District bids farewell to retiring teachers

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — At the June 4 Board of Education meeting, the South Orange-Maplewood School District honored the school system personnel who are retiring at the end of the school year, after dedicating themselves to making the SOMSD a better place for all students.

BOE President Elizabeth Baker welcomed the retirees, their families and community members to the annual recognition celebration at the Monday night meeting.

“All of you have worked so hard for our district and our children and our community, and we applaud you,” Baker said to the retirees. “This is our opportunity to celebrate you and wish you all the success and relaxation in the next phase in your life.”

The evening began with the recognition of Chandler Dennis, who taught physics at Columbia High School for approximately 24 years before he died May 21. His wife and three children were present to accept the award from Baker, STEM supervisor Jameel Mishbahuddin and physical education teacher Pat Hurley.

“The first thing you think about right now is his smile,” Mishbahuddin said. “He treated everyone in the district — whether it was a 14-year-old student in his class or the most senior member of the high school — as if they were the most important person in the world.”

Hurley also noted Dennis’ generosity and positive attitude.

“Chandler … kept me close and loved me in ways that I needed to be loved,” Hurley said. “He was truly a friend and he absolutely was a positive influence. He was absolutely the person who had something cheerful to say.”

Nathan Hollis, a CHS learning disabilities teaching coordinator for 17 years, was also honored by the board.

“Mr. Hollis, I just want to thank you for your incredible energy, compassion and kindness that you have brought some of our most vulnerable students and their sometimes very stressed out parents over the years,” Baker said, adding that he had made sure “that every child has succeeded, every child deserves to be supported and cherished.”

Other members of the CHS faculty recognized were Spanish teacher Debra Gomer, case manager of the child study team Robin Straus, and buildings and grounds supervisor Ben Johnson.

The board also recognized several teachers of Marshall Elementary School, including Joanne Farrell, a first-grade teacher who worked at Marshall for 20 years.

“We will forever remember the teacher who … at the end of her career still strives to learn and grow and reflect, and will readily tell you that she still loves what she does,” Assistant Principal Shannon Glander said in a message delivered by Marshall teacher Shira Lincoln. “JoJo — as we affectionately refer to her — we love you and will miss you.”

Robin Margent, a teacher and academic interventionist at Marshall Elementary School, was also honored for her career of more than two decades, which she began as a student-teacher at the school. She is responsible for bringing the Orton-Gillingham program, a multisensory education training program for educators, to the district.

As champion for students with dyslexia, Margent has impacted the lives of countless students, Lincoln said.

“It is because of her drive and sense of purpose that so many of her colleagues have benefited and grown professionally, including myself,” Lincoln said. “Robin is not all work, though. She is warm and lively and compassionate and thoughtful.

“She is civic-minded and truly embraces the spirit of generosity and volunteerism,” Lincoln continued. “We are comforted in knowing that the learners of the world will not suffer her loss because being a teacher is not something she does; it is who she is and will continue no matter where her journey takes her.”

Terry Kohn of Columbia High School, Phoebe Schwinder of Jefferson Elementary School and Lisa Ringler of South Mountain Elementary School were also honored during the evening.

No business was introduced or voted upon at the meeting. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for June 14.