Niles, Brandywine districts celebrate staff retirements
NILES – Niles Community Schools and Brandywine Community Schools both saw staff retirements as the school year came to a close.
Despite a challenging year in classrooms, both virtual and in-person, many of the staff retirees were in the range of natural retirement age.
Niles Community Schools had 15 staff members retire, including five teachers. Over the past two years, Brandywine Community Schools had 15 staff members retire as well, though it was nearly an even split between each year, according to Brandywine Superintendent Karen Weimer.
“I think COVID had some play in their decision, but they were certainly of that time that they could retire,” Weimer said.
A nationwide shortage of substitute teachers, bus drivers and educators continue to be a challenge for area schools.
“We are trying to get people hired as early as we can,” Weimer said.
Retirees were recognized at a meeting if they were able to attend. Combining retirees from this year and last year was a decision to honor both groups.
“Last year’s [retirees] didn’t get to speak. This year’s got to. It’s wonderful to hear their stories. They talked about how supportive [the school] is, and how it’s a family, how much they’ve learned,” Weimer said. “It’s always nice to hear them talk about their experience.”
With a number of staff members who have retired from Niles Community Schools this summer, Superintendent Dan Applegate said many retired with around 30 years as part of the school system.
“Three of them are leaving from one building, from Ballard [Elementary School]. A lot of veteran status is walking out the door,” Applegate said. “Those are all talented and great teachers. We appreciate their mentorship and everything they’ve done through the years.”
Applegate said the legacy the educators leave has been to pass down what they know to their students and other teachers around them.
“Many of the other teachers that we have there have learned from them, and benefitted from their models and techniques,” he said. “Several of them have been mentors in the new teacher induction program.”
He extended his congratulations to the educators and staff members who opted to retire.
“They deserve the opportunity to retire after all the things they’ve done. All the years they’ve been in the classroom – they’re developmental experts,” Applegate said. “They know better than anybody what to expect from a third grader in terms of behavior.”
Cherie Schaller, now retired educator at Ring Lardner Middle School, is already enjoying her retirement. For most of Schaller’s career, she taught English Language Arts for sixth graders, along with social studies. Over the last year, she taught English Language Arts for eighth graders.
“I had set a goal, and it all fell into place,” Schaller said, with a 25- to 30-year timeline to spend as an educator. “I didn’t want to be a burned-out teacher. I have goals of a second career, and I figured that I probably made it through the toughest year of my career.”
She hopes to travel more in retirement, but that is not all.
“I have dreams of entrepreneurship, and I wouldn’t be opposed to becoming a grandma,” she said.
Applegate said each building celebrated its retirees individually.
“It’s sad to see talented individuals go, but it is wonderful that we were able to keep them with us as long as we had, and the impact they had,” Applegate said.
Retirees throughout Niles School District for the 2020-2021 school year
Pam Anton, teacher, hired Aug. 21, 1998
Susan White, teacher, hired Feb. 15, 1989
Jeanie Gilbert, teacher, hired Sept. 24, 1998
Sue Benjamin, teacher, hired Feb. 2, 1990
Cherie Schaller, teacher, hired Jan. 31, 1996
Kim Avance, social worker, hired Aug. 24, 1994
Robin Fergison, outreach worker, hired May 16, 1989
Jim Merriman, instructional assistant/security, hired Sept. 13, 2012
Denise Grise, least restrictive environment special education instructional assistant, hired Aug. 28, 1991
Linda Sarratore, operations/custodian, hired May 2, 2016
David Grossnickle, operations/custodian, hired Sept. 24, 2010
Bertha Tharp, operations/custodian, hired Dec. 8, 2009
Julie Poole, principal secretary, hired Dec. 21, 1994
Dawn Brooks, personnel and curriculum administrative assistant, hired Jan. 19, 1998
Jeff Upton, athletic director, hired July 1, 2011
Brandywine Community Schools retirements from 2019-2020, 2020-2021
SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — As of Thursday, Berrien County reported 13,929 COVID-19 cases and 270 deaths, according to the Michigan Department... read more