Palliser salutes our retirees

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COALDALE – Pat Hrynczuk contemplated retiring a couple of years ago but says the thought of it left her with a “funny feeling” in her gut.

“They say that’s a sign it’s not time,” says the Jennie Emery Elementary School teacher, affectionately known as ‘Mrs. H,’ to many over more than 43 years in the classroom. “I just thought, ‘that’s your whole identity. I’ve done this for so long it becomes sort of like who you are.’ So now it’s time to discover who I really am as a person again.”

Hrynczuk is among 13 teachers and support staff who are retiring this year from Palliser Regional Schools. She holds the distinction of being the longest serving member of that distinguished group. She began her teaching career in January of 1973 at Dorothy Dalgliesh School in Picture Butte. She also taught at John Davidson School before moving down the street in Coaldale when Jennie Emery opened in 1994.

Those assignments all involved educating students from kindergarten to Grade 3. She shared her final classroom with 17, bright-eyed Grade 1 students, her favourite age group.

“It’s so cool to watch them come in and know this much,” says Hrynczuk, her hands just inches apart,  “and just to see the knowledge and how they’ve blossomed and grown, not only academically, but also as little people.”

She doesn’t regret her decision to retire, but admits over the last month or so she couldn’t help but think it was the last time she would see many of her favourite things. Top of the list is seeing that “aha moment” captured in the eyes of a student who has just grasped a particular concept.

It would be a tough job without good people to work with, and Hrynczuk will miss the daily interactions with her colleagues. Among those are fellow Jennie Emery teacher Tori Neely-White, whom she first taught with back at John Davidson.

“There are times when you need someone to listen to you vent, or you need someone to encourage you when you have those bad days. It’s always nice to have someone to remind you of the good stuff you are doing,” says Hrynczuk.

As for retirement at this point in her career, Hrynczuk says it just seemed to be time. Husband Jake and children Paul and Tanya have always been very supportive. Now she’d like to spend more time with them and her four grandchildren, and perhaps get back to hobbies like sewing,  gardening and scrapbooking that always seemed to get put on the backburner. She is planning to work as a substitute teacher next fall, just to keep her hand in it.

Principal Sherrie Nickel has known Hrynczuk professionally for just three years, but their association goes back to the days their children went to school together for a dozen years.

Hrynczuk is the epitome of a life-long learner, she says.

“Forty-three years in and she still is learning and growing and contributing every single day. She’s current with technology and current with the latest trends in curriculum. When some new program development comes around, new literacy initiatives, Pat is right there,” says Nickel.

Jennie Emery is also losing long-time teachers Barb Fujikawa, 39 years, and Cathy Martens, 26 years.

Fujikawa “takes care of things,” says her principal, who knows she can rely on her “totally and completely.”

“You know her planning is immaculate. You know if there are concerns with parents, if you know there are concerns between children, you know that Barb will have it taken care of,” says Nickel, adding Fujikawa has also served as facilitator for her grade level on district-wide collaboration teams.

Martens is a contributor, she says, who invests not only in her classroom but the entire school.

“She takes care of the coffee fund. She is on the social committee,” says Nickel of Martens, who is her acting administrator. “She is very communicative, a problem solver. She deals with what has to be done.”

Although the new staff will bring with them energy and enthusiasm, the school will definitely miss the corporate memory and experience of those veteran teachers. Fortunately, those new teachers all worked in the school in some capacity this year, and learned greatly from Nickel’s most experienced staff.

“So a tiny piece of their legacy will live on,” she says.

See a photo of Hrynczuk reading with her students below.