As high school seniors across La Jolla prepare to clear out their lockers and move on next month, several staff members at local schools are getting ready to exit as well — they’re retiring after decades of service.
The La Jolla Light spoke with several of the retirees ahead of their final days on the job.
Alisson Tomasulo, Bird Rock Elementary School
Kindergarten teacher Alisson Tomasulo is retiring after 10 years at Bird Rock Elementary and 27 years with the San Diego Unified School District.
The Bird Rock resident, whose three children went to BRES, began working at other elementary schools in the district “as steppingstones to get to where I wanted to ultimately be, with my kids.”
She said retirement is “bittersweet.” Typically at this point in the school year, she’d be preparing for the next year.
Tomasulo said she’s looking forward to traveling and “not knowing what day of the week it is.” However, she also plans to return to BRES as a volunteer or substitute teacher.
“My goal is to still be somehow involved in Bird Rock and give back to them,” she said.
She said she’ll miss the routine of the school day, along with the laughter among her colleagues. “They’re an amazing group of professionals,” she said.
BRES Principal Andi Frost said Tomasulo “has a super sense of humor, is a dedicated, fun and collaborative colleague and quite the stylish dresser.”
Tomasulo “is a rock of Bird Rock Elementary and the Bird Rock community,” Frost added. “She makes and keeps connections with our community and goes out of her way to make people feel special. [Her students] know that their teacher adores them, supports them and will always encourage them to do their best.”
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Carole LeCren, La Jolla High School
After teaching for 37 years — the past 26 at La Jolla High — yearbook advisor and sophomore English teacher Carole LeCren said her impending retirement feels “like being a senior graduating from high school: What’s the next chapter?”
LeCren said she won’t miss grading papers but will miss getting to know the students. “Every one of them has a story,” she said.
She’ll also miss those students whose “cool, flippant” remarks indicated “they got it.”
LeCren said she’ll remember LJHS the most for her colleagues and the ability to “be creative when teaching. Because the kids are diverse, it’s fun to come up with things for them.”
Once she retires, LeCren hopes to volunteer at a school close to her home and said she looks forward to traveling.
LJHS English teacher Maureen Bonnell and science teacher Rachel Tenenbaum also are retiring this year but could not be reached for interviews.
Principal Chuck Podhorsky said he is “so excited for each one of our 2022 retirees. They have all had amazing teaching careers and have impacted the lives of generations of students. Each one of them should be so proud of their legacy. I wish them a spectacular retirement.”
Mary Jane Sutherland, The Bishop’s School
Mary Jane Sutherland has taught Spanish at The Bishop’s School for 31 years, first from 1975 to 1979 and again since 1995 after completing graduate school and raising a family.
She said she has loved teaching at Bishop’s. “It’s a wonderful community of intellectual people, people who are passionate about their calling as teachers.”
Bishop’s has “been a really nurturing place to grow personally and professionally,” Sutherland said.
She said she will most miss the camaraderie among her colleagues and hopes to return as a substitute in the fall.
Teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic made the decision to retire easy, Sutherland said — teaching language online or in a face mask was very challenging.
“I found it very alienating,” she said. “Teaching is such a socially interactive gig.”
Sutherland said she hasn’t made specific plans for after retirement. “I love teaching,” she said. “I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. This is what I’ve always intended to do.”
She said she’s particularly proud of an exchange program she created with a colleague at a school in Malaga, Spain. Twenty students from each school would visit the other for two weeks.
The program, which ran from 2007 until the pandemic began in 2020, was designed to be a “transformative experience” for the students, she said.
Bishop’s Head of School Ron Kim said Sutherland “leaves an irreplaceable legacy,” having “shared her passion for Spanish language and culture with generations of students.”
Steve Townsend, The Bishop’s School
Also retiring from Bishop’s is chapel organist Steve Townsend, who began at the school in 1992 and has played for each grade once weekly since then.
“I love and adore the Bishop’s community,” he said. “How we try to help the students in all areas, not just academics, is remarkable.”
Townsend said he’s very emotional about retiring. “It’s so hard to leave.”
Kim said Townsend “has been a fixture in our chapel program for 30 years. He is so thoughtful about his choice of music, and he makes sure that it reflects the theme of each chapel talk. It’s an attention to detail that comes from deep care and devotion to this community.” ◆