Teachers retire on school’s 20-year anniversary

Gifted services facilitator Carmen Shelly, librarian Andy Shelly, At-Risk teacher Bob Lewis and special education teacher Connie Henderson retire from the school

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By Kathy Habiger

Gifted services facilitator Carmen Shelly and librarian Andy Shelly have made the decision to retire from working at the school after 20 years.

Aiden Burke and Zach Shrader

Carmen and Andy Shelly: 20 years at the school

In the 20 years since the school’s founding, only a select few teachers remain from the original faculty. Out of a pool of only 11 staff, two of these original faculty members are retiring from the school at the end of the school year. Gifted services facilitator Carmen Shelly and school librarian Andy Shelly have both been in the district for over 20 years and have been educators at Mill Valley since its first years.

Carmen first arrived in the district 36 years ago. For the first 16 years of her career in USD 232, she taught at De Soto. Andy was a librarian at Sumner Academy prior to his years in USD 232; he went to De Soto in 1995 and came to Mill Valley five years later.

Their 20 years at the school have come with a lot of change in staff and students; being one of the few who can say they have been there through it all makes Andy feel nostalgic, yet lonely.

“It is fun to know the history and to have seen all the changes that have happened in the building, but it’s kind of lonely now,” Andy said. “There are only 11 of us left. When we opened the building we had close to 45 teachers total; out of that 45 there are only about 11 that are still here.”

Carmen feels that being one of the few remaining teachers of the original faculty can seem lonely, but it also includes meeting a lot of new people and making a lot of new experiences that can’t be forgotten.

”One might feel like you are losing friends sometimes and that those relationships that you always relied on aren’t there to support you anymore,” Carmen said. “While it can feel like you are losing things, you also have to look at the other side of the coin and see that you are gaining a lot.”

Both agree that the staff and students at the school have made a long 20 years well worth it. Even when they left, graduated and retired, those people are what made Andy’s job worthwhile.

While it can feel like you are losing things, you also have to look at the other side of the coin and see that you are gaining a lot.”

— gifted services facilitator Carmen Shelly

“The entire time I’ve been here, I have enjoyed the people,” Andy said. “Not just the staff, but the students have been great too, and I have appreciated everyone who has been here in the building while I have been here.”

In regards to the staff, Carmen thinks that her fellow educators never hesitate to push the boundaries and do whatever is necessary to promote education for their students. This desire to both learn and teach is one of many things that has kept her at Mill Valley.

“I really enjoy the people that I work with and the care that they take to create meaningful learning experiences for students,” Carmen said. “I also like that they are willing to work on the edge and be a little rebellious at times to push education forward.”

The 20 years at the school with those people has been a breeding ground for many new experiences that manifest themselves as nostalgic memories now, never to be forgotten. Carmen reminisces that the district has always given her the ability to explore and settle into a comfortable, free job. 

“I have purposefully stayed here for a variety of reasons; as I have grown in my career, USD 232 has given me the freedom to explore, be a risk-taker and push the envelope like some of my other colleagues are doing; that has always felt good,” Carmen said. “Back in the day, there were superintendents who would walk the halls of Mill Valley and be able to call me by name so I knew I had the support and the guidance of people who were making decisions in the school district. That has always given me a good feeling about the district so those are reasons why I continued to stay.”

The biggest change in the school, according to Andy, is the size. During the school’s opening year, 2000, the school scraped by with fewer than 800 students. The change is evident from the small school that it once was to a 6A powerhouse that dominates in all fields.

“The most obvious change has been the size change. When we first opened the building we had less than 800 students,” Andy said. “Now, we have added at least 500 students to that. You end up going bigger and bigger in that respect and there are conditions that end up being added like that there are more teachers on the staff.”

While these changes rocked the school and changed it on the outside, Carmen and Andy were busy personalizing and changing their classrooms on the inside.

I really wish I could have spent some ‘in person’ time visiting with these fellow teachers and students to have had a little better closure to my time in the district.”

— school librarian Andy Shelly

Carmen has seen many changes come and go from the school and has taken the opportunity to tweak those changes to best suit her classroom and students.

“I have to tweak new initiatives that the school district has in place to get students to participate in that initiative in their own way through an individualized goal,” Carmen said. “For example, we have a writing initiative so I try to bring in different ways that we can work on writing here that would be different than what the general education classroom does.”

Andy took these opportunities to change the library to make it easier to navigate for students and encourage them to learn and read more.

Andy moved certain books in the fiction sections to arrange them more closely by genre, rearranged graphic novels so that they were in their own section removed from the rest of the Dewey decimal system and gets students engaged in the Read and Review program with Johnson County Public Library that “tries to get kids excited about reading new books that are just coming out.”

All of these efforts, according to Andy, make it easier for students to find the books that they want and thus make it easier for them to learn when they want to.

Carmen has implemented many changes to her room as well in order to make students as comfortable as possible. In her room, it could be anything from encouraging posters on the walls to removing fluorescent lights that can act as a stressor to some students. This massive personalization and overhaul of their rooms prove that the 20 years they spent at Mill Valley were utilized to make students feel at home rather than that they are trapped at school.

After two decades of teaching at Mill Valley, their retirement seemed to be the last page of their book here. The cancellation of school following the COVID-19 outbreak rewrote that final page, however. To Andy, this cancellation took away the precious time spent in person with staff and students, one of the most enjoyable parts of his job.

“What I’ve really missed are the interactions with students and staff ending so suddenly.  Even with knowing there was a chance we wouldn’t be coming back right after spring break, it hadn’t sunk in that I wouldn’t see the students and staff for the rest of the school year,” Andy said. “I really wish I could have spent some ‘in person’ time visiting with these fellow teachers and students to have had a little better closure to my time in the district.”

Carmen, expecting school to have been back in session for fourth-quarter before spring break, feels like her opportunity to say a final goodbye to her students was taken away.

“It does feel just a bit unfair not to have the opportunity to savor some of those moments with students and colleagues,” Carmen said. “We went on spring break fully expecting to be back with students for fourth-quarter, so I don’t think I really sat back and appreciated my “lasts” with students – or colleagues for that matter.”

These experiences – from interacting with students to chatting with other teachers at the jaguar statue – forged friendships and relations over 20 years at Mill Valley and have been what have kept the Shellys around. If put in the same position 20 to 30 years ago before coming to the district, Andy said that he would undoubtedly do it all over again. Carmen similarly agreed that the many things that kept her here over the years would have likely drawn her back, but it’s impossible to tell.

Bob Lewis: 20 years at the school

After 20 years teaching at Mill Valley, At-Risk teacher Bob Lewis announced his retirement. Lewis has taught in the Physical Education department, the Special Education department and has recently directed his focus to the At-Risk program. Lewis also spent many years as a track coach, coaching the sprinting and mid-distance running teams. 

When Lewis first made the move to Mill Valley 20 years ago, he and his wife were looking to “take a risk and move to a bigger city.” USD 232 was one of his first picks, and him getting hired at Mill Valley as a Special Education teacher was the start of his journey here.

After 40 years of teaching, one thing that kept Lewis motivated was being able to see students who he had taught grow up into successful adults.

“Seeing students grow into responsible adults is what has motivated me throughout those 4 decades,” Lewis said. “Running into former students and seeing them succeeding in the ‘real world’ is truly a rewarding experience.”

Those students and the experiences, memories and friendships he formed at Mill Valley are what made the job enjoyable to Lewis. 

“Mill Valley has always had great students who have been very enjoyable to work with,” Lewis said. “The teachers, administration and staff have always been supportive in all the positions I have held during my tenure at Mill Valley.”

Lewis enjoys coming to work every day at Mill Valley because he likes “working with the students and creating positive relationships.” With fourth-quarter schooling in-person being cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis feels that he is doing his same job but without being able to meet with students in-person, which is what he enjoyed most.

“I am having to do the same job at home, but without the feeling of the students’ energy,” Lewis said. “It is definitely not as enjoyable.” 

Lewis added that the thing he’ll miss most is the everyday energy of students.

Lewis wants to leave a legacy at the school as a teacher who was able to help students when they needed it. He not only wants to be remembered as a teacher but as a coach and mentor for students.

After his retirement, Lewis wants students to look back and remember him as a teacher who “was kind, understanding of different needs and always available for those who needed me.”

Connie Henderson: 17 years at the school

After 17 years teaching special education at the school, retiring educator Connie Henderson knows what she’ll miss the most in her retirement: the feeling of helping and connecting with students. 

“​Being able to connect with people on an educational level is very rewarding,” Henderson said. “ Whether it’s a student or a staff member that you’re assisting, when that ‘a-ha’ moment hits, there’s no feeling like it.”

Through assisting and teaching her students Henderson worked to make her students more independent and better critical thinkers.

“Being a special education teacher, I hope I can say I’ve impacted student lives to the point where they have become more independent learners and more able to solve problems on their own,” Henderson said. 

She wanted to reassure her student’s confidence in their abilities but also wanted to let them know they can ask for help.

“I want them to believe in themselves and all the incredible things they are capable of doing. But I also hope they have learned that it’s okay to not know everything and that there are places and people they can go to when they need assistance,” Henderson said. “I hope they realize how much I care about all of them and wish them the best.”

By staying in touch with some of her former students, Henderson has gotten to see what her impact on their lives was.

“I still keep in contact with a lot of students.  It’s great to see how their lives have played out and know that I’ve been a part of it,” Henderson said.

Henderson will miss all of the people she got to interact with every day while making countless memories.

“Being without these wonderful people every day will be the hardest part of retirement,” Henderson said. “There have been so many wonderful memories. Each person and each year have added to the incredible list of experiences I’ve had that I will always cherish.”

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