By Juanita I.C. Traughber, Communications Director
Seventh Grade English Teacher Shannon Earl, HS Administrative Assistant Debbie Fulcher, MS & HS Band Director Joe Getsi, Eighth Grade English Teacher Thorunn McCoy, HS Technology Coordinator Penny Phillips, Director of College Counseling Janet Schneider, and HS History Teacher Erskine White have announced they will retire from University School of Nashville when this school year concludes. A retirement reception
will be held at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 14. They share highlights from their time at USN below.
Seventh Grade English Teacher Shannon Earl is making her seventh year at USN her last so that she can spend more time with her family and traveling, hiking, canoeing, and crossing the visits to all U.S. National Parks off her bucket list.
“I'll miss my colleagues. I love my colleagues and the students. I love the rapport I have with students in the classroom. The classroom discussions shape my day and make me smile and keep me coming back for sure,” she said, adding that she has appreciated USN’s focus on being and breeding independent-minded thinkers and enjoyed watching students grow into themselves. “But there's a big world out there waiting for my hiking boots.”
After 25 years as a Tiger, HS Administrative Assistant Debbie Fulcher is saying farewell, along with her beloved dogs Joy and Leah. In 2002, Fulcher began training dogs to assist individuals with vision impairments; this meant bringing these dogs in training with her to school. Eventually, Fulcher found Joy and Leah, retired guide dogs, and they became valued members of the USN community, residing by Fulcher's desk, welcoming and comforting students and faculty when needed.
"I'm so thankful for my time here," Fulcher said. "And I'm so grateful for [Director Vince Durnan] and [Former Head of High School] Steve Robbins for being open to letting me try something new that's ended up being so important to me, and, I hope, important to others here, too"
In her newly-found free time, Fulcher hopes to return to volunteer work, finding ways to continue investing in education and working with children.
Eighth Grade English Teacher Thorunn McCoy has taught English to eighth graders since 2000 and served as the grade’s team leader for four years.
“I thought I'd do this job for a year until something ‘better’ came along,” she said before she realized that USN is full of “teachers who want to share their love of a subject with kids who mostly want to learn it.” Her Middle School classroom allowed her to not only teach grammar and writing skills but also watch 13-year-olds put life’s tragedies and triumphs into perspective.
In retirement, McCoy said she plans to continue learning new skills, gardening, and will work on “figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.”
Teaching adolescents and pre-teens was a second career for Joe Getsi, who joined USN during the 2001-2002 school year. He previously played on cruise ships, played Broadway shows, and worked with groups on the road, experiences he was able to share with his USN students during his 19 years as MS/HS Band Director, teaching jazz theory, and directing MS bands, and the HS jazz band and concert band. Under his direction, High School students traveled locally to Abe’s Garden to serenade the elderly and across state lines to Disney World to play for tourists in the Marketplace. In retirement, Getsi plans to return to those freelance roots, playing wedding gigs, recording sessions, and possibly some Broadway shows.
While USN parent Steve Gorman prepared for Music Night 2012, he asked Getsi and Middle School Theater Director Bakari King to join Trigger Hippy as horn players. In the following years, Music Night volunteers called on other faculty to share their musical talents for the annual school fundraiser. In 2016, Director Vince Durnan made a formal ask for a house band to open for Manifest Destiny; today it is known as Joe Getsi and The K-12 Situation.
“This year has been rough for everybody, and like everybody else, we had to come up with ways to keep things going, like playing outside in USN’s 21st Ave. parking garage. We did a lot of research on how to reduce aerosols while playing horns and ended up using playing masks with slits for the mouthpieces as well as bell covers. We even added shop towels to the bell covers to further limit aerosols. We had to change the curriculum for our beginners in the fifth grade from learning to play wind instruments to learning percussion, mallet percussion, and baritone ukuleles,” said Getsi reflecting on his bittersweet decision to retire. “I’ll miss the recognition on the faces of students when they finally get it, musically coming together on a piece and actually making music with their friends. I’ve learned an amazing amount here at USN from all of the students I’ve taught.”
High School Technology Coordinator Penny Phillips joined USN in 2004 — before wireless internet spanned campus — and has seen the school through several technology and equipment upgrades, spanning from the time Grades 9-12 shared only one projector to each HS student now having a laptop and the capacity to Zoom into class from home.
“Professionally, my highlight was rolling out the new student information system (that families and students know as the password-protected usn.org),” Phillips said. “Personally, it has been all the people I have met and worked with and getting to watch all the good things that happen in the classrooms of USN. It’s such a vital, living, breathing, growing community. It’s the only job I ever had that I didn’t get bored with.”
In retirement, she plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and get back to gardening and sewing — “all the things that I saved up to do on evenings, weekends, and during breaks,” she said.
Director of College Counseling Janet Schneider announced at the close of 2020 that this school year would be her last at USN. Schneider, the school’s longest-serving faculty member, joined Peabody Demonstration School in August 1974 and is its final remaining employee. She has worked as a personal counselor, earned her master’s degree and certification in counseling, and ushered thousands of students into their years beyond Edgehill as Director of College Counseling and Senior Class Dean. Click here to read more about Schneider’s career
Eighteen months ago, White was diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN with hattr amyloidosis, a rare, hereditary and terminal disease in which a mutated gene in the liver produces a defective protein which progressively accumulates throughout the body. “But I’m the luckiest unlucky man there is,” he says, because a newly-approved drug “sits on” the bad gene and slows down its production of bad proteins. He receives this drug by infusion every three weeks at Vanderbilt.
“Were it not for the pandemic and this disease, the thought of retiring now would never have crossed my mind. It’s tough to walk away from something you still love doing,” he said. In addition to continuing his medical treatment, White will serve as a Patient Ambassador for the Snow Companies, traveling to meet with other amyloidosis patients, sharing with them what he has learned about living with this disease and hopefully helping create some patient networks and support groups.
“I echo others in expressing gratitude that as professional educators and lifelong learners, USN gives us faculty members the space to bring our honest selves to our classrooms, the space to keep learning and growing according to the lights that guide us. And teach with meaning. Whenever students happen to tell me the most important thing they learned in my classroom, it was never once part of the official curriculum I was being paid to teach.”
The roles these faculty leave behind and other open positions for the 2021-2022 school year are listed at usn.org/jobs
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