Closing out a career

Thursday, April 15, 2021
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Columbus Elementary School Principal Marlene Deis (Courtesy photo)

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Deis dressed as a pirate at one year-end celebration. (Courtesy photo)

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Deis spent an entire week dressing up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. (Courtesy photo)

After a 38-year career in education – 18 of which were spent as the Columbus Elementary School Principal, Marlene Deis is preparing for retirement with the close of the 2021 school year.

With her final day falling on June 11, Deis knows she will miss her students the most.

“That right there,” Deis said as an infectious giggle erupted from the next room. “When you hear someone giggle because they enjoy what they’re doing so much. That just touches your heart.”

Deis, 60, knew she wanted to be an educator since she was in third grade, a time when her teacher greatly influenced her life.

“Her name was Mrs. Johnson and she made learning so much fun,” Deis said. “We had to demonstrate the things we learned in fun ways…I wanted to be just like her.”

After her high school years as a Helena Bengal, Deis attended Montana State University in Bozeman where she earned a degree in education.

Her first teaching job landed her in Casper, Wyo., where she spent her first four years as a teacher. Her next position brought her to Stillwater County where she taught in the Park City School District for 16 years.

She’s taught nearly everything, in some instances by being thrown into the deep end.

During her time in Park City, the district suddenly moved towards being a fully inclusive school in which special needs students attended regular classes.

With no previous experience working in special needs, Deis was nervous, but the experience became a turning point in her career.

“I didn’t have the training. I didn’t think I could do it, but it was one of the best things I ever did,” Deis said. “It changed the way I looked at special needs kids. I learned to celebrate the little things.”

The patience and perseverance developed in those classes followed her though the rest of her career, which were especially noteworthy for Superintendent Jeff Bermes.

“Very few administrators have the qualities I have observed in Mrs. Deis when it comes to the well being and education of her students. She has worked endlessly to make sure every student was afforded an education, a helping hand in need, a shoulder to cry upon, an ear to listen or a smile to say I appreciate you,” Bermes said.

In her years as principal, Deis has had to adjust the ways she builds bonds with her students, but it is always her priority. She starts everyday by greeting her students in morning as they make their way into the school and ends it each night by waving them goodbye. She takes extra time to visit classrooms throughout the day, and she spends every lunch period in the cafeteria with each grade level.

“That’s where I connect with the kids since I’m not a teacher any more,” Deis said. “In my heart I will always be a teacher.”

 

TRANSITION TO ADMIN

The transition from teacher to administrator was a lonely one, Deis said.

As an administrator, she no longer had teachers to lean on. Rather, many leaned on her as she became the problem solver for her staff, the disciplinarian for students, often times the mediator for parent meetings, the substitute on days one was not available and the nurse fixing everything from “owies” to “splinting broken arms,” Deis said.

And to top it off, she never really knows for sure if she’s made a difference in the lives of her students.

“You never know in teaching for sure (if you’ve helped a child) unless a parent tells you,” Deis said.

Deis recalled one instance when a parent who she had a falling out with, reached out after many years.

“She said ‘you were the difference, you were the one who made my child know that they could finish school.’ Those moments mean a lot,” Deis said.

Talk of passing on her school  to the next principal brought tears as she said, “it feels like sending your kid off to college.”

“I want someone to love my students and my staff as much as I do. That’s what I truly want. That’s what I worry about,” Deis said.

Bermes acknowledged her empathy for students and staff.

“Along with her compassion for students, she believed in her staff.  She would go to great lengths to show her appreciation to her staff, which was always appreciated,” Bermes said. “As school administrators, we all hope that we have been a positive influence on our school, students, staff and community as Mrs. Deis has done throughout her educational career.”

Her decision to retire was influenced by the arrival of her grandson, who is now 15-months old. Deis is looking forward to baby-sitting and her travel plans to visit family.

For the principal to fill her shoes, her advice is to visit the kindergarten classes on the hard days, don’t resist building relationships with staff and students and remember to let go of yesterday and move forward with today.

“She has been a model of excellence, and we will forever appreciate what she has given to Columbus Elementary,” Bermes said.