This year 18 area school teachers and staff members are retiring, including superintendents Steve Raupp and Stephen Foster from the Yosemite and Chawanakee districts.
Yosemite Unified School District has 13 retirees this year, followed by four retirees from Chawanakee Unified School District and one retiree from Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District.
Steve Raupp, 34 years
Steve Raupp, superintendent of Yosemite Unified, started at the district in 1978 as a teacher, football and track coach.
He was named athletic director in 1984, became assistant principal in 1990, principal in 1999, and superintendent in 2009.
While serving as principal, YHS was named a California Distinguished School twice, and Raupp led the school in two six-year accreditations by Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Yosemite High was also one of 15 schools in the state honored with the distinction of having an Exemplary Career Technical Program.
In 2008, Raupp was recognized as Administrator of the Year for Madera County.
Raupp was recently recognized with a resolution from California state assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and Sen. Tom Berryhill applauding his many contributions to education, and his years of community service with Sierra Sunrise Rotary Club as a former club president and Rotarian of the Year.
"I am so very, very grateful so many students got to be guided by your wisdom and drive," said John Reynolds, school board president for Yosemite Unified, at a Yosemite High School retirement dinner in May. "I know my children are better off for being raised in this community, and as a parent, I am very blessed my children have had the opportunities they have had at this school. Thank you Steve."
"The most rewarding thing is to see the students who have gone through Yosemite High School excel, and many of our staff members who were once students here come back to teach," Raupp said at the dinner. "I want to thank you for the opportunity to serve the district."
Anne Hertwig, 31 years
Anne Hertwig retired as a third grade teacher at Coarsegold Elementary School, where she started in 1981.
"The thing about Anne is she gets good academic results from students, but she also gets kids connected to school through arts, through science and especially to performing arts," said Principal Bob Rose.
Rose said Hertwig has a lot of compassion for helping struggling students, along with being equally exceptional at challenging students who excel in school. Hertwig served as a former coordinator for the school's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program.
"She pulls her own weight, she gets her kids very prepared, she has always been very thorough as a teacher," said fellow third grade teacher Valerie Porter. "I'm sad to see her go. She's been a dedicated teacher for a lot of years."
Hertwig said she's had "wonderful years and wonderful co-workers" throughout her years at the school. Her hopes for the future of education includes lower classes sizes in grades K-3 so students can be "happy, successful learners and readers."
John K. Cross, 27 years
John Cross taught in Yosemite Unified's alternative education program. He started as a long-term substitute in 1985 at Eagle Mountain School in Ahwahnee, and became a full-time employee in 1988. Most recently, he has taught at Raymond Granite High School.
Cross has also been a teacher with Evergreen High School in Oakhurst, and helped start-up Foothill High School in Yosemite Lakes Park in Coarsegold.
"John is an incredible teacher," said Cindy Happ-Jet, whose worked with Cross for a number of years at Evergreen and Foothill. "He's a Shakespeare guru, he makes it come alive for his students ... He's also a fantastic historian and geography buff."
"I've certainly enjoyed the staff, they are like family to me," Cross said. "Everyone I've worked with puts the kids first, and that's why we're all here, and that's part of what makes us a family."
Cross said seeing those "epiphany" moments as a teacher are some of his best memories.
"The challenge of trying to get information across and trying to make it exciting," Cross said. "The occasional light in the eye."
Diana Rice, 26 years
Diane Rice started started with the Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District in 1986 as an instructional assistant in the second, third and fourth grades at Oakhurst Elementary School. She started as district secretary in 1989, and became secretary to the superintendent in 2000.
Rice retired in December, and said she is looking forward to traveling more.
"Diana Rice was my secretary for the seven years I have been superintendent of the district," said Superintendent Glenn Reid. "She was always thoughtful and considerate of the public and the people she worked with. Her memory for the details of running board meetings and the school district were outstanding ... I am very happy for her and was honored to work with her for the time that I did."
Beverley Hinaman-Witt, 25 years
Beverley Hinaman Witt started working first for the Spring Valley Elementary School District and is retiring as Chawanakee's business manager.
"She has faithfully managed the budgets of Chawanakee Unified School District," said Superintendent Stephen Foster. "She has helped us through difficult moments, and guided the process of combining both the financial records and eventually the programs of Minarets Jt. Union High School District (formerly the Sierra Jt. Union High School District) and the Chawanakee Joint Elementary School District into what we know now as Chawanakee Unified School District."
"I owned the first computer in the school district a long time ago," Hinaman-Witt said with a laugh. " I've seen the district changing and growing and I'm glad it's keeping up with the times. The people that are taking my place are very tech-oriented. I feel really glad that I know it's going to be in really safe hands after all these years, because it's like my baby ... I'm going to miss it."
Abby Mendez, 25 years
Abby Mendez has worked in a variety of classes with Yosemite Unified, including those for severely disabled, special-day, resource, mainstream and most recently, alternative education.
Mendez began working for Madera County schools in 1981 as a bus driver/special education aide with severely emotionally disturbed youths in Ahwahnee. She transferred to Yosemite High School in 1983 and became a district employee in 1987, working as a paraeducator and occasional transporter.
"There are a few characteristics that come to mind when I think of my friend Abby Mendez -- genuine, kind, generous, forgiving," said Liane Daniels, whose worked with Mendez as a fellow paraeducator. "She has been a mother, mentor, and has given encouragement and hope to many of our at-risk students over the past 25 years."
Mendez said she's learned all students are basically the same -- all responding to positive encouragement with the potential to excel given the opportunity.
John Vining, 24 years
John Vining is concluding 24 years of service with Chawanakee Unified School District as a skilled maintenance worker.
"John is one of the most loyal employees who gives over a hundred percent to everything assigned for him to accomplish," said Superintendent Stephen Foster. "John works hard every day, whether in skilled maintenance or behind the wheel of one of our busses, or in managing the new Energy Management System at Minarets High School. John will be missed, but will enjoy his new found freedom and love as a grandpa."
Vining has worked on many district projects, including construction of buildings, installing lawns and sprinkler systems, concrete work, and everything from electrical work and plumbing to carpentry.
"It truly has been a pleasure to work with the district for 24 years; I looked forward to going to work," Vining said. "I just enjoyed doing the projects. It sounds corny, but I just love doing projects and making the lawns greener; making the buildings look better."
"He's one of my best friends in the world here," said boss Mark Logee about Vining. "He was here when it was still the North Fork School District. He's one of the hardest working, most dedicated men you'll ever meet."
Joanne Pitts, 23 years
Joanne Pitts retired earlier this year as the executive secretary to Yosemite Unified Superintendent Steve Raupp. She started working for the district in 1989 as a receptionist, secretary and account clerk, and became executive secretary to the superintendent in 1999.
Since her retirement in December, she's been living in Oceanside close to her two children and four grandchildren.
"It felt like family working at Yosemite High School because I got that job one month after my husband died," Pitts said. "It was just a blessing ... I had a wonderful boss, Steve Raupp, and he is a man of great integrity and one of the smartest men I've ever worked for ... I had some great friends there and I miss all of them."
"Joanne Pitts was a valued member of our staff who served three different superintendents during her tenure with the district," Raupp said. "As the administrative assistant to the superintendent, she was responsible for developing board agendas, maintaining and revising board policies, and a variety of other critical tasks. She will be missed, and we wish her well in her retirement."
Stephen Foster, 22 years
Stephen Foster has served Chawanakee Unified School District for 22 years, beginning as teacher at Spring Valley in 1990 and ending his career as district superintendent.
Foster was instrumental in passing the bond leading to the development and construction of Minarets High School, the program development of Minarets High School, the development of the Digital Middle Schools, the development of Minarets Charter High School, as well as leading the district into a Developer Agreement in the Rio Mesa area of Madera County, which will provide over $56 million for future facilities. He is continuing to work on a second agreement which would provide another $100 million in a second development.
He was Chawanakee Unified's Administrator of the Year in 2009.
"I'm incredibly blessed to have been with Chawanakee for 22 years and to help lead them to where we are today; I'm the better for my work here," Foster said. "My big hope is that the community and the kids are served well by our school system wherever they live in the Eastern Madera County area."
"He's been a great leader and supervisor and is someone who is very visionary," said Kelly Marshall, Chawanakee's director of human resources. "His vision really got our high school off the ground and built. His knack for the budget was also really a strength. I'm going to miss him a lot. He's a great guy to work with and a great friend."
"It's not going to be the same with both Steve and Beverley Hinaman-Witt being gone," said Chawanakee's new business manager Maryann Henry. "I know Steve always had a plan or is working on a plan ... They are loyal and dedicated and you could always depend on them."
Jone Taylor, 22 years
Jone Taylor is retiring from Chawanakee Unified after 22 years of service.
"Jone has faithfully been an advocate for children, both as a classroom teacher and as our library media teacher," said Superintendent Stephen Foster. "Daily, you see her encouraging children to read and be excited about readings. Most recently, she has served as our Categorical Programs and English Learners Program person as well as our assessment coordinator. Jone's love for children will be missed as she takes on a newer role -- grandma."
Taylor started as a fourth grade teacher at North Fork Elementary School, and has also worked as a teacher for Chawanakee Academy Independent Study. She plans to continue working part-time in her retirement as district testing coordinator.
"I take pride also in coaching Academic Pentathlon for 14 years, working with seventh and eighth graders and having some great teams that did really well," Taylor said. "It's also been neat to see the successes of former students who have come back to the area and feel North Fork, Spring Valley and Chawanakee Academy really helped them be successful."
Mark Logee, 19 years
Mark Logee is retiring as director of maintenance and operations of Chawanakee Unified.
"Mark never sees a challenge that is too big, and has always been faithful in managing his area of supervision faithfully," said Superintendent Stephen Foster. "That is why in 2011, he was the district's Classified Employee of the Year. Whether taking on managing our Food Services Program or managing the building of Minarets High School, Mark has been faithful in directing our Maintenance, Operations and Transportation Departments, along with Food Services.
"I've enjoyed everything, and watching the district grow ... and I got to see Minarets first graduating class," Logee said.
Logee also coordinated the district water quality program, and was directly responsible for $1.1 million in grants for the district.
"Quite honestly, I couldn't have picked a better supervisor and boss," said John Vining, who worked beneath Logee. "Any project I could come up with that was of use to the district, he would find a way to fund it ... I can't emphasize enough how valuable an employee they had in Mark ... he wore more hats then you can possibly imagine, and he basically did everything on the day-by-day of Minarets new high school being built. He's phenomenal in his drive to make it right for the district. He's just a real star."
Earlene Ward, 16 years
Earlene Ward started with Yosemite Unified as a public relations/grant writer, with her duties gradually expanding to director of special programs -- what included writing plans, doing reports, submitting applications, working on compliance issues and attending meetings.
Ward also writes and produces School News and is the adviser of Yosemite High School's Blue Print newspaper, both published in the Sierra Star. Ward said she's enjoyed doing research, finding resources and pulling information for area schools.
Yosemite High School Assistant Principal Diane Adney described Ward as a "Mother Theresa." Srini Vasan, the district's chief business officer, described Ward like a "bouquet of flowers."
"Those flowers have qualities like 'unassuming, hard working, modesty, politeness, humility, ever smiling," Vasan said. "In her retirement, I will miss the fragrance and the beauty of that flower bouquet."
David Works, 14 years
David Works, a mechanic and bus driver for Yosemite Unified, retired at the end of 2011. He started with Coarsegold Elementary School District in 1998 as a mechanic before it merged to Yosemite Unified, and later became a bus driver as well. In 2006, he started working at Yosemite High School.
As a bus driver, Works said he enjoyed the opportunity to challenge students having a bad day to turn it around and make it a better day.
Nancy Bickley, 12 years
Nancy Bickley retired from Yosemite Unified earlier this year as a cafeteria assistant at Coarsegold Elementary School.
Bickley described her work as "the best job in the world" and also taught a cooking class at the school, which often had a waiting list of students interested in taking it.
Joel Pflugrath, 12 years
Joel Pflugrath started teaching at Coarsegold Elementary School in 2000 and was later transferred to Rivergold Elementary School.
"I will always cherish my years teaching, and consider them the part of my working career of which I am the most proud," he said, adding that he feels very fortunate to have been part of this "community of learners."
Marcia Ellis, 11 years
Marcia Ellis, payroll manager for Yosemite Unified, retired in December.
Ellis formerly did the business office work for Coarsegold Elementary, and with its unification with the Yosemite district, she took over the new district's payroll department.
She said moving to the Yosemite Unified in 2001 was "the best move I ever made," and that the job allowed her to expand her knowledge of school business.
Dr. Gerard Klimbal, 8 years
Dr. Gerard Klimbal came to Yosemite High School after teaching at Atwater High School, Chapman University and Orange High School.
Klimbal established and taught Yosemite's AP environmental science class and got the AP Chemistry and AP Physics B classes approved through the College Board.He represented science teachers from the U.S. when he went to Greenland for a week of study a few years ago, and his environmental science class did research on invertebrates with the National Park Service and University of California, Merced.
Diane Hagood, 7 years
Diane Hagood, who has been in education since 1976, came to Yosemite Unified from the Madera Unified School District to serve as the district's director of special education. She retired in October of last year and continued to work part-time.
She was the district's Administrator of the Year for 2011.
She worked with students and their parents, and was responsible for all legal requirements associated with special education.Hagood also successfully guided the district through audits, evaluations, and compliance issues.