Education leaders retiring after decades working at local schools

News-DemocratMay 26, 2013 

Schools throughout the metro-east are bidding farewell to teachers, principals and others who have been familiar faces for decades.

A slew of educators in St. Clair and Madison counties are retiring at the end of this school year, including the principal at Dunbar Elementary School in East St. Louis, the athletic director at Belleville West High School and Linda Grinter of Edwardsville's middle schools.

Combined, these educators have more than 90 years of experience in the classrooms of the metro-east.

Barbara Humphrey

Humphrey knew she wanted to be a teacher/principal since she was 8 years old, and she fulfilled that dream. She has worked for East St. Louis School District 189 for the last 35 years.

Humphrey, 57, currently serves as principal at Dunbar Elementary School and will be retiring at the end of this school year.

Humphrey spent her first 17 years at District 189 teaching special education. She then transitioned from the classroom into administrative roles including a special education supervisor, assistant principal at Lincoln Middle School and principal at Judge Billy Jones Elementary School.

"I loved it all," she said. "I love what I do. It's like a dream."

Humphrey said she enjoyed "touching the lives of children and parents, mentoring teachers and trying to have a positive impact on everybody. I love teaching," she said. "I like making magic happen with children."

Humphrey, who grew up in East St. Louis, earned a bachelor's degree in special education at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. "I was determined I wanted to come back. I had an excellent education here in school District 189. I wanted to give back to my community, because they have done so much for me," she said.

Humphrey also has a master's degree in reading from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Humphrey is retiring, she said, because it's time. "It's good to be able to walk away having done a great job," she said. "I don't want to be a burnt out principal. It's been a great ride, but you know when it's time to get off."

Humphrey is most proud of creating the future teachers program, a cooperative effort between Dunbar and East St. Louis Senior High School where high school students work in classrooms at the elementary school for six weeks. She said one student who went through the program, Tamara Taylor, is now a special education teacher at Dunbar.

Dunbar is also proud of her commitment to get parents involved at the school by hosting an array of activities including muffins with mom, doughnuts with dad, books and bagels and technology night. "Each month we try to do something to get parents in the building," she said. "Parents are the key to the future of these children."

Dunbar's Assistant Principal Carlynda Coleman will serve as principal of the school next school year. Coleman said she was lucky to serve under Humphrey's leadership.

"She is the principal every person in the district wanted to work under," Coleman said. "She is the best principal in the district. I learned a lot. She is an amazing woman."

Humphrey doesn't have big plans for her retirement. She wants to continue to teach at East St. Louis Community College, travel and volunteer at Dunbar.

"I'm going to miss the students the most," she said. "It was important that I make magic happen for them. I wanted them to always wonder what we are going to do next. What's happening tomorrow Ms. Humphrey? They want to come to school; they are eager to come to school to see what we are going to do next."

Bill Schmidt

Bill Schmidt has spent most of his adult life at Belleville West High School. The Belleville West graduate has worked at the school since starting his teaching career in 1981.

Schmidt most recently served as the athletic director and a social studies teacher. He previously served as an assistant boys basketball coach, head boys basketball coach and assistant athletic director.

Schmidt, 56, is retiring at the end of this school year. "The time just arrived," he said. "It's time to let the younger people move in and take over."

Schmidt admits he's not thrilled about retirement. "I'm going to miss everything about the school," he said. "I've been lucky enough to have great administration to work for my entire career. The people I work with are some of the best friends I have. I enjoy working with the kids either in the classroom or on the athletic fields. They keep you young, and they keep you relevant."

Schmidt said there's not one event or moment he's most proud of in his more than three decades at West. "I've really enjoyed teaching the kids, and all the classes I had. Every day was an adventure," he said. "When I was a basketball coach, we had some great teams. I was always fortunate to coach great kids. We went to state in basketball in 2003. That was quite exciting to do that."

Schmidt said it was also exciting to move from the old high school on West Main Street to the new high school on Frank Scott Parkway West. "It's a job that's really full of highlights," he said.

After graduating from West in 1974, Schmidt majored in political science at Centenary College in Louisiana and got into teaching. "I got involved in education through basketball and the coaching aspect of it," he said. "It was a good fit for me."

Schmidt also has a master's degree in curriculum development from Maryville University.

Schmidt said he doesn't have any immediate plans for his retirement since his wife Lynnette still has another year of teaching before she will retire. Lynnette is a special education teacher at Douglas Elementary School in Belleville School District 118. The couple has two adult children.

Schmidt said he's considering being a substitute teacher for a year, volunteering or getting back into coaching.

"I feel fortunate," he said. "I'm not actually thrilled with the thought of retirement, which I think is a good thing. That means I've enjoyed and still enjoy what I do. It's time to move on and see what else is out there and let some other people take on these responsibilities and see how it works."

Linda Grinter

Linda Grinter fell in love with teaching when she was in college, studying at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. She got her start as an English teacher at Triad High School in 1977, and taught for three years.

She stopped teaching to stay home with her small children for 10 years. In the early 1990s, however, she came back as a teacher for Edwardsville schools. She taught many subjects, often for fifth- and sixth-grades, and when Edwardsville turned to the middle-school concept, she was able to focus on math and science.

She retired this year after 23 years in Edwardsville schools, plus her three years in Triad.

"Teaching hasn't changed a whole lot," Grinter said. "The technology has changed, but the important things haven't: helping kids move forward to the next level of understanding."

The basis of teaching might not have changed, but the kids have to a certain extent, she said.

"They're definitely more worldly, exposed to more things," she said. "I don't know if they're individually as mature or responsible as they used to be. I don't know if that's my age or what."

Over the years, Grinter remembers primarily the success of her students, watching them excel in science fairs and math contests, involved in special projects. "I remember the great field trips we used to do that they've cut out almost entirely, hiking at Pere Marquette (State Park) or skiing at Hidden Valley," Grinter said. "They used to let us do a lot more, which is a real loss to the kids."

But after all these years, Grinter said it was time for a change. "Sixty seems old enough to try something new," she said, though she hasn't quite decided what her new focus will be.

She has words of advice for new teachers, she said -- to enjoy their profession, which she said is "a great profession, very satisfying."

"Personalize your approach as far as what you want," she said. "Enjoy doing that, make that the focus, and pursue those crazy things that make a difference."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at jforsythe1@bnd.com or 618-239-2562.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 618-239-2507.

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