her favorite entries from the past school year was when one of her students asked her age, as students often do. Over the years, she’s offered different playful answers. This year, she told them she was 99.

“The next day, one of the boys came in and said, ‘I told my dad you were 99, and he said that’s impossible,’ ” Wall recalled. “So I told him I was 97 … and he seemed to accept that.” 

Sometimes, Wall (who is actually almost 66) feels 99. “Teaching has gotten so much more stressful. It’s like being on a high-speed treadmill,” she said. 

Wall and White attribute the rise in stress to a combination of sometimes interrelated factors: technology, busy lifestyles, more academic demands and more disciplinary problems. 

“Our whole society is just more stressful,” Wall said. 

Although they’re eager to bid farewell to the stress and the early morning wake-up time (Wall sets three alarms to ensure she gets up at 5:20, after she once overslept until 9:30 years ago), the friends are a bit sad to leave a place where they made so many memories and friendships. 

Watching students — and at least nine different principals — depart over the years, the teachers built strong ties among themselves. 

“No matter if the principals came and went...” Wall said. 

“We stuck together,” White said, finishing Wall’s sentence.

Mary Maxfield, who wrapped up 35 years of teaching science at Lebanon High School last week, echoed other educators’ sentiments about the growing demands of teaching. But she’s noticed positive changes in her classroom over the years as well — changes she attributes both to her own growth as a teacher and to societal influences. 

“When I was a brand new teacher, my ability to control a classroom was profoundly problematic,” said Maxfield, who taught ninth- and 10th-grade biology. “I had colleagues and administrators who helped me, including one who taught me to be strict, which felt horrible. … I basically had to be at peace with not being someone who was not likable.”

Over time, Maxfield was able to build warm relationships with students without relinquishing respect. She credits her age, in part, for that.

“But the climate at the school has morphed quite a bit in 35 years as well,” she said. “It’s almost a gentler population. There really has been sort of a sea change. … I think the kids truly like the adults in their lives, and that’s a big piece.”

Maxfield is one of several educators retiring from the Lebanon School District this year. Her colleague, Deborah Nelson, is also retiring after 26 years of teaching language arts at Lebanon High School. 

“She is a very demanding teacher for whom kids work really hard,” Maxfield said.

Maxfield’s own son and daughter are testament to Nelson’s influence. Her son, who is in law school, credits Nelson with helping him to think and write analytically in her AP Literature class. And her daughter, who is an actor, got her start in local theater through activities Nelson staged at the school. 

“Deb does a lot that makes a big difference in a lot of kids’ lives,” Maxfield said. 

At Lebanon Middle School, several longtime teachers are also retiring. Betsy Storrs, a fifth-grade teacher who created an outdoor classroom at the school, is saying goodbye after 42 years in the district.

“She a very caring educator. She really owns her classroom,” said Principal John D’Entremont.

Patricia McNamara, a sixth-grade teacher, is retiring after 32 years in the district, Carlos Cutler, a unified arts teacher, is retiring after 28 years in the district, and Ann Radford, a paraeducator, is departing after 34 years in the district.  

At Mount Lebanon Elementary School, art teacher Margaret Schultz is retiring after 26 years in the district. At Hanover Street School, music teacher Thea Calitri-Martin is retiring after 16 years. And Randy Fillian, a maintenance worker, is saying good-bye to the district after 12 years. 

At Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, seven long-time staff members are saying goodbye: Keri Bristow, who taught Spanish for 39 years; Joe Curry, who worked in the maintenance department for 45 years; Bobbi Roy, who was a special education teacher and program aide for 33 years; Dave McFarlin, who taught tech ed and woodshop for 30 years; Matt Rogers, who taught photography and art for 16 years, Candace Coburn, who served as district data manager for 14 years; and Gareth deBourguignon, who was a special education paraeducator and English teacher for 33 years. 

In Hartford, several educators are wrapping up long careers. White River School librarian Gail Haynes is retiring after 31 years, Hartford Memorial Middle School math teacher James Mitchell is retiring after 29 years, Hartford Memorial Middle School food and consumer science teacher Kristin Burch is retiring after 22 years, Hartford Area Career and Technical Center paraprofessional Linda Louzier is retiring after 31 years and Hartford Area Career and Technical Center welding teacher Gary Hutchins is retiring after 15 years. 

Three veteran educators are departing from South Royalton Elementary School. Kindergarten teacher Maureen Judge taught multiple generations of students at the school. 

“She’s been a holder of traditions at the school,” said Principal David Wells. “She was a great help to our new kindergarten teacher this year.” 

Bonnie Isenor, a teacher’s aide and paraprofessional, and Bonnie Caswell, a kindergarten assistant, are also leaving after long careers at the school. 

“They’re just super sweet child-centered people: very, very patient with young children and older children,” Wells said. “I think the children see them like a grandparent.”  

At Bethel Elementary School, Karol Delia is retiring after eight years at the school and 18 years in education. 

“She’s been a super amazing part of our staff,” said Principal Andra Bowen. “She’s just a joyful person that everybody wants to be around.” 

Delia left a career in accounting to become a teacher when her own children were in fifth and sixth grade.

“I loved the age,” said Delia, who taught both grades at Bethel Elementary. “I needed something more nurturing than being in a cubicle.” 

The profession did not disappoint. Delia’s favorite memories of teaching are the field trips she took with her class and the warm friendships she formed with students, staff and families.

Fellow teachers Jaime Rainville and Rebecca Fors say Delia was known for building lasting relationships with her students and preparing them for life beyond classroom walls by teaching them skills like shaking hands firmly and making eye contact.

 But Delia also believed in the power of play. “My philosophy from day one was, if the kids are having fun, they’re learning, whether they realize it or not,” she said.

Sarah Earle can be reached at searle@vnews.com or 603-727-3268.

Correction

Bill Hammond has been the principal of Marion Cross School for seven years. An earlier version of this story misstated how long he has been at the school.