The end of the school year — nine days away — signals a two-month break for non-graduating Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. students. But for 15 BCSC teachers and 21 more support staff employees, closing out of the school year in most cases marks the end of a career. Their time with the school district represents a combined 900 years of service, with the longest-serving employee retiring after a 41-year career.

For teachers, retirement means no more lesson plans to prepare, no more papers to grade and far less interaction with young people. In return, they — like their retiring BCSC support staff colleagues — get to add life opportunities such as more time to relax, more involvement with their family or other retirement pursuits.

The Republic interviewed four of the retiring BCSC employees, representing different roles with the school district, to gain insight into their careers and futures.

Meri Knight

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Step inside Meri Knight’s classroom at Parkside Elementary School and you will see plenty of tiny chairs scattered around the room: children’s books, Dr. Seuss characters painted on the wall and educational themes that serve as important reminders to her students.

A fan of Dr. Seuss, Knight has filled classroom walls with Seuss characters and book excerpts, such as: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Knight, who said she feels passionate about teaching, enjoys being able to help all of her students succeed.

“You want them to see the possibilities … and accomplish incredibly amazing things,” Knight said of her students. “You’ve got to treat them all like a little star.”

Knight, who will turn 65 later this year, said she learned much about how to approach daily lessons while student-teaching at Schmitt Elementary, working with Marie Moore, who she described as a strong mentor.

“Working with little ones, first graders, they’re so eager to learn and they devour knowledge,” Knight said. “They bring you back to the essence of life and what’s really important.”

Parkside’s motto for all students is displayed as you step inside Knight’s classroom: “Be kind, be safe, be truthful, be responsible, be respectful.”

Those five phrases serve as a reminder to all students that every day can make a difference in their development, she said.

And for a teacher, “there’s nothing more exciting and challenging than spending my time with all these souls,” she said.

However, after more than 30 years in the classroom, Knight will step into retirement to spend more time with her family, which includes her husband Steve and their three children, Jason, Courtney and Angie.

“I absolutely love what I do,” she said, but the topic of retirement had been on her mind for a while, she said.

Knight’s approach to education is multi-faceted, wanting her students to learn about different topics and each other.

Teacher and students each month have discussed a different composer, artist and author, with students enthusiastic about what they learned, she said.

“When they walk in, life walks in,” Knight said. “When they’re here, you never have a dull day. It’s exciting to see every child learn and see what they’re capable of.”

A symbol of Knight’s love for teaching sits on her desk as part of a display that reads, “Teachers who love teaching teach children to love learning.”

Knight said she has aspired to do exactly that throughout her teaching career.

“If they (teachers) live by that and really love what they’re doing, the kids know that and they’re so much more comfortable,” Knight said.

Knight said she feels fortunate to work at Parkside and credited the staff, teachers, administrators and parents for making her career an enjoyable one.

She also had a few parting words for her students: “I want them to know how exciting it is and learning doesn’t stop.”

Connie Daugherty

Making a difference and helping special-needs students has always been important for one local educator.

While Connie Daugherty always knew she wanted to be a teacher, the path into special education was one she transitioned into. It came after working three years as a business teacher at Columbus North High School and 12 years in a similar role at Columbus East High School.

It was a video showing adults sitting in a classroom being treated as if they had disabilities which prompted her to switch to special education, Daugherty said.

“I just realized how hard it was,” Daugherty said. “It really touched my heart and I wanted to help them and make a difference for them.”

For the past 24 years, the Columbus native has worked at Northside with special-needs students. Some of her 7th grade students have had learning disabilities such as autism or physical behavior issues.

Daugherty takes an individualized approach with her students and provides assistance to them in a guided resource class, co-taught with another educator.

“The kids are a blessing to me every day,” she said. “They teach me so much every day about how to deal with struggles in life.”

Daugherty said she often reminds her 26 students that every day represents a fresh start, regardless of whatever they are facing.

“If you had a bad day yesterday, that’s gone,” she said. “Today’s a new day.”

Her advice to students as they continue their education: “Enjoy each day and each moment because it goes by so fast.”

Daugherty said she considers her fellow colleagues as a work family who support each other.

But after 39 years of education, Daugherty said she is looking forward to retirement and plans to spend more time with her husband Hugh and their four grandchildren, with two additional grandchildren expected to arrive later this year.

Her family includes two sons. Matthew Lahr resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and works as chief of staff for Indiana Rep. Jim Banks. Andrew Lahr works as a biology teacher in Houston, Texas.

Jim Ponsford

After a nearly 40-year stint in the classroom, an art teacher at Columbus East High School said he is looking ahead to the next chapter of his life.

Jim Ponsford has taught 3-D ceramics and sculpture at East for the past 19 years, sharing his passion for art with his fellow students. Before coming to the high school, he worked at Lincoln Elementary School and Central Middle School for a combined 20 years.

Ponsford said he has enjoyed being able to pass his love of the visual arts onto students and helping them be creative.

Growing up in Salem, Indiana, Ponsford said he was inspired by one of his teachers, Judith Rightley, to pursue art as a career. That eventually led him to Indiana University in Bloomington, where he earned a degree in art education.

“She got to know her students and inspired us all,” Ponsford said.

Ponsford said he has been fortunate during his career to work with some great colleagues in the art department and other areas of school.

“Education has a lot of different facets and it takes a team effort to make a good school environment for students,” he said. “We could not serve students without that team spirit.”

Student work is displayed on two walls inside Ponsford’s classroom at East, including that of a former student, Atalie Antcliff, who teaches at Columbus North and Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech High School. She will be taking Ponsford’s place during the next school year.

Ponsford said he will miss working with his students, but has no regrets about his decision to retire

“I’m excited about this new adventure, whatever it is,” Ponsford said.

Enjoying nature and spending more time with family — wife Carol and daughters Jennifer and Jessica — are among his immediate plans.

His love for art won’t dissipate as he plans to display architectural pottery at the Columbus Area Visitors Center, which he has done for the past 26 summers.

Elaine Worton

Elaine Worton has had plenty of interation with students, although not in a teaching capacity. Her job has been to help prepare meals for Northside Middle School students who make their way through the food line.

“I want to make sure the kids are treated like I want to be treated,” she said. “We care about the kids and we want to make sure they have good food.”

Worton got her start with the district as a substitute cafeteria worker for three days before transitioning into a full-time employee. Her connection to Northside began as a 9th grade student before graduating from Columbus North High School.

Worton, who turns 70 in September, said retirement has been on her mind over the past few years. She plans to spend more time with her daughter Amy, her son-in-law Steve and her four grandchildren.

“I never thought I’d be here this long,” Worton said.

After a 30-year career with BCSC, she is retiring once the current school year wraps up — although she won’t be gone forever. She has already made a request to return as a substitute cafeteria worker, she said.

“Goodbye is not in my language,” she said.

BCSC reception

A reception will be held for all Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. retirees at 6:30 p.m. today at Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech High School, 2205 25th St., before the 7 p.m. school board meeting.

The reception is open to the public.

BCSC retirees

Here is a list of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. employees who will retire at the end of the current school year. They are listed by job category, based on seniority, with number of years served included.

Certified staff

Christie Shaff, Richards Elementary School (special education), 41 years

Jim Ponsford, Columbus East (art), 39 1/2 years

Connie Daugherty, Northside Middle School (special education), 39 years

Rick Weinheimer, Columbus North (Department chair, language arts), 39 years

Don Baker, Columbus East (AV consultant), 35 years

Jon Bradley, Columbus North (math), 35 years

Meri Knight, Parkside Elementary School (1st grade), 33 1/2 years

Ken Hauan, Columbus East (choral music), 31 years

David Stidham, C4 Columbus Area Career Connection/Columbus North (automotive technology), 30 years

Kathy Rebber, Mt. Healthy Elementary School (physical education), 28 years

Carol Mauer, Taylorsville Elementary School (Title I), 24 years

Danny Brown, Columbus East High School (physical education), 23 1/2 years

Janet Vanderdussen, Columbus North (English), 23 1/2 years

Robert Steven Perry, Columbus North (social studies), 21 years

Janie Gordon, Columbus North High School (choral music), 18 years

Support staff 

Jerry Abner, BCSC transportation/maintenance (electrician), 39 years

Janet Murphy, Mt. Healthy (cafeteria assistant), 38 years

Shirley Chadd, food service office (office personnel), 33 years

Kay Hoene, BCSC administration building (administrative assistant), 32 years

Janice Hoeltke, BCSC transportation/maintenance (bus driver), 31 years

Elaine Worton, Northside (cafeteria department head), 30 years

Steven McCrary, BCSC transportation/maintenance (supply/delivery), 27 years

Georgana Lowman, Mt. Healthy (kindergarten), 22 years

Connie Eppley, Columbus Signature Academy – Fodrea (nurse), 22 years

Ann Stevens, Johnson (custodian), 22 years

A. Jean Parker, BCCS transportation/maintenance (bus driver), 21 years

Guy Murray, BCSC transportation/maintenance (bus driver), 19 years

Dee Dee Stillinger, BCSC administration building (benefit specialist), 18 years

Marilyn Hadler, Rockcreek Elementary School (nurse), 17 years

Nelda Burnett, Clifty Creek (Family School Partners), 16 years

Billy Stevens, BCSC transportation/maintenance (supply/delivery), 16 years

Debbie Merrick, Columbus East (custodian), 13 years

Brenda Weber, Northside (head baker), 11 years

William Altmiller, BCSC transportation/maintenance (bus driver), 6 years

Gerald Barnhorst, BCSC transportation/maintenance (bus driver), 5 years

Connie Martin, Mt. Healthy (custodian), 5 years

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com