Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools retirees put in 278 years

Lynn Gatchell, who ends a 36 year teaching career, is one of 11 teachers and school administrators that will retire this week. — Photo courtesy of Lynn Gatchell

As the 2011-2012 school year ends, 11 teachers, administrators and support staff in the Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) will bid a last goodbye to their students and co-workers and retire from their jobs. Their employment time ranges from 10 to 36 years.

“Generally, this group of retirees has served the students of the Vineyard for over 275 years and they will be sorely missed,” MVPS superintendent James Weiss said in an email to The Times. “Many have been long-time teachers and administrators who have touched individual students greatly and will be hard to replace.”

Four retiring teachers worked for the Island school system for more than 30 years. Tisbury School science teacher Lynn Gatchell put in 36 years. Laura Gliga, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School special education (SPED) director, is retiring after 34 years with MVPS, as is Nancy Dator, a multi-media teacher at Tisbury School. Celeste Wilcoxson, a reading specialist at Oak Bluffs School, worked there for 31 years.

Teacher and students come full circle

Ms. Gatchell, the longest serving retiree in the group, shared her thoughts about retirement in a phone interview with The Times last week. The realization that she is now teaching the children of some of her first students definitely factored into her decision to retire this year, she said.

Starting at the Tisbury School as a full-time substitute science teacher in 1975, Ms. Gatchell and went full-time as a fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher in 1976. “I have my grand-students now,” she said. “Also, the principal of the school and at least a half-dozen teachers on the staff are my former students.”

“I was a student in Mrs. Gatchell’s fifth- and sixth-grade science classes in 1980-82,” Tisbury School Principal John Custer confirmed in an email in response to one from The Times. “She was a passionate teacher then, and she remains so today.”

Mr. Custer returned to his alma mater in 2004 to join the faculty as the social studies teacher for the fifth and sixth grades. “Lynn became one of my colleagues on the 5/6 teaching team, and we both had fifth-grade homerooms, so we worked closely together,” he said.

Mr. Custer said Ms. Gatchell informed him last September, shortly after his appointment as principal, of her decision to retire at the end of the school year.

“While I’ve been happy for her all year as she looks ahead to retirement, also I have a difficult time imagining the Tisbury School without her,” Mr. Custer said. “Lynn’s contributions to the Tisbury School cannot be measured, and she’s been a dedicated educator for many years. She will be missed.”

Mr. Custer’s daughter was one of Ms. Gatchell’s “grand-students” in her homeroom and fifth-grade science class this year.

Advice from a veteran teacher

When asked what has changed most over her teaching career, Ms. Gatchell said, “When I started, the word computer didn’t exist. If you look at the technology then compared to what I’ve got now, it’s unbelievable.”

Based on her experience, Ms. Gatchell said her advice to new teachers would be to, “Learn to say the word no; don’t expect to be doing everything your first year.”

For those considering teaching as a career, she added, “Go after what you’re passionate about, or it won’t work. Kids read you like a book.”

Ms. Gatchell also recommended that all teachers, “Keep a file of all the good comments you get, so that on bad days you can look at them and say, now I remember why I’m a teacher.”

In addition to teaching, Ms. Gatchell wrote curriculum for the JASON Project in Woods Hole and the Little Red Schoolhouse, an online learning and reference tool for writers, editors, and teachers.

“I’ve been through a bunch of superintendents, several principals, and several interim principals,” Ms. Gatchell said. “There were a whole lot of people that came before me that were fabulous and that I learned from, and hopefully the people coming up behind me have learned from me.”

She began her 39-year teaching career in New Jersey, where she taught a few years after graduating from Jersey City State University. Ms. Gatchell said she didn’t know Martha’s Vineyard existed until she met her husband, Rob Gatchell. A master woodworker, Mr. Gatchell retired after 30 years with the Steamship Authority in 2004.

For more than 30 years the Gatchells have created a magnificent annual Christmas display with thousands of lights and a yard full of decorations at their home on County Road in Oak Bluffs. It not only dazzles and delights Islanders and visitors, but it also serves as a centerpiece of an annual food drive for the Island Food Pantry. Last year’s display brought in donations of more than 28 cases of assorted food items and checks totaling more than $1,000.

When asked if she would add more lights and decorations once retired, Ms. Gatchell said, “I have no idea what I’ll be doing with that.”

She has plenty of other plans, however. This summer, Ms. Gatchell plans to attend a national teachers congress in Albuquerque, N. Mex., in July, and to work as a volunteer with pre-service teachers and a science museum in Florida in August.

Ms. Gatchell will also continue to serve her two-year term as the president elect of the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers, followed by two-year terms as president and past president.

Other MVPS retirees

Other retirees, their current positions, and the number of years employed include Peter Boak, Tisbury School vocal music teacher, 10 years; Ruth Campbell, Tisbury School art teacher, 22 years; Jeff Agnoli, MVRHS guidance counselor, 24 years; Mary Beth Keenan, West Tisbury School nurse, 27 years; Dan Seklecki, Director of Student Support Services, superintendent’s office, 29 years; Kathleen Cameron, West Tisbury School K-8 art teacher, 20 years; and Jack Regan, Chilmark School teacher (two-thirds), 11 years.