The evening of May 14 was a celebration of memories, commitment and what it takes to get the job done in Waynesboro Public Schools.
The school division held its Celebration of Service at William Perry Elementary School, and recognized 21 retirees, including two principals, the director of instruction, a custodian and two bus drivers.
In expressing the Waynesboro School Board’s gratitude to the retirees, Chairman Rick Wheeler said that the celebration “is in honor of you and for all you’ve done.”
“This is one of those bittersweet moments that I attend occasionally where it’s sad to see many of you leaving,” said Waynesboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Cassell.
He added that the retirees must have had “very rewarding jobs” given how many years they remained with the school division.
“Thank you for your service, enjoy your evening, and retirement, too,” Cassell said.
If a prize were given this year for longest service to Waynesboro Public Schools that would go to Carol Coyner, a social studies teacher at Waynesboro High School since 1980, who began her teaching career at Kate Collins Middle School in 1970. She graduated from Waynesboro High in 1966.
“Mrs. Coyner remained committed to teaching the importance of our nation’s history,” said Waynesboro Schools Assistant Superintendent Vermell Grant as Coyner was recognized.
Waynesboro High Principal Tim Teachey had a surprise for Coyner. He said that when a piece of the Elm tree in front of the high school fell four years ago, Coyner told him she would like to have a piece of it. At the celebration, Teachey pulled out from behind the podium a piece of the tree’s branch with an engraving of Coyner’s name and dates of ser-vice, and a sketch of the high school.
Renae Deffenbaugh leaves Waynesboro Schools after serving as Westwood Hills Elementary School’s principal for more than 12 years. She began her career as a middle school teacher.
Cassell said Deffenbaugh has aged well in the years they have worked together.
“I think part of that’s because she loves what she does so much. When you go to Westwood, she’s serious about public education and serious about her children,” he said.
According to Cassell, Deffenbaugh knows the name of every student at Westwood and what is going on in their lives, as well as what is going on in the lives of every teacher at the school.
Cassell said that what he will remember most about Deffenbaugh is her relentless advocacy for children’s education.
Dr. Diane Behrens has been in public education for 44 years, most recently as principal at Wayne Hills Center.
Cassell said that Behrens has served in almost every position in school divisions across the state.
“We are so blessed when we needed a principal at Wayne Hills Pre-K Center that Dr. Behrens applied,” Cassell said. He said that he and another staff member were “just overwhelmed” with her qualifications, because Behrens had the skill set the school division needed for principal at Wayne Hills.
However, they also quickly learned about her love for children.
“Everything you’ve heard tonight, from pre-K to seniors, the director of instruction is involved,” Cassell said of Sue Wright’s 10 years with Waynesboro Schools.
Prior to her current position, Wright served as a high school principal and an elementary school principal in Waynesboro.
Before her time in Waynesboro, Wright traveled the United States educating students.
“She truly knows as much or more about public education, 4-year-olds to 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds, than anyone I know,” Cassell said. “She’s passionate about that.”
Cassell said Wright can be serious about her opinion, but can be just as fun by playing a joke on a colleague.
“Thank you, Sue, for all your years of work,” Cassell said.
Lynn Maupin helped with school nutrition at William Perry Elementary, but her career with Waynesboro Public Schools began as a substitute teacher 25 years ago.
Maupin will be missed at William Perry for always having a smile for everyone.
“Legend has it that Lynn makes a mean bowl of coleslaw and the best deviled eggs around, which she shares on snack days at William Perry,” Grant said. “She is strong in her faith.”
Grant said that when Maupin was asked why she had to retire now, Maupin repeated the words a first grade girl told her when Maupin asked her why she was running in the hall-way.
“‘A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,’” she said.
Iretha “Rita” Carter, a custodian at William Perry ES for six years, is “notoriously known for her detailed cleaning” of the school.
“Dusty blinds and window sills don’t stand a chance with Rita around,” Grant said.
Carter, who previously worked at Westwood Hills Elementary for seven years, was quoted by her co-workers over the years as saying that she keeps the school clean “be-cause that’s what the kids deserve.”
While Carter celebrates the milestone of retirement, her granddaughter is celebrating the milestone of graduating from Waynesboro High.
“She was truly a part of the school community,” Grant said of Carter, who always took time to talk with coworkers about their families and church while at William Perry Elementary.
Grant said she and the school division’s staff wish Carter the best in her retirement.
Brenda Clemmer retires after driving a bus for Waynesboro Schools since 2002.
Grant said that for many years, Clemmer drove a bus for special needs students who had day placement at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, and students with behavioral challenges.
When the school division finally got small buses, Clemmer was the first in line, and the bus had air conditioning.
Clemmer celebrated another milestone in October when she got married.
“We wish her every happiness in her marriage and in her retirement,” Grant said. “And we thank her for the special part she has played in the lives of children.”
Eric Kimsey, a science teacher since 1999 at Kate Collins Middle School, will be missed by his colleagues for his “calm and even demeanor in the building.”
“His quiet approach toward working with students provides them with a learning environment that is both challenging and inviting,” Grant said.
Kimsey’s expectations for his students are high for their “becoming self-directed individ-uals,” and he helps them achieve this goal by the way he structures his classroom.
Grant said that Kimsey considers his career as a teacher “a calling from God.”
“It is clear that Mr. Kimsey comes to work every day not only with a passion for science, but for life and bringing encouragement to others who cross his path,” Grant said. In thanking Kimsey for his service to Waynesboro Schools, Grant said the division is confident that God will continue to use him in whatever he chooses to do in retirement.
Betsy Coffey has served Waynesboro’s students as a bus driver since 1988.
“She’s the first face our students see when they leave home in the morning, and she sets the tone for the day, always making it a good one,” Grant said.
Coffey drove the same route for many years, and saw students grow from pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. Sometimes she also drove younger siblings who waited their turn to ride with Coffey.
Coffey also transported students to and from Waynesboro High and Valley Career & Technical Center.
“She knew early how to master the art of building positive relationships [with students],” Grant said of Coffey’s handling disciplinary issues on her bus.
A few years ago when Waynesboro Schools were able to purchase a new bus, Grant said she decided to assign the new bus to Coffey because she drove the most miles each day. Within a week, however, Coffey asked for her old bus back, which she drove until last August.
“I don’t know what brought you to this job, but I’m thankful you were here. We remain truly amazed by your beauty inside and out,” Grant said of Coffey.
Waynesboro High’s Donna Johnson retires after 41 years in education. She came to Waynesboro in 1988, and leaves the school division after serving as a bookkeeper at Waynesboro High for 10 years.
“Her love of numbers is only exceeded by her love for people,” Grant said. She added that Johnson’s “value at Waynesboro High School goes far beyond the numbers.”
Wayne Hills Center’s Judith Kirkendall served as an instructional aide for the past eight years.
Kirkendall “loves reading to students and their families in the morning,” Grant said.
When the lead in the classroom, Kirkendall makes sure to find interesting activities for the students to participate in that day.
Wayne Hills Center Principal Diane Behrens could always count on Kirkendall, Grant said, even when called upon at 6 a.m. to cover a class that is not her class.
“We hope that you will stay involved with the Waynesboro Public Schools, because we know you love us so much and we love you,” Grant said.
Leslie Michael served Waynesboro Public Schools for 38 years in special education, as a kindergarten teacher at Wenonah Elementary, and, most recently, pre-K teacher at Wayne Hills Center.
“I think of tutus and tiaras, and lots of oo-la-las when I think of Miss Michael,” Behrens said in a statement prepared before the ceremony. Michael dresses up for students some-times, and makes them feel special by complimenting their new shoes or haircuts.
“She is like a fairy godmother with a bippity boppity boo wand,” Behrens statement continued as read by Grant.
After serving as a nurse in North Carolina for 22 years, Nancy Rogers transitioned to a position as a paraprofessional at William Perry Elementary 11 years ago. Later she became an instructional aide.
But her career at WPES got off to a slippery start when on her first day she slipped on the newly waxed floor, fell and fractured her knee. Surgery was necessary, but, with the as-sistance of a walker, Rogers began work.
“Over the years, she has rarely been known to miss work,” Grant said. Rogers always did what was asked of her “without a complaint and always kind and loving.”
Grant said the school division is “grateful that she literally slid into the doors of William Perry and into our lives.”
Betty Sluss, a custodian at Kate Collins Middle, began her career with Waynesboro Schools in 2002 at William Perry Elementary.
She often was seen helping children in the cafeteria to open milk cartons and taking the time to speak with each child as they emptied their lunch trays.
“We will miss Betty’s giving spirit at Kate Collins. We love her and we will miss her smile,” Grant said.
Mary Smith spent the last 34 years creating a love for music in students, the last 20 years in Waynesboro Schools, most recently at Westwood Hills Elementary.
Grant said Smith’s commitment to instructional time for students “has always been above and beyond the norm.”
“Mary has taught students to love and appreciate music, while modeling for them how good human beings behave,” Grant said.
Smith has been named Teacher of the Year twice in her career at Waynesboro Schools, while at Wenonah Elementary and again at Westwood Hills.
Joyce Yancey leaves Waynesboro Schools after 47 years of service as a third grade teacher, then first grade teacher, and most recently as a reading specialist. She was part of the staff that opened William Perry Elementary School in April 1996.
“Joyce is one incredible lady — one who deserves all of the joys that retirement can bring,” Grant said.
Wynne Ellen Van Covern, a fourth grade teacher at Westwood Hills Elementary, “has made it her mission to show love and kindness beyond measure to each of her students,” Grant said. Van Covern celebrates successes with her students, and also cries when they hurt.
Van Covern was a co-founder of Westwood Hills’ STEM night event, and has been Teacher of the Year twice.
“While Ellen avoids the spotlight, we cannot allow her to escape without knowing she is loved and appreciated with the unconditional love and dedication she has shown the children of Waynesboro during her tenure here,” Grant said.
Retirees not present at the celebration on May 14 were Denise Farrar, Elaine Mahler, Pat Smith and Phyllis Watson.