The Black & White

Retiring staff reflect on time at Whitman

Karen Phillips (Left Center) and Robert Dyer (right) smile as they walk. Phillips has managed the cafeteria for 11 years and Dyer has been a paraeducator for the last 6 years at Whitman. Photo by Annabel Redisch.

By Aditi Gujaran

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Ten staff members will retire at the end of the school year—most of them spending their ‘first day of school’ teaching while the freshman class were still taking their first steps. Their combined tenures add up to a total of an astounding 213 years.

The ten—Wendy Kleiner, Nancy Kull, Melanie Hudock, Susan Olden-Stahl, Laurie Safran, Russell Rushton, Jean Diamond, Julie Deranek, Robert Dyer and Karen Phillips—are scattered across various departments in the school.  They have sponsored clubs, coached sports teams and left a lasting impact on their students and the community.

Julie Deranek

Deranek has worked as a paraeducator in Montgomery County for 27 years and spent the past eight years at Whitman. She is always willing to help different types of students and cater to each student’s learning style, special education teacher Ryan Mullin said.

Deranek is on the transition team, which helps kids move from special education classes into general education classes.

Her passion for the job demonstrated her investment in the students’ educations, co-worker Cindy Williams said.

“She’s just a wonderful person,” Williams said. “She has a real passion for the kids and for learning. She appreciated the learning; she was just a really good co-worker and friend. She loved the kids and the kids loved her.”

Jean Diamond

Diamond has taught almost every art course available, from photography to AP studio art, during her 26 years at Whitman. She also sponsors the Legacy Collection—a showcase of award-winning artwork bought from the students—Fashion Society and the National Arts Honors Society. She was also the first teacher in Montgomery County to be nationally board certified in secondary school and higher education art.

The school will continue the Legacy Collection and will establish the Jean Diamond Distinguished Scholar Individual Arts Award, which will be given to talented student artists and the artwork for the next five years.

“Every year is renewing—every year is a new feeling,” Diamond said. “Kids are important and experiences are important. I’m teaching concepts, but it’s the process that matters.”

Robert Dyer

Dyer worked as a paraeducator for 11 years in Montgomery County, including six years at Whitman with mostly LFI students. He usually worked with students on a personal basis in certain areas where they needed help.

Dyer is very open about his life, making him easy to work with and connect to, Mullin said.

“We use him as an example for most things,” Mullin said. “If I can’t do something or I don’t know about something and I know that Mr. D has experience with it, I’ll go to him for help. He has a ton of knowledge. He has experience with how things have been done, with other teachers, other staff and students. Going to him for that insight has been key.”

Dyer loves the Friday field trips with the LFI class that allow him to teach and have fun at outside of the classroom, he said.

“A lot of times the best memories come from the field trips that we take on Friday,” Dyer said. “We get to go such interesting places such as the zoo, different museums and the aquarium. Those are especially significant to me.”

Melanie Hudock

Hudock began her teaching career at Whitman and has taught for 41 years. In 1980, she decided to create and teach the anatomy class. She has sponsored the SGA, directed Talent Show, headed the trip to Disney and coached the gymnastics and cheerleading teams. She currently runs the science internship program.

During her retirement, Hudock plans to go to Disney World and visit her daughter in Indianapolis, she said.

Hudock has woven personal anecdotes and side notes into her class to make it relatable to real life, sophomore Maia Kotelanski said.

“When I tell stories, the students tell me stories,” Hudock said. “Every year, I learn something new. My favorite memories are all in the classroom.”

Biology teacher Janice Bauroth will take over the anatomy classes, environmental science teacher Kelly Garton will take over the internship program and chemistry teacher Anne Marie O’Donoghue will oversee the Disney trip next year.

Wendy Kleiner

I watch them have epiphanies, like something they don’t get and then all of a sudden they see it. I see it in their eyes;, that’s a thrill for me.”

— Wendy Kleiner

Kleiner, an art teacher, has taught Ceramics 1-3, Advanced Studio Ceramics, AP 3D Studio and Commercial Art 1 during her 17 years at Whitman.

Kleiner’s first year was tough; after being with her students for less than a week, the nation was rocked by the events of 9/11. Yet through both rough and happy times, her bond with her students has only grown as the years passed. They’ve become art families, she said.

Her favorite moments were watching her students transform as artists and find meaning in their art, Kleiner said.

“My favorite situations are when I have students for three or four years and I watch them grow up,” Kleiner said. “I watch them have epiphanies, like something they don’t get and then all of a sudden they see it. I see it in their eyes;, that’s a thrill for me.”

Her position will be filled by Kathleen Mullholland, who previously worked at Magruder High School.

Nancy Kull

Kull has been at Whitman for 17 years as well; she teaches general physical education and previously coached gymnastics.

During her own time in high school, Kull was interested in physical education and fitness. Her gym teacher at the time inspired her to carry that interest into college where she majored in physical education, Kull said.

Students see Kull as a positive influence because of her genuine encouragement to all students no matter their athletic ability, freshman Anna Berger said.

Kull mostly works with ninth graders and enjoys seeing their adjustment and transformation during the school year, she said.

“It was rewarding to follow them through their adjustment to high school, grow, and see what they had accomplished from the time they started,” Kull said.

In her retirement, Kull plans to split her time between exercising and relaxing, in addition to training her puppy to be a therapy dog.

Karen Phillips

Phillips, the cafeteria manager, has worked at Whitman for 11 years. During her tenure, she has extended the time that the cafeteria is open to accommodate more students and their needs, Phillips said.

One of her goals as manager was to give students options about their food. Phillips would often put more food out than what was on the day’s menu and allowed kids to wander to different areas to see the choices. She didn’t want the lunch line to just be a single line that went out the door because then kids don’t get to see as much, Phillips said.

Phillips enjoys how she gets to get a glimpse into each student’s life when they talk to her, she said.

“I don’t see you that much but when you talk to me, I really enjoy that,” Phillips said. “It’s quick, but I remember them. I want to know how their events went. ”

Co-worker Wan Yeung appreciates the management and support that Phillips has provided in the cafeteria workspace, she said.

“I work with five managers—she’s the best one,” Yeung said. “It’s like a family. When they were cutting my hours, she always tried to help me. That was one of the best parts about her.”

Susan Olden-Stahl

History teacher Susan Olden-Stahl has been at Whitman for 19 years. She began as a long-term substitute teacher and then became a full-time history teacher—usually teaching the U.S. and world history classes.

Olden-Stahl’s lectures are really informative but what makes them unique is that she ties them to current events, sophomore Alicia Lamkin said.

Olden-Stahl taught AP World when the course was first created in 2001. She loves how the class covers many of her interests in depth, she said.

“It totally changed everything,” Olden-Stahl said. “There were all these things that I enjoyed but there was never any place to teach them, but AP World was this focus where you could plug [them] in. One of the greatest things was that I got a lot smarter. It was a great thing to do for 12 years, it really was.”

Russ Rushton

Rushton, a math teacher, has been at Whitman for 32 years and has served as the head of the department for the past 22 years. He’s taught Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2 and Precalculus, and coached the boys basketball team from 1981 to 1996.

He enjoys teaching math because he believes the subject helps students learn valuable logic and problem-solving skills. Rushton also enjoys how driven his students are and how they kept him on his toes with keen questions.

“In a large sense, Whitman is a lot like many other schools, except for one thing: we have an inordinate number of exceptionally bright students,” Rushton said. “There’s a famous, kind of derogatory statement ‘Those who can’t do, teach,’ and I don’t believe that for a second because when you teach something, you’ve got to know it forwards and backward.”

Calculus teacher Jim Kuhn will be the new department head and most of Rushton’s classes will be taught by Dave Fantegrossi from Paint Branch High School.

Laurie Safran

Over the last 12 years, Safran has taught English 9, 10, 11, 12 and Modern World History. She started out as a substitute teacher for eighth grade English classes, where she discovered her love for teaching. Safran also sponsors the SGA and has taught the leadership class for two2 years.

“She dedicates a lot of time to the leadership class and brings a really good balance of work and fun,” junior Amanda Sherman said.

Safran’s favorite moments were watching students transform intellectually and learning from the experiences that happen around her, she said.

“My best memories are when students learned to be better learners, in each class,” Safran said. “Teaching has inspired me to be kinder, more patient and more thorough in explaining ideas to people.”

Starting next year, history teacher Katherine Young and math teacher Anne Holmes Chiasson will co-advise for the SGA.

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