The pines of Pine Grove School were considerably shorter when Sharlene Wilkins and Barbara Kier started teaching at Hood River County School District’s smallest school.
On June 11 the two teachers will retire from full-time teaching, taking with them a total of 40 years’ at Pine Grove alone.
“They’re going to be missed,” said June Moore, whose grandchildren attended Pine Grove, as did her husband, Allen. “They are both really good with kids,” Moore said at a recent school reception for Wilkins and Kier.
Principal James Sims said, “Oh, boy,” and let out a deep breath when asked about their departure from the school.
“This will be a new experience for me,” Sims said. “It’s the foundation of our school, to lose 40 years of experience. But new castles are built on old foundations.”
The foundation, as envisioned by Sims, will remain in part: both women are taking early retirement, meaning they must donate 15 days per school year for the next four years. Wilkins will continue to serve as technology coordinator at Pine Grove, and Kier will continue to substitute teach in the district.
Wilkins started at Pine Grove in 1982, and Kier in 1984. Kier taught at the school in 1965-66, then left the district and returned in 1979. She taught at Cascade Locks, Hood River Opportunity School, and Mid-Valley.
“It’s going to be really different,” Kier said. “This is a super place. You can’t ask for better people to work with.”
“I’ll miss the kids,” Kier. “I love first graders. There are no discipline problems. They’re just sweet.”
Sims said “Barbara is a master primary teacher,” and an expert at curriculum development. Wilkins teaches third grade and guided the school’s technology program into the 21st century.
“Sharlene brings a progessive and unique component of technology that most of us lack at the elementary level,” Sims said.
“They learn a lot more in the third grade than they did 21 years ago,” Wilkins said. “I don’t care what people say, the curriculum is a lot tougher and much more is expected of them.”
Wilkins started teaching in 1970 at May Street and left after a few years to teach grades 6-7 at Imbler School in eastern Oregon. She recalls what happened when she was expecting her son, Christopher. “When I started showing, the principal told me, ‘I think you’d probably better step down.’ I’ll never forget the principal teling me that. Now days they teach one day and go to the hospital the next.”
Keir remembers Wilbur the rabbit, which she trained and would run around the school. That stopped after he chewed through a few computer cords.
“He’d come when you’d tap a ruler on the floor,” she said. “I had to clean the cage every morning, and it would get pretty ripe. I’d done that for long enough.”
Last week’s reception gave students and community members a chance to give Kier and Wilkins fond greetings. First grader Brenda Hernandez knew exactly what to say to Kier, on one of the pear-shaped note visitors filled out and left for the teachers.
“Es muy bonita y que ensena mucho y que eres muy bueno. que le vaya muy bonita,” Brenda wrote with the help of her mother, Teresa.
“You are very beautiful,” Brenda wrote. “You have taught me a lot. I wish you a lot of happiness.”