A combined 76 years of experience in education will be walking out the doors this week when teacher Donna Peirone-Kaczor and head secretary Karen Woods retire from Contract Based Education.
Their joint retirement isn’t something they planned together, but it’s coming at the right time for both. Peirone-Kaczor is looking for a little less daily discipline after 40 years of teaching, and Woods has a few health problems encouraging her to take time to relax.
Peirone-Kaczor, 61, started in the West Valley School District in 1969, fresh out of Eastern Washington University. She started in Millwood Elementary and Pasadena Park Elementary teaching third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. “I went back and forth between the schools,” she said. “Most of my years I taught fourth grade.”
In 1996 she felt the need for something more than the usual. “I decided I need to challenge myself and do something different,” she said.
At that time Contract Based Education was still a school that worked one-on-one with students on a contract basis. Peirone-Kaczor started out teaching English to junior high students. “I thought that would be a really great way to get into teaching high school,” she said. “That was a huge jump for me.”
Since then the school has changed to become more of a small-group school with something modeled more along a regular class structure and junior high students no longer attend. In recent years Peirone-Kaczor has been teaching history, with a little geography and civics mixed in.
“I love to teach,” she said. “I love to listen. I love to help students.”
Woods, 68, started in West Valley in 1973 as a playground aide at Ness Elementary. Over the years she worked at Millwood Elementary, Argonne Junior High and Park Junior High, which is now Centennial Middle School. She came to CBE in 1988 and was promoted to head secretary in 1997. She supervises two other secretaries and handles everything from ordering supplies to arranging for substitute teachers.
“It’s a fun place because we’re informal, but we’re professional,” she said. “The kids are so wonderful. They’re caring, they’re polite. I always try to have a smile on my face and greet each student.”
In an alternative school, interesting hair styles, piercings and tattoos are typically more common than in mainstream schools. But Woods looks past all the exterior trappings to see the heart inside. “If a student comes in with spiked hair, I’m not intimidated,” she said. “Sometimes those are the most sincere kids.”
CBE principal Cleve Penberthy is sorry to see the two women leave. He is particularly impressed with the 40 years Peirone-Kaczor has been in the classroom. “That was two weeks after I got back from Woodstock,” he said. “The average person teaches for five years. Here’s a gal who has two generations of classroom work. She should be very proud of that kind of contribution to education.”
Penberthy said Woods has a personality much bigger than her petite frame, filling up a room with her spirit and pizzazz. She’s also known for her sense of humor and love of jokes. “She’s always tuned into the small detail,” he said, something required when he gives her his “scratchings” to transcribe into letters.
“She’s never pulled a punch,” he said. “As I said to her, she’s one of a kind. We’re certainly going to miss both of them. They’re both great.”
Both Peirone-Kaczor and Woods are reluctant to leave, but feel their time has come. Peirone-Kaczor said she doesn’t plan to quit entirely. “I would just like to have not such a detailed schedule,” she said. “I’m going to be a substitute. I can’t let go. I love it here.” Her plans include spending time with her husband of 14 years, James Kaczor, and perhaps taking piano lessons.
Woods recently lost her husband of 43 years, Les, and wants to spend time with her grandchildren. “I’m tired this year,” she said. “It’s time for me to go.
“It has been a very fun experience. It’s been a very important chapter in my life and now I’m moving on to chapter three.”