Thirteen retirees gave 311 years to Ridgefield schools

The cast of "The High School Experience: A Tragicomedy in One Act." From the top to bottom left to right: Liam Huff, Tyler Munson, Harrison Cluney, Nick Yulo, Caroline Malley, Lucy Kubrin, Ana Kowalczyk, Callie Amill, Eleanor Andresen, and Haydn Wilfinger. Not pictured: Hannah Jay.
The cast of "The High School Experience: A Tragicomedy in One Act." From the top to bottom left to right: Liam Huff, Tyler Munson, Harrison Cluney, Nick Yulo, Caroline Malley, Lucy Kubrin, Ana Kowalczyk, Callie Amill, Eleanor Andresen, and Haydn Wilfinger. Not pictured: Hannah Jay.

A building mechanic who worked in all nine schools, three elementary special education aides, and the high school English teacher whom former President Barack Obama’s speechwriter credits with teaching him to edit were among the 13 faculty and staff members who retired from Ridgefield Public Schools this spring — between them more than 311 years of teaching and working in the district.
“I don’t think there’s one of you who’s been here for less than 10 years, and that says a lot,” said school board Chairwoman Margarat Stamatis
Assistant Superintendent Craig Creller praised English teacher Kathy Wassel, who could not attend the meeting, for her 46 years of service at the high school.
“Her most famous student is a 1998 graduate, Cody Keenan,” said Creller. “Keenan… was a speechwriter for President Obama who frequently credits Kathy for giving him his start, so quite a legacy here at Ridgefield High.”
Creller also introduced Lawrence Sixbey, who was “probably the only person in the room who could truly say he physically worked in every building.”
Creller said Sixbey has worked at the high school for the past 16 years, and has kept the school functioning and beautiful.
“He is famous for his patented and well-stocked maintenance cart,” Creller added.
A book on hardware stores was added to the school library for his retirement.
Others leaving RHS
Creller also lauded the high school’s other retirees.
Donna Amato, a paraeducator in the high school library, worked for the district for 20 years and formed “wonderful and lasting relationships with students,” Creller said.
“She is a frequent attendee at plays, concerts, sporting events, spirit week — she even volunteers to mentor our seniors during our senior internship week,” he added. A book on contemporary American plays was donated to the school library in her honor.
Carol Clark, a math teacher, taught at Ridgefield High School for 48 years.
“We wish her well,” said Creller.
Joanne Gormley, a school secretary and counselor, worked at the high school for 16 years.
“She’s really taken ownership of the counseling department… I think [she] will be missed by all” said Creller.
Barlow Mountain
Rebecca Pembrook, principal of Barlow Mountain Elementary School, introduced the three members of her staff who retired this spring.
Loretta Steinman, the school nurse, spent 16 years tending to students’ health needs. “She was really a forerunner in terms of the wellness work that we started in our district, specifically work with students with significant allergies,” said Pembroke.
Steinman also had significant role in the RISE special education program. “Loretta worked with some of the most medically fragile students in our district and cares for them with skill and humor and grace,” Pembrook said. The school donated the book “Girl Running” by Annette Bay Pimentel in her honor.
“It’s been a wonderful adventure, it really has,” said Steinman.
Sumala Ghose, a special education paraprofessional, taught at Barlow for more than 11 years.
“Sumala and I started our journey at Barlow one month away from each other, so I have one month more tenure than she does,” Pembrook quipped. She praised Ghose’s “dignity and grace” in interacting with students. “Probably the best compliment I’ve heard about Sumala is she was like having a second teacher in the classroom.”
“Say Something,” a book by Peter Reynolds, will be housed in the school library in her name.
Nancy Scanlon, also a special education paraeducator, has taught in Ridgefield for 20 years.
“She really sets the bar in terms of being … a paraprofessional,” said Pembrook.
The book donated in her name — “The Piglet Named Mercy” by Kate DiCamillo.
Ridgebury, Scotts Ridge
Ridgebury Elementary School Principal Jamie Palladino introduced four retirees: a kindergarten teacher, second grade teacher, gym teacher, and a special education para.
Pam Higgins, the special education aide, taught for more than 13 years. “The way that she interacts with kids, and really pushes them to get their best, is really just incredible,” Palladino said. The school donated “Made for Each Other” by Meg Daley Olmert.
Richard Cesareo, a physical education teacher, taught for more than 35 years.
“He is, and my colleagues would probably join me in saying this, what every principal wants in their gym teacher,” said Palladino. Cesareo taught kids compassion, teamwork, and physical fitness, Pallandino said. Cesareo also coached baseball. The school donated the book “The United States of Sports” by Bill Syken in his name.
Christine Leonard, a second and third grade teacher, taught for 22 years. Palladino described her as a “quiet leader” among her peers.
“Chris is such a dynamic teacher,” he said, who can have kids “on the edge of their seat listening to a read-aloud.”
Kindergarten teacher Patricia Hannan taught for 18 years.
“Some people are born to teach kindergarten,” Palladino said, noting that “everybody in Ridgebury would say that Pat Hannan is a friend.”
“She’s going to spend some time with her grandkids and she’s going to sub — she doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to sub,” Palladino said.
The book “When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree” by Jamie L. B. Deenihan was added to the school library in her name.
Scotts Ridge
Tim Salem, principal of Scotts Ridge Middle School, introduced teacher and counselor Elizabeth White, his only staff member retiring this year.
“Elizabeth, I will miss you, and I thank you for your unbelievable work ethic,” said Salem.
The book “Zen Dogs” by Alex Cearns was added to the school library in her name.
“She is typically one of the last people there,” Salem said. “If you stop in at Scotts Ridge at 5:30 at night, that lamp is usually on because she’s always doing the good work of students and our community.”