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School district music teachers plan retirement

Music teachers (left to right) Shirley Rossing, Bill Leahy and Barb Peterson are among the New Richmond School District's 16 teachers that are retiring this year.

Sixteen teachers are retiring from the New Richmond School District at the end of June. Those teachers have combined teaching experience of more than 300 years, said Morrie Veilleux, district administrator.

Most of the teachers who teach at the elementary level will be replaced by new teachers because that's where the district is experiencing the most growth.

Below is a list of the teachers retiring:

Lynean Cronick, fifth-grade teacher at Hillside Elementary; Vicki Gjovik, third grade teacher at Paperjack; Kate Haugen, first grade teacher at Starr; Faith Hesselink, second grade teacher at Paperjack; Bonnie Jackelen second-grade teacher at Starr Elementary; Joe Jamieson, physical education teacher at the high school; Kerry Kittel, social studies teacher at the high school; Marcia Kulbitski, second-grade teacher at Hillside; Bill Leahy, vocal music instructor at the middle school; Shelly McInnes, second grade teacher at Starr; Barb Peterson, music teacher at Hillside; Gayle Pullman, special services teacher at the high school; Shirley Rossing, music teacher at Starr Elementary; Sue Swanson, third-grade teacher at Hillside; Sherry Thompson, kindergarten teacher at Starr; and Julie White, media specialist at Hillside/Paperjack Elementary.

In this article, the New Richmond News is featuring the district's music teachers.

Bill Leahy

Teaching is in Bill Leahy's blood -- at least that's what he says.

As a kid in Algoma, Leahy said his mother was a teacher and, along with his high school music teacher, was a big inspiration for him. His sister also became a teacher.

Leahy has worked for the district for 33 years and said he'll miss his students' sense of humor.

"We laughed out loud every day for 33 years," he said.

Leahy said he's grateful that he got to be a part of the team who designed the new high school auditorium. In fact, his first performance there -- and the standing ovation the middle school choir got -- ranks as his favorite teaching memory.

"The new auditorium is a first-class, first-rate facility. The lighting, the seating, the size of the stage, the beautiful wood, etc. should make any student proud to be a musician in the New Richmond schools," he said. "The acoustics are excellent and the investment in the stage acoustical shell really enhances the sound and appearance of the music groups. The New Richmond community should be proud of itself for decades."

Although it will be hard for him to walk away, Leahy said he's looking forward to relaxing without a performance schedule hanging over his head.

Barb Peterson

Music puts Barb Peterson in a happy place and that's one reason she teaches it to students.

"It was something I could do and feel proud of and I desperately wanted other students to know that opportunity is always available for them," she said.

The Hillside Elementary music teacher has taught in the district for 28 years. She also taught elementary orchestra in Winona, Minn. for four years.

"One of my favorite teaching memories is a ceremony that we had at East Elementary (currently Paperjack) in observance of the one year anniversary of the 9/11 disaster. The entire student body, including faculty, met in our outdoor classroom and sang a song called 'American Tears,'" she said. "You could've heard a pin drop in the grass it was so quiet. The students sang with sincere hearts and there were many tears, one of the most moving experiences I've been a part of."

It's memories like that, the daily hugs from students and the discovery of "new talent" that she'll miss when she retires in June.

Although she's retiring from the district, Peterson said she has no intention of giving up music.

"I am looking forward to this next chapter in my life," she said. "Time to finish projects, pursue some new ventures, continue piano lessons, work at my church and spend more time with my family."

Shirley Rossing

When Shirley Rossing first interviewed in New Richmond, it was for the vocal director position at the middle school. Her competition was Bill Leahy.

"At the time, (Leahy) was offered the position over me, but they had a one year position open here at Starr that (Principal) Don Mayer offered to me then, and I gladly jumped on it, as elementary was what I was really looking for," she said.

She worked at Starr for a year before finishing her instrumental license, substitute teaching and teaching a year in Somerset. In 1981 the elementary position at Starr opened again and Rossing jumped on it.

"It has been a great fit ever since," she said.

The Edmund native said she had originally planned to be a professional pianist.

"Well, after spending a Winter Interim studying at Juilliard School of Music in New York City, I decided there was more to life than practicing the piano for nine hours a day," she said.

That's when she decided to enroll in education classes at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.

"I quickly discovered I had a knack for teaching and loved the children," she said. "One of my favorite teaching memories is seeing the kids perform at their best during a large group music program."

Rossing's going to miss the contact she has with her students and colleagues, but she's looking forward to the options retirement will offer.

Rossing said her future plans include the possibility of obtaining an administrative position, continuing her part-time work with the Polk County Sheriff's Department, helping out with her granddaughter and riding her horses.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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