For 753 teachers, it's time to go

S.D. district's retirement offer too good to pass up

Charlotte Richardson Adams '61

By Chris Moran

June 12, 2003

Every year Charlotte Adams cries when they leave. Tomorrow will be the 38th time.

Just as they do every year, her first-graders will walk out of Room 26 at Dailard Elementary School in San Carlos with a collage paid for by Adams that she compiles from the student photos she takes throughout the year.

The students' snapshots preserve memories of making ice cream, of fun-filled field trips and of Mrs. Adams squirting a dollop of anti-bacterial soap on their hands when they return from the bathroom.

At an assembly honoring Adams and her fellow Dailard retirees last week, she received the ultimate compliment. Fourth-grader Sean Phinney remembered his first-grade teacher by saying, "She made learning so much fun that we didn't even know that we were learning."

San Diego city schools face an unprecedented brain drain as 753 teachers retire this year. About one in 10 classroom teachers is taking advantage of an early retirement incentive, and an additional 710 employees – ranging from some of the superintendent's top assistants to cafeteria workers – will also retire.

The Board of Education offered the incentive to cut costs amid a budget crisis. By luring higher-paid veteran teachers off the payroll and replacing them with new teachers at the bottom of the pay scale, the district will save millions of dollars next year.

Some retiring teachers have said they'll be glad to escape the superintendent's reforms of recent years that they believe have restricted their freedom to teach as they see fit. Others said they were glad to leave an open position behind as 1,487 younger teachers waited to see if they'd be laid off (after six weeks of deliberation, the administration decided not to lay off any). For most, though, the primary motive was simple economics: It would take three more years of teaching to accrue the benefits offered by the retirement incentive.

Three times the average number of teachers will retire this year. The departure of 31 principals has caused such a stir that the school board has approved signing bonuses of up to $2,500 for principals hired from outside the district and as much as $2,000 in moving expenses. The board also approved $500 finder's fees for district employees who recommend out-of-district candidates hired as principals and vice principals.

Dailard Principal Marian Kim said her seven retiring teachers represent 236 years of teaching experience.

Retiring Dailard kindergarten teacher Julia Croom estimates she's taught 1,250 children in 40 years on the job.

This spring in San Diego Unified, bulletin boards have been covered with fliers for retirement parties, cars have often been parked outside classroom doors awaiting packed classroom cargo, hand-painted rockers have been placed in the reading nooks in the classrooms of Dailard's retiring teachers and new teachers have swarmed around their retiring colleagues' rooms to pick through a treasure trove of materials accumulated over decades.

The passing of the torch began a few weeks ago at Dailard. Adams, Croom and 36-year veteran Carole Young have been jettisoning books, games and containers as they wind down their careers, distributing them to fellow teachers, packing them for storage or throwing them out.

"It's a life in there!" Young said as she looked at 10 years' worth of lesson plans stuffed into a trash basket while cleaning out Room 31. She has worked in that room for the last 27 of her 36 years as a teacher.

All three of the retiring Dailard teachers have family members who will continue to teach. Adams' sister will continue teaching at Dailard, and her daughter is teaching in Santee. Young has a daughter who has been substitute teaching in East County and another about to start teaching at Long Beach State University. Two of Croom's nephews are teachers.

"So much of me is being a teacher. It was a difficult decision. It's me. It's what I am," Young said.

Chris Moran: (619) 498-6637;

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