Leaving the nest: Saying goodbye to our retiring staff members


Top row: Kelly Vickers, Trish McDonald, Middle row: Susan Gerb, Stacy Cashmark Bottom Row: Cynthia Dillon, Bottom Right: Linda Norris

As the school year comes to a close, students and teachers alike are looking forward to a couple months of rest and relaxation in the beautiful summer weather. In our excitement for the summer festivities, we have to acknowledge the bittersweet goodbyes that have to be made; to our classmates, teachers, graduating seniors, and to our retiring teachers. This year, six members of our beloved Centennial staff will be walking out of Centennials doors for the last time on the afternoon of June 14. 

Retiring paraeducator Trish McDonald says, “I am so happy that I wound up at Centennial High School, I think this has been an incredible staff, and I’m sad to be leaving it in ways.” McDonald started working at Centennial 12 years ago after working as a student assistant at Burleigh Manor. McDonald was originally a journalism major coming out of college, but received a job at the Georgia Tech marketing department of continuing education. “They’re just very important fields, both of them. I’m honored, really, to have ended up in education,” she states. 

McDonald is not the only retiring staff member who made a career switch. Computer science teacher Susan Gerb was a software engineer for 13 years before starting her teaching career. After taking on more leadership roles, she realized that the importance of office politics started to become a bigger impediment upon her work. “I remember I was standing at a gas station in Timonium, filling up my car when it occurred to me that I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life” she remarks. Gerb had wanted to be a teacher when she was younger and had even received the opportunity to teach a Computer 2 class when she was in 11th grade. Gerb has been teaching at Centennial for 22 years. 

While some bounced around before settling into teaching, some of our retiring teachers have been working in the school system for their entire career. Principal Cynthia Dillon has been working in education for 30 years, starting as a FACS (Family and Consumer Science) teacher for 8 years and an administrator to a principal for 22 years. She was then promoted to assistant principal at Oakland Mills Middle for 5 years and Patapsco Middle School for 8 years before starting at Centennial as principal in 2018. Math teacher Stacy Cashmark has a similarly long standing repertoire in the HCPSS school system, teaching at Dunloggin Middle School for 24 years before starting at Centennial in 2012. “I used to joke it took me 24 years to get out of 8th grade,” Cashmark recalls lightheartedly. Library media specialist Linda Norris has been teaching for a total of 42 years, both as an elementary school teacher and a media specialist. “I saw children at the very beginning of their school career and then I see kids at the very end, which is very rewarding…” Norris reminisces. While she recognized the major shift between teaching elementary and middle school, she’s glad she made the switch.  It has made her job much more versatile and has allowed her to communicate with staff and students in a multitude of experiences. 

Whether starting right out of the gate or after a few detours, all of our retiring teachers have emphasized the positive impact teaching and working in the school system has had on their lives. Between establishing unbreakable bonds with colleagues and creating everlasting memories within the Centennial community, our retiring teachers have noticed that they have also learned a lot about themselves throughout their teaching career. Cahsmark notes that through teaching she has learned that she is a much more patient person than she ever thought she could be, “I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to take a step back, take a deep breath, hold it and exhale slowly.” Norris mentions that working in the school building has taught her that change can be a good thing. 

Secretary Kelly Vickers says that her job has taught her how to multitask effectively: “On just a normal day, the doorbell is ringing, the phone is ringing, kids are coming to my desk, teachers are coming to my desk, teachers are calling me on the phone.” Vickers started at Centennial in 2011 and has worked as a secretary for 12 years in the front office. She’s often the first smiling face you see when you walk through Centennial’s front doors. While Vickers is looking forward to spending time with her new grandbaby and her parents in retirement, she cherishes the memories made with the community at school plays and with her student aides in the front office. “You don’t really miss the job…but it’s the people, the students and the staff I will miss,” she remarks. 

McDonald shares this sentiment, mentioning that her favorite part about teaching has been the people and the students that she’s made connections with. Some of her favorite memories involve watching her students grow and flourish over the years, and she encourages them to continue to maintain a good work ethic and expect high quality results. While Dillon enjoyed the hubbub of the school day she claims that her most memorable moments were actually made in after school hours. “The thing that’s lovely about the after hours is that you guys are doing the things you love,” she states. Some of her fondest memories are with our robust and motivating student section at basketball games. Dillon also emphasizes how much she has grown and learnt throughout her teaching career and especially in her role as principal. Dillon relays, “When you become principal, it’s kind of the buck stops here kind of thing … you never get to turn the worry off.” While the job of principal is certainly a taxing role with many moving parts, she highlights the important lessons that she’s learned, such as understanding that she works better when she collaborates with others and accepts that she will not know the answer to everything. “There are a lot of people who feel like it’s a failure when you don’t know how to do something but I see it as a challenge,” Dillon states. 

Similarly to Dillon, Gerb expresses that through her time teaching, she has slowly figured out what systems and methods work for her as well as her students. “I think I’ve learned that some of the best ways to make sure that the kids are having a good experience is to back off a little bit and let them define their own experiences,” Gerb recalls. When she started teaching, she remembers worrying that her students would be unmotivated and out of control, but she was pleasantly surprised at the dedication of the students and the bond she has formed with them. She states that one of her favorite memories of her time at Centennial happened in 2011. Gerb had just undergone a gender transition and was hesitant to how she would be received by her students. Although she gave her students the opportunity to ask questions, Gerb insists that her students had nothing but acceptance. “That year went like every other year went,” Gerb states. She addresses her students in her final messages, urging them to “seize the opportunity to learn and don’t let thoughts and concerns about what grades you have keep you from learning opportunities. Grades are just a reflection of what you know, not the goal, so treat them as an afterthought.” 

Although we will have to bid goodbye to these six staff members at the end of this school year, their appreciation and love for the Centennial community will continue on. “To administration and colleagues, thank you for all the love and support you’ve given me over the years, especially, you know, when I couldn’t figure it out on my own” Cashmark says. Vickers adds, “The staff.. they are wonderful, the teachers, I really hold them all in high regard.” Dillon reminds both students and colleagues that the Centennial community will always be a source of support.  “Once an eagle, always an eagle,” Dillon insists, “If there’s ever anything anyone ever needs, anybody here in the Centennial community will answer the call, so I go away with the comfort of knowing that.”

We thank all of our retiring staff members for all that they have contributed to the Centennial community and wish them a relaxing and restful retirement. 


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