Several Camas School District employees are retiring after years in education

Leaving with a full heart

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“You laugh, you cry and you work harder than you ever thought you could.

“Some days, you’re trying to change the world and some days you’re just trying to make it through the day.

“Your wallet is empty, your heart is full, and your mind is packed with memories of kids who have changed your life.

“Just another day in the classroom.”

For most retiring teachers and administrators in Camas, this poem by Krissy Venosdale rings true in a number of ways. Some chose the field of education years ago and have spent a career immersed in it. For others, it was a second calling later in life. All of those interviewed couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

The May 28 edition of the Post-Record featured notable retirees in the Washougal School District. This week, readers will find profiles of Camas retirees who turned their love of teaching and learning into a career.

Patricia Erdmann, Grass Valley Elementary principal

Teaching for 18 years in classrooms ranging from those in an inner-city public school to a wealthy private school gave Patricia Erdmann the skills to understand people from all walks of life.

“I think it helped me respect a lot of different people and the variety of those we serve, especially in public schools,” she said.

Erdmann, 66, is retiring after 26 years in education. She earned a bachelor of arts in art history from Vanderbilt University, then a master of arts in teaching from Webster University in St. Louis. She has been with the Camas School District for almost eight years as an administrator, beginning at the former JDZ Elementary School.

“I have loved getting to know so many kids,” she said. “It feels like you impact so many lives. During the first few days at the beginning of the year, it’s just staff here. But when back-to-school night comes, then you really feel centered, and know that’s why you’re here.”

During her tenure in Camas, Erdmann had the opportunity to help start a new school when Grass Valley opened its doors in 2010.

“I have such a great staff,” she said. “It’s a really strong group of people, they collaborate and care about each other. We have really great parents in our school too, as well as a strong PTA.”

Superintendent Mike Nerland admires Erdmann’s ability to tell a story and make it engaging for others.

“Whether the topic is about MSP scores, science projects, or recycling plastics, she has an incredible ability to weave an interesting and compelling narrative which brings individuals together and moves groups to action,” he said. “Patricia built a strong learning community first at JDZ and then opening the new Grass Valley Elementary. Patricia came to us late in her career; we only wish we’d had more time to enjoy the benefits of her expertise and wisdom.”

Erdmann feels what has changed most in education during the past quarter century is how grade level standards are determined.

“Before, you used a textbook and taught from it,” she said. “Now, the standards are determined by groups of people designated by the government. Our instruction is based on those standards of using data analysis to guide instruction.”

She adds that some things have stayed the same.

“There has always been a fundamental need for teachers to have strong relationships with the kids,” Erdmann said. “No matter what program or new initiative, teachers will say the most important thing is relationships.”

Although Erdmann is looking forward to retirement, she definitely is not resting: In September, she’ll begin a new adventure as a teacher in Malawi, a country in southeast Africa, for a semester.

“I have always wanted to do this and never could before,” she said. “It’s so exciting.”

When she leaves Grass Valley at the end of June, it will be left in the hands of Sean Mcmillan, the current principal of Washington Elementary in Vancouver.

“He is going to be wonderful here,” she said. “I feel really good about leaving now, and I feel our school is in a really good position. My advice would be to appreciate the talents of every staff member. They all care very much about the school.”

Sylvia Manzo, Skyridge Middle School counselor and musical director

With a crowd of young teen and ‘tweens around her, Sylvia Manzo is at her happiest.

“I’m glad to be with the kids,” she said. “It’s really what I’m all about.”

Manzo, 65, is retiring after 44 years in education. For the past 19 years, she has served as a middle school counselor and musical director in the Camas School District. Before that, she was a classroom teacher and music instructor for several years.

“This career has given me lots of experiences with kids, both in and out of the classroom,” she said. “I love the interaction with them, love the counseling and love the musicals.”

Manzo, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, said that was what led her to earn a master’s in guidance counseling.

“The nature of music and what it does for us is so powerful,” she said.

That love of music also led Manzo to be the sole director, stage and costume designer for the annual middle school musical at Skyridge.

“When I do a musical, I work on it all year long.”

The biggest change during her 44 years in education is the workload expected, particularly of classroom teachers.

And what has stayed the same?

“Kids are kids universally,” she said. “They need guidance and for someone to care about and understand them. That has never changed.”

In September, she will embark on a new adventure: Traveling across Europe and spending more time with her five grandchildren when she returns from the trip.

“I will enjoy this new journey, and I hope to continue directing musicals and singing,” Manzo said.

Nerland said that Manzo is able to assist students during a crucial part of their life and also lend her artistic talents to the district.

“A component of Sylvia’s unique skill set is a passion for the arts,” he said. “Under her tutelage, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Skyridge students have performed incredible musical productions. Sylvia is a gem who leaves very large shoes to fill.”

When the final curtain call came for the spring musical, “Thoroughly Modern Mille, Junior,” Manzo was overcome with mixed emotions.

“I love the Camas School District,” she said. “I have been very happy here. I will take these memories with me. I worked with great teachers and fellow counselors and wonderful students. I’ve had a stellar career.”

Con Tornow, Camas High School technology, woods and metals teacher

After 40 years in the Camas School District, Con Tornow is an institution of sorts.

He began his career in 1971, after earning a bachelor’s degree from Central Washington University in industrial education. He moved to Camas and JDZ Middle School in 1973, where he designed a new woods and plastic program.

In 1974, he redesigned the drafting program at CHS, eventually teaching computer aided architecture drafting and CAD engineering drafting.

Tornow has also coached basketball, tennis, football and bowling at CHS.

“When Con began his career at Camas High School in the 70s, he spent most of his time teaching students the finer points of woodworking and metal crafting as a shop teacher,“ said Nerland. “Later, he taught drafting, via paper and pencil, to students and moved quickly to embrace new technologies like Computer Aided Drafting. Top teachers like Con adapt their skill sets to meet the needs of students in our ever-changing world. He is an outstanding professional and will be missed.”

Tornow also designed an academic and career pathway program in 1990 that the district still uses to help students with course selection and career choices.

When asked what he’ll miss most after being a teacher for 42 years, Tornow said daily interaction with students.

“(I enjoy) watching their growth in my subject area,” he said.

And the most challenging aspect of being a teacher? “Motivating the unmotivated,” he said.

During Tornow’s years in the classroom, there has been constant change, he added. “We went from drawing with T-squares and triangles to computer aided drafting to 3-D modeling,” he said. “But it has stayed the same in that it has always been and will be interactions with students, and being a resource of knowledge as you guide them through your subject area.”