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More than 200 years of experience leaves District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Rarely have so many teachers retired from District 518 at one time. They represent nearly 250 years of experience, and they're leaving at a time of serious budget reductions, with more of it ahead unless a referendum is passed in November. Most of the retirees will be replaced. Some won't.

"I see strong candidates coming in. The new kindergarten teachers are very well prepared. They're young. They have lots of energy," said Connie Tinklenberg, retiring from the Worthington district after 28 years teaching at the kindergarten level. "I think the experience is so valuable, but it's good to have young, enthusiastic ideas. I think it kind of balances out."

Others expressed concern over the future of education in Worthington, looking ahead to an important November vote.

"I think that our education leaders need to be completely honest. I am extremely concerned about the upcoming referendum," said Beth Habicht, longtime orchestra instructor. "I think in many ways the future of education is at stake in this district. And complete honesty is the only way for our leaders to go."

Monday's retirement party was short and sweet -- complete with cake and juice. But if all the teaching years of the seven retirees were combined, it would stretch back to before the American Revolution. Tinklenberg has taught for 34 years and Habicht for 40. Judy Schmidt is retiring after 44 years. Rita Gengler is a 26-year teaching veteran. Lani Grantz has taught for 32 years and Dale Solt 30. Kathy Kimmel (who says she has lost count) has invested "30-something" years to the profession.

The retirement stories are as diverse as the individuals involved. Grantz, a media technician, will not be replaced. Ironically, she is retiring at the same time her husband, Wayne, is retiring from the auto mechanics program at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. His position won't be replaced, either.

Until this year, said Lori, District 518 employed three media personnel to aid with reading programs, teach students how to research projects and instruct them how to find the right materials. Next year there will only be one such specialist employed by the district.

"I think it's unfortunate," Grantz said. "It's not for me, it's really for the kids. It really has to do with the reading program and getting the kids to read. We've been working so hard promoting reading skills. ... It's important. We need to be good readers."

Schmidt has spent 28 years in the Worthington system. Her retirement is not complete; she will teach GED courses after the 2005-2006 school year comes to an end. Gengler and her husband, Jim, have accepted an opportunity to become "wagon masters" in Baja, Mexico. Rita has past experience as a tour guide, and she finds a certain kind of irony in her future occupation, noting that she'll be moving from a sizeable minority population to an even larger one.

"I'll be doing something that I enjoy doing," she said Monday, smiling. "And we don't have enough Spanish here in Worthington."

Tinklenberg will be moving about in a motor home.

"I'm looking forward to lots of travel. We're possibly going to relocate to the Southwest. I'm going to really miss all my teaching friends at the school. It won't really hit me until next September," she said.

Kimmel admitted it may be difficult to replace the busy schedule that she's used to keeping, but she adds, "I'm looking forward to having more time for myself that I've never been able to have."

Solt expressed happiness that his industrial technology position will not be cut in his absence.

"It's a popular elective. You get all ages," he said, pointing out that the specialty is not as popular at the college level as it used to be. "Kids like it. But it's hard to find students who are graduating with these degrees."

Worthington High School principal Bruce Blatti, himself set to retire after 20 years in District 518, took part in Monday's teacher retirement party. There is some irony in the retirements during a time of budget cutting, he admitted.

"Whenever there's a budget issue, it causes stress and anxiety. When we know what's at stake with the next referendum, it would seem natural to have an impact on spirit and morale," he said. "You've got dedicated people here who care about students."

Habicht, contemplating District 518's future, said that teachers still care -- whatever that future might be.

"The seven people, over 200 years of experience. I think every one of us has followed our convictions. We've followed our hearts. (Teaching) is still the best job, it's the most important job there is. And the teachers that remain believe that. But (if the next referendum fails) it's going to be tougher."

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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