5 retire from Reeds Ferry Elementary

Trays of chocolate cookies and generous amounts of best wishes made the day extra sweet for a group of four longtime teachers and a popular school custodian who are retiring from Reeds Ferry Elementary School after lengthy careers there and elsewhere.

The five staff members of the school, which is at 15 Lyons Road, were honored at a reception in the school gymnasium on Thursday, June 16. The group includes teachers Steve McGettigan, Debra Shorey Packard, Catherine Searles and Catherine Jerszyk and school custodian Nathan Warren.

The spacious gym’s colorful wall mural, a painted melange of aquatic plants and fish, including a mildly fearsome shark, provided the perfect backdrop for hugs and handshakes.

The school’s teachers and most of its administrative staff attended the gathering. Student farewells were accepted earlier in the week. Photo albums displayed on the sweets table at the reception chronicled many years of school goings-on, assemblies related to school plays, sporting events, charity fundraisers and other teacher-fueled projects.

Principal Kimberly Yarlott said the group is a fine composite of people who know the importance of relating in a positive way to youngsters who will use what they learn at a young age as they journey through their teens and into life as adults.

“I think the biggest gift you can give to a child is your heart,” she said. “These teachers’ dedication and their commitment to the students here is like nothing you have ever seen.”

Some of the teachers’ histories, compiled for this feature by Debra McLaughlin, a librarian at Reeds Ferry School, illustrate the group’s longevity

Steve McGettigan, she notes, was hired in 1977 as a fourth-grade teacher. He taught that grade for 21 years before becoming the Technology teacher in 1998. Now, he’s retiring after more than 30 years.

Debra Shorey Packard was hired in 1978 as a first-grade teacher and has brought a love of learning to many hundreds of mostly 5-year-olds at Reeds Ferry over the course of 33 years.

Catherine Searles, another teacher with 33 years of experience, was hired in 1978 as a readiness teacher – one who helps youngsters acquire the social skills and other basics needed for a successful entry into kindergarten.

Catherine Jerszyk joined the school system in 1978 as a second-grade teacher at Thornton’s Ferry School and taught there for 12 years. She then transferred to Reeds Ferry School in 1990 and taught second-grade for 21 years.

Nathan Warren, a multi-talented craftsman, was hired as a custodian for the Merrimack School district in 1988 and has worked at most of the schools in the district.

Warren, dressed in an oversized white T-shirt scrawled with dozens of student-written goodbyes penned in indelible marker, said he may miss the challenges inherent in preserving the machinery and other operating systems he has tamed with tools and toil for more than 20 years.

“I think I succeeded here because nothing bothers me,” he said. “I was glad to do all the things that have to be done to open the school on each school day. Whether there was a need for clearing snow from the doorways or fixing a plumbing problem, I knew I would hear, ‘Calling Mr. Warren.’?”

Others in the group expressed their own tales of job satisfaction. One teacher said she had lived her dream job. Another said she still hears on occasion from former students who now have families of their own. Some used descriptors such as “fulfilling” and “rewarding” when describing their time at Reeds Ferry School.

Nevertheless, the group indicated that while the past at Reeds Ferry was one of satisfaction and mostly happiness they are welcoming of the new adventures in their futures. Jerszyk, for example, plans to travel with her already-retired husband and enjoy more leisure time with friends. Warren plans on doing some volunteer work such as walking dogs in need of exercise at his local animal shelter. Almost all said they look forward to a bit more sleep each morning.

Principal Yarlott, who supervises some 500 students in kindergarten through fourth grade at Reeds Ferry Elementary School, expressed admiration for all of the retirees’ many contributions over the years. She said she is proud that the school is one in which so many teachers find a longtime home.

“It’s a school where people stay,” she said. “People land here and they stay. In fact, we have a little saying that Reeds Ferry School stands for Really Fun School. People here care about each other and they care about the children.”