Staff members that recently retired from the Whitewater Unified School District attend the annual dinner for retirees at Cravath Lakefront Community Center June 1, from the left: Joe Lynch (assistant principal, Whitewater High School), Gigi VanAcker (early childhood education, Lakeview and LINCS), Dianne Butt (secretary, student services, WHS), Rose Ann Bishop (health aide, district-wide), Cynthia Teal (business education, WHS), Rob Bughman (special education, WHS) and Rochelle Ahrens (7th grade language arts, Whitewater Middle School.)  Tom Ganser photo)

Staff members that recently retired from the Whitewater Unified School District attend the annual dinner for retirees at Cravath Lakefront Community Center June 1, from the left: Joe Lynch (assistant principal, Whitewater High School), Gigi VanAcker (early childhood education, Lakeview and LINCS), Dianne Butt (secretary, student services, WHS), Rose Ann Bishop (health aide, district-wide), Cynthia Teal (business education, WHS), Rob Bughman (special education, WHS) and Rochelle Ahrens (7th grade language arts, Whitewater Middle School.) Tom Ganser photo)

By Tom Ganser

Correspondent

The Cravath Lakefront Community Center was the setting June 1 for a gathering to honor seven retiring Whitewater Unified School District employees and a school board member.

Following a buffet dinner, District Administrator Eric Runez invited Casey Judd, president of the WUSD School Board, to offer congratulations to Chuck Nass, a member of the board for 12 years, beginning in 2005, and including 10 years as president.

“Chuck has lived a life of public service… As a board member I want to thank you for some cool and steady leadership in some very challenging times for public education in the state. On a personal note, thank you for giving me a solid blueprint of what effective board leadership looks like,” Judd said.

“The three things I think of with Chuck as a leader were a cool head, a steady hand, and, the most important thing, a very big heart,” he added.

In an earlier email message, Nass wrote: “As President of the WUSD for 10 years, it was my honor to shake every hand of the graduation classes and to wish each of them continued success as they moved on from their high school years.”

Nass also said that despite the challenges faced by the school district during “changing” times in Wisconsin beginning in 2010 he believed “the teachers, support staff and administration continue to feel that they have the respect from the Board and the Board always looked out for the well-being of our staff to do the very best it could do to make sure our students were always able to compete with the rest of the world after graduation…I have many fond memories of my 12 years and many new friendships because of the time spent on the Board.”

Doug Parker, principal of Whitewater High School, began his comments on retiring special education teacher Rob Bughman by distributing copies of photos from “Aqualba,” the school’s yearbook to share examples of the retirees’ hairdos in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

Bughman started teaching at WHS in 2002, employed by the Walworth County Children with Disabilities Education Board, preceded by teaching for 7 years at Ethan Allen School for Boys operated by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.   At WHS he worked primarily with students with emotional and behavior disabilities, and also coached the varsity football team.

Parker mentioned that Bughman had earned a black belt in karate.

“I would love every teacher to spend a day in Rob Bughman’s shoes, and with the extremely challenging kids that he’s had to work with. He’s done such a great job getting them to graduate and be productive citizens in society,” Parker said.

Lanora Heim, Coordinator of Special Education and Pupil Services for WUSD shared a special success story.

“This year every one of our 24 special education kids are walking across the stage, in large, large part due to Mr. Bughman,” Heim said.

Bughman said in an earlier interview, to be successful in special education “I have found that you have to look for the middle ground. Things are not as bad as they seem nor as good as claimed. You have to flexible and willing to adjust and change [because] all children are different. You must have a sense of humor, as laughter is the best medicine for most problems. Finally, you have to remember that it’s all about the kids and helping them be successful. I’ve had to deal with many difficult situations over the years, but I never considered it work. I’m proud to have been able to know so many wonderful young people in the Whitewater community.”

The second WHS retiree to be honored was Dianne Butt. Her 28 years with WHS started as secretary to the athletic director and assistant principal until 1990-91, when she turned her talents to student services.

“Dianne does have a ‘mama’ drawer at the high school, with stuff for the hair, Advil for migraines, anything you need,” Parker said, adding “and staff use it all the time.”

Known as a “computer genius” that faculty and staff often turned for solution to their problems, Parker complimented Butt on work her behind-the-scenes.

Having paid the last $20 for a student’s fees that could not be waived, Butt explained to Parker, “She’s had a rough life, and it’s only $20. I’m glad I could help her.”

“I can’t believe how fast this 28 years has gone. It’s been an incredible ride,” Butt declared. “Whitewater Unified School District is an amazing district. It’s a small little district but it offers such a variety of courses and extra-curriculars. It’s just incredible.”

Butt said she enjoyed working “with each and every one of you. You’ve all been colleagues, mentors, friends, and it’s been an honor and pleasure being part of the Whitewater Unified School District.”

Cynthia Teal retires as a business educator at WHS since 1990. Teal began her teaching career in 1982 at Logan High School in LaCrosse, followed by a position at Lanesboro (Minnesota) High School. Teal also served as faculty advisor for WHS’s chapter of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and she is proud of having mentored eight national FBLA qualifiers from WHS, complete with fire truck ride through town upon returning from the State Conference, in one year.

In 2015, Teal was selected as the recipient of the Russell J. Hosler Award in Business Education at the Wisconsin Educators in Business & Information Technology.

“I hope I have half the energy she has before I retire,” Parker said, describing Teal as “the consummate professional. She’s super-organized, a great mentor, an unbelievable mom and wife, [with] top notch standards of excellence for her students.”

Reflecting on her experiences as a business education teacher for a third of a century, Teal said “you can only imagine what my classroom looked like 33 years ago. Going from manual typewriters to tablets, and everything else in between. A really big learning curve for me all those years.”

Other changes Teal cited included going from chalk board to digital boards, from one phone shared by all the teachers to individual email accounts, from a little red gradebook to online grading, and from newsletters to web pages.

Parker said Teal is “somebody that everybody else should strive to be.”

Joe Lynch was congratulated for his four years of service as Assistant Principal at WHS through July 2015, moving into that roll following his retirement as principal of Lake Geneva Middle School.

“We wanted to take this opportunity to wish Joe well as he re-enters retirement, and with his health, and thank him for his years of service and contribution to the district,” Parker said.

Lynch, who was selected by the WHS students to be honored as “Grandpa Whippet” for the WHS homecoming football game last fall, said all of the staff “made a difference in my life. I loved coming here every day for four years. …and I thank you and the Board (of Education) for the opportunity to be part of the Whippet family.”

Tonya Wojciechowicz, principal at Whitewater Middle School confessed that after preparing four rough drafts of remarks highlighting the career of retiring WMS 7th grade language arts teacher, Rochelle Ahrens, she realized “there are no words that I can ever put on a page that are ever going to embody what Rochelle means to us, our students and the community.”

After teaching in Appleton and Palmyra from 1974 to 1990, Ahrens joined the staff of Franklin Junior High School in Whitewater in 1990.   Ahrens also coached middle school athletes in track, softball, volleyball and basketball.

Prior to the retiree dinner, Ahrens said she has many fond memories of teaching over the course of the years “but I think the high point has been chaperoning our wonderful 7th grade trips to Washington D.C.”

“I think the ability to keep a positive attitude, an open mind, and the ability to just push through, with others, all of the changes [in education] have been helpful to me over the course of the years,” Ahrens said.

Ahrens attended Whitewater schools as a student, and Wojciechowicz shared the story of Ahrens imitating her junior high school social studies teacher, Mr. Dell, behind his back.

Adding to the fun of that story, Wojciechowicz recognized the same Mr. Dell who was present at the retirement dinner.

“Rochelle’s classroom is a family. Her students trust her, show up every day excited to see her, thankful for the things that she does for them, for the way that she makes them feel, and they’re not afraid to try. And when Rochelle’s students have success, you are always going to see her standing next to them, celebrating with them. She truly understands that the students who need love the most are the ones who are going to show it in the most unloving ways,” said Wojciechowicz.

“I grew up here in Whitewater and went through the Whitewater school system, so it’s been really nice for me to give back to the community that I grew up in,” Ahrens said.

Heim introduced retiring district health aide Rose Ann Bishop as someone who worked in all five school buildings in Whitewater and knows all the kids.

Bishop began her 24-year career in WUSD as a special education paraprofessional at Lincoln Elementary School

“Rose Ann has had quite an amazing impact on children,” Heim said. “You would think that maybe because she’s not in the classroom that might not be true, but it is remarkably true.” Heim said Bishop’s influence included WHS graduates pursuing a career in nursing.

“Sometimes students come to the health office for band aides, sometimes because their tummy hurts or they have a headache, and sometimes they come because they need a hug. And that happens quite frequently with Rose Ann. I think a lot of people think in her role that she’s is only here helping the students, but she’s helped an amazing number of staff over the years,” Heim said.

“The district has allowed me to expand my career and meet an amazing number of people here,” Bishop stated. “I’ve been lucky to have made so many friends here …and I will be stopping into your buildings, hopefully, to continue mentoring some students.”

Gigi VanAcker, the district’s early childhood educator, was the final retiree to be recognized. Her 31 years in education included 10 years in WUSD as the early learning coordinator.

Runez credited VanAcker as being singlehandedly responsible for planning the district’s 4-year-old kindergarten program that started out as a community based program.

“Gigi probably has one of the toughest assignments in the district because she works with parents who are extremely anxious about their little child and their particular disability. So she works with the family very closely in easing their anxiety and concerns,” Runez said.

“It really takes a special person, or maybe more importantly, a special or unique personality to work with 3 and 4 year olds every single day that doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Her daily highlights of conversations revolved around whether Barney loves me more than you, whether Bob the Builder can really do it, or what new Spanish word to explain to a child that they learned from Dora the Explorer,” Runez added.

Although the role of a school district providing services to the very youngest children often flies below the radar, Runez said VanAcker’s “colleagues, parents and students love her because she welcomes with open arms the most diverse population of students that any of us can ever imagine, from students with major medical needs to students with severe behavioral challenges.”

“She has taken them all over the past 31 years, and has loved, cared, and educated each and every one of them. The level of growth that her students show every year is nothing short of amazing. With a level of passion for early childhood development that is rarely scene, Gigi finds a way to make a huge, positive impact in the lives of our communities’ littlest students and their families,” Runez said.

VanAcker extended thanks to all the teams and paraprofessionals she has worked with over the years.

“We’re like a well-oiled machine. We work really well together,” she said.

 

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