School employee’s retire

During one of the last regular San Juan Island School District Board meetings, farewells and tributes were given to the seven well-loved employees retiring this year, some of who have been with the district for decades. Retirees include teachers Michael Biggers, Erin Bristow, Jenny Wilson, paraeducator Lynne Williams, teacher and high school counselor Gordy Waite, Executive Assistant to the Superintendent Maude Cumming, as well as two transportation employees, Pauline Powell and Kris Dayvincent. The Journal reached out to each of them to see what is in store for them next.

“I have been lucky to have worked in a career I’ve loved. There is a lot I will miss, Waite said. “The students and families and staff I’ve worked with have taught me so much and enriched my life. It’s been fun and I’m looking forward to this next adventure.”

Waite has been with the district for 31 years. He began his teaching career on Orcas Island as a student teacher, Waite said, but was then hired to take a 5th-grade class in January of the same year.

The following year he was hired by the San Juan Island School district as a 6th-grade teacher. The district opened Friday Harbor Middle School in the portables where the current Griffin Bay is located, by the high school tennis courts. Waite taught 6-8th grade until 2002. In 2003 he became the high school counselor.

“I loved teaching and getting to know the students but being a school counselor I realized I was able to get to know the students in a more personalized way,” Waite said. “I was able to work with students and families on college plans, personal issues, and high school academics. I’ve been lucky to have my job and learn so much from so many students and families.”

He and his wife will be staying on the island, saying “the island is our community.” Waite added that he is hoping to spend more time with his family and looking forward to welcoming their third granddaughter into the world in September.

“We will see what possibilities come next,” Waite said.

Cumming has been with the school district for 29 years and said she will miss everything.

“But mostly the vibrant, devoted, and brilliant people who work on behalf of the mission of public education!” Cumming said. She and her husband will remain on the island, like the Waites, Cumming said it is their community and home. As for what retirement looks like for her, Cumming said she is looking forward to traveling, gardening, continuing her volunteer work on the board of the San Juan Island Community Foundation, “and find ways to contribute and enjoy our wonderful community.”

Wilson has taught in Friday Harbor High School for 12 years. In middle school, Wilson taught science, health, PE CAS, roots and shoots and photography and in high school, she is most known for her student’s community projects.

“Everyone can make a difference,” Wilson said when asked what she learned from the projects, adding “our island community is so supportive of our student’s efforts.”

Wilson is looking forward to sailing, hiking, visiting family, studying and helping out with resident orcas, growing vegetables, riding my bike, sitting on the porch and drinking my morning coffee, and reading lots of books. “Sitting on the porch sounds the most exciting to me at this point,” Wilson said. She and her husband will be traveling to Vietnam as well, which is a long way from sitting on her porch.

“I used to live in China, for ten years. I just fell in love with so many Asian countries,” Wilson said. “Vietnam isn’t one we traveled in so we thought it would

be fun to go there for a few months at a time during some winters. [It’s] warm, inexpensive and has a beautiful culture.”

Paraeducator Williams has been with the school district six years, she said, minus a break she took to work accounting.

The school asked her to return, and she loves working with people and students, she came back.

“It has been rather challenging. Hopeful and triumphant but also with heartbreaks, which is life,” Williams said.

Like her fellow retirees, she will be remaining on the island, at least for the next couple of years. She and her husband live on a 50-foot boat, and in the spring of 2024 the couple plan on exploring the world on their boat.

“It is beautiful here, but the water calls,” Williams said, adding that she wishes all the students much success.

Over the last six years, Bristow has taught 5th grade, English and Social Studies grades 7 and 8, Griffin Bay School grades 4-10, and Special Education grades 6-8.

“I plan to find new adventures and passions in the future including some theatre and environmental causes,” Bristow said, adding that she will be staying on the island. “I love it here and plan to stay and enjoy the beauty and magic of this wonderful community.”

Bristow added that it has been a true honor and privilege to work and serve this community and the students of Friday Harbor.

“Thanks to everyone for all your support during my tenure at SJISD,” she said.

Wilson also mentioned how grateful she was to the community and district, saying “thank you to the island community for all your amazing support of our students and school.”

Cumming too, share her appreciation, “I feel lucky to have spent much of my work life around educators. I can’t say enough about the people in our district who work hard every day to make this world a better place.”