Retiring, leaving teachers excited but sentimental

By Bella Learn and Jack McGuire

Six staff members will retire at the end of the school year, and six will move to new jobs at different schools. Though they’re excited for what the future holds, many teachers will miss Whitman and the students they’ve grown close with.

Jeff Davidson

Choral director Jeff Davidson is retiring after 37 years of teaching. Davidson first came to Whitman in the early 80s after

Jack Gonzalez
Chorus teacher Jeff Davidson holds up a sign he considers his inspiration for teaching. Davidson’s relationship with his students is like that of an “uncle, a mom, or dad,” he said.

Whitman’s then choral director recommended him as his replacement.

When Davidson first came to Whitman, the school had three choral ensembles, but now there are five. Under his instruction, Whitman’s choral department has found success at various music festivals and MCPS choir competitions, frequently receiving first place awards and superior ratings.

Davidson encourages his students to grow and be passionate about what they do in class.

“My philosophy is teaching people through music rather than teaching music to people,” he said.

In retirement, Davidson hopes to stay active and is considering starting a dog walking business with instrumental music teacher Terry Alvey.

Kimberly Kochuba

Kochuba has been a counselor for 22 years, but has only worked at Whitman for one.

“Even though I’ve only been at Whitman for this year, I feel like I’ve been here much longer since everyone has been so welcoming,” Kochuba said. “I have really enjoyed being a part of the counseling department here and being with this team.”

Kochuba will miss lots of things about Whitman, but she says that she’ll miss her students the most.

“I’ve already had such an incredible time getting to know them and working with them,” she said. “It’s going to be so hard for me to leave them.”

Next year, Kochuba will continue to be a guidance counselor at Quince Orchard High School.

Caitlyn Mesnard

Engineering teacher Caitlyn Mesnard is leaving after one year of teaching at Whitman. She has taught engineering in MCPS for five years. Mesnard has enjoyed her time learning how things work in the Whitman community, she said.

“It’s been fun getting to know a new community, getting to see how things work here at Whitman,” Mesnard said.

Next year, Mesnard won’t be teaching; instead, she’ll work as a technical trainer for an industrial company.

“I’m going to miss the kids,” she said. “I mean the kids are what it’s all about.”

Nancy Mornini

Over the last 20 years, art teacher Nancy Mornini has taught Commercial Art, Studio Art and Foundations of Art at Whitman.

Mornini was involved in the Whitman community before she began working here in 1999 because her husband, who retired in 2013, was already teaching here. She helped him in chaperoning prom, the senior banquet and school sponsored ski trips.

In 2007, Mornini helped to form Whitmaniacs, the school’s spirit club.

“She is one of the most supportive and caring people I have ever met,” junior Julia Clayton, who is a Whitmaniacs leader, said. “Whitmaniacs seriously wouldn’t be what it is without her. It really has given me a place at Whitman and a sense of belonging.”

In retirement, Mornini plans to help her husband run Team River Runner, a non-profit aimed at helping veterans and their families through paddle sports.

Charlie Sagner
Commercial Art teacher Nancy Mornini will retire at the end of this school year. In her retirement, she plans on helping out with Team River Runner, a nonprofit that her husband founded.

Cathy Neff

Paraeducator and support staff educator Cathy Neff has been working at Whitman in the English department for 22 years.

Neff assisted teachers and students by helping to grade papers, working in the writing center and assisting students who did not pass the English PARCC assessments.

In the 90s, Neff worked along media specialist Orion Hyson to establish the writing center.
Working with students and talking about books with them have been some of the highlights of her career at Whitman, Neff said.

“I love teenagers,” she said. “You’re not little children anymore and you’re about to go out into the world and we’re just preparing you for that and it’s really cool.”

In retirement, Neff plans on moving to Hagerstown, Maryland to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter. She plans on coming back as a substitute teacher occasionally.

Mandy Novarr

Novarr began teaching science in 2010, and she has taught at Whitman for three years. Over her years at Whitman, Novarr has loved her daily interactions with students and will miss her students the most when she leaves, she said.

“I had her for Honors Chemistry and I thought she was a very good teacher,” sophomore Finn Martin said. “I’m upset she’s leaving. I really wanted her for APES next year.”

Next year, Novarr will teach science at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.

Celia Sandbloom

Sandbloom began teaching at Whitman in 2015 and has since taught English, ESOL and biology. She began as a substitute before becoming a full time teacher in 2016.
Sandbloom has also been involved with the International Club, which provides a community for many of the Whitman students enrolled in ESOL courses.

“They have a lot in common with each other,” Sandbloom said. “We give them opportunities to really be proud of their native culture and to highlight it.”

For Sandbloom, the Whitman community is part of her family; in fact, two of her kids have graduated and one is currently enrolled as a freshman.

Next year, Sandbloom will teach fifth grade at Burning Tree Elementary School.

Rachel Stender

Engineering teacher Rachel Stender resigned earlier this year after teaching Principles of Engineering and Civil Engineering at Whitman for 11 years. Stender resigned over conflicts with the Project Lead the Way curriculum. This is her last year as a teacher; next year, Stender will work at the U.S. Department of State as a data manager.         

“I’m going to miss the actual teaching,” Stender said. “I think I did a good job teaching the content, and I’m going to miss the students.”                                                                                           

Madeleine Tanzi

Tanzi has worked as an English teacher at Whitman for three years. She taught On-level and Honors English for ninth and twelfth grades.

Aside from teaching, Tanzi also served as the sponsor for the Creative Writing club. This year, she also helped reinstate the Creative Writing elective course for students.

“She’s really been great because we’ve had a room to go to every week,” club member Cayla Joftus said. “We’ve been able to develop our skills as writers.”

Next year, Tanzi will be working in the English department at St. John’s College High School in D.C.

Melanie Toth

After 21 years of teaching AP Biology and other science classes at Whitman, Melanie Toth will be moving to North Carolina where she will teach at a high school in Raleigh.

Toth has enjoyed almost all of her moments at Whitman and she is sad to leave, she said.

“Whitman has a family environment, and I think I will miss that aspect of the school,” Toth said.

Charles Wang

Wang has been teaching for three years at Whitman, and 22 years total. At Whitman, he taught all levels of ESOL. As a member of the department, Wang helped ESOL students familiarize themselves with the American school system, culture and the English language.

During lunch periods, Wang opened his classroom up to students, giving many of them the opportunity to find communities and friend groups after having left behind all their friends in their home countries.

This year, Wang sponsored many clubs, including the Chinese, Japanese, Korean Hip-Hop, Guitar and Ping-pong clubs.

“I’m here for the students,” Wang said. “I know that they get a lot of benefits of social interaction when they stay after school so it’s not always academics. To give them that opportunity to join a community outside of the ESOL world, it’s something we have to do.”

Next year, Wang will be teaching in the ESOL department at Gaithersburg High School.

Susan Wildstrom

Kurumi Sato
Math teacher Susan Wildstrom has taught for 50 years total and 38 years at Whitman. She’s excited to spend time with her grandchildren in retirement.

Wildstrom has been teaching math for 50 years and spent the last 38 at Whitman. She pioneered many different math courses at Whitman, including Multivariable Calculus and Rapid Learner Precalculus.

Many of Wildstrom’s former students credit their passion for math to her teaching.

“She’s the best math teacher I’ve ever had,” junior Emma Salafsky said. “Her passion for the subject is infectious. You want to love it, too.”

In retirement, she plans on spending more time with her grandkids.