Valley teachers say goodbye after decades

Snoqualmie Valley School District No. 410 has five teachers who recently retired after 20 or more years teaching in the district. The five are: Geri Spalding, John Roeber, Nanci Walsh, Sandy McCullough and Chris Black.

Geri Spalding, 34 years at Mount Si High School

Generations of Mount Si High School students have filtered through his classroom to learn about math and science. For 34 years, his entire teaching career, teacher Geri (pronounced "Gary") Spalding has entertained, coached and educated Mount Si kids, earning the endearing nickname "Spaldo" along the way.

Set for retirement (again), June 21 (the last day of school) marked his final day of teaching.

"I'm going to miss the students and the camaraderie of the staff," Spalding said. "I love my job, I really do."

Four years ago, Spalding officially retired, but has been teaching on annual contracts with the Snoqualmie Valley School District ever since in a process known as "retire/rehire."

This time, though, Spalding said he is really leaving, difficult as the decision was to make. It was so difficult that Spalding only finalized his choice a month ago, he said.

He and his wife Elaine intend to travel overseas and visit family stateside.

"Geri is really easy to work with and delivers quality instruction," said Mount Si principal Randy Taylor. "Certainly to find a qualified math teacher is hard to do ... We will search the ends of the world to find someone of the quality that Geri provides."

Spalding began his teaching career at Mount Si in 1972, after graduating from Central Washington University.

He has taught math, physics and chemistry, as well as coached junior-varsity tennis and basketball.

"I really enjoyed both of those," he said, looking back fondly at Mount Si's 1977 basketball state-championship win (though he was not coaching at the time), 2000's fifth-place win and when the team placed sixth in state during this just-completed school year.

One of his goals as a teacher and coach over the years, he said, was to teach students not only academics and sports, but also how to be good citizens.

He earned the nickname Spaldo his first year teaching, though he can no longer remember how the term of endearment came about.

"It just stuck," he said. "Even on the basketball floor, I'm Coach Spaldo."

Over the years, he has seen many changes with Mount Si.

"The change here in the last few years, I think, has been for the better," Spalding said.

The only change he found difficult was that as the school population grew, he got to know fewer students and staff.

In 1972, the school had a student body of about 500 and he knew every student in the school, he said. Now at more than 1,200 kids, he said he's been fortunate to get to know a portion of them.

But the ones he has gotten to know have been forever influenced by his teaching.

In the June 15 edition of Mount Si's student newspaper Cat Tales, junior (now senior) Lara Rose Hagarty said, "He goes beyond the curriculum and takes the time to explain the questions that students have. I am sorry to see him go. I am disappointed because I wanted to take his class as a senior."

John Roeber, 31 years in the district

John Roeber has taught just about everything. From social studies, geography and athletics to English and art, he has spent 31 of his 32 years as a teacher in the Snoqualmie Valley School District. (He spent two years at Snoqualmie Middle School before transferring to Mount Si 29 years ago.)

As either head coach or assistant coach of several sports including baseball and softball, Roeber said he has a fondness for working with students to develop their skills to the best of their abilities.

A graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, Roeber began his career at SMS and then spent one year teaching in Oregon before returning to the area to teach at Mount Si.

"I had a really good high-school experience," he said about what attracted him to the teaching profession. "I had teachers who inspired me."

Though he sees WASL pressures as a new challenge for students and teachers, he said, "If you hang around long enough, there will always be new goals."

Planning to work on his home and enjoy the outdoors now that he is retired, he said what he will miss most is the excitement of school, as well as the students, faculty and the friends he has made over the years.

Nanci Walsh, 26 and one-half years in the district

Working as a speech and language pathologist for the district over the past 26 and one-half years, Nanci Walsh has been able to get to know students at many of the schools including Opstad Elementary, Mount Si High School and Chief Kanim Middle School, where she has worked for the past 12 years.

As a teacher for more than 38 years, Walsh began her career in Bellevue after she received her undergraduate degree from Western Washington University. (She also has a master's degree from the University of Washington.)

She came to the Valley in 1980.

"I have seen incredible changes over the years for the better," Walsh said. "We have a really, really incredible special-education department that's just grown so much since I've been here."

Now retired, she said she is going to focus on gardening and helping her husband run the family business; The House in the Trees Bed and Breakfast in Snoqualmie. However, she hasn't yet ruled out returning to school part time.

"I'll miss the students and just working with the energy and the vitality they provide," she said. "It's very uplifting."

Sandy McCullough, 22 years in the district

Though she officially retired last December, Sandy McCullough could still be seen wandering the halls of Fall City Elementary on occasion up until the last day of school.

"I'm very involved with the people who are at school; they're my very good friends," McCullough said, noting that she retired because she was ready to move on to new challenges.

"I dedicated my whole life to teaching," she said. "It has been a very rewarding career and it's nice to be able to leave a career when you have your health and are young enough to pursue other interests in life."

McCullough has been a reading and special-education teacher at Snoqualmie Middle School, North Bend Elementary, Mount Si High School and Fall City Elementary.

Forty years ago, she started teaching in Georgia, then moved to South Carolina and California before coming to the Valley in 1979. In the early '80s, she took time off from teaching children to teach aerobics, but in 1984, she took a teaching job with the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

Since retiring she has been taking dance lessons, walking her dogs in area parks and remodeling the home she shares with her husband Jack.

This February, she took on a long-term substitute position at Snoqualmie Elementary School until April. She said she wouldn't mind continuing to be a long-term substitute in the district.

"I really do miss teaching the children and watching them learn," she said. "It was so wonderful seeing them doing things all the time."

Chris Black, 20 years in the district

Having retired from Cascade View Elementary at the end of April, third-grade teacher Chris Black worked previously at other district elementary schools, spending the bulk of his professional career in the Snoqualmie Valley School District.

After receiving a degree from the University of Washington, he worked as a substitute in the early 1980s before becoming a full-time teacher in 1985.

He is now looking into multiple business opportunities, said Cascade View principal Tim Nootenboom, who spoke on Black's behalf as he was unreachable for comment as of press time.

"I just know he definitely has a heart for kids," Nootenboom said.

Retiring or resigning teachers with 10 or more years in the district include Carol Caldwell, Ellen Keller, Rebecca Martin, Garrick Phillips and Amy Wright.

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