For more than 25 years, Kathy St. Clair, left, and Heidi Litman co-taught a first/second grade classroom at Hall School, which was reconstructed and reopened in 2018 as Rowe School. St. Clair retired in June after 39 years at the school. Litman retired in 2019. Courtesy / Kathy St. Clair

PORTLAND — When Kathy St. Clair walked into Hall School, now known as Rowe School, as a kindergartner, she had no way of knowing she was stepping into the workplace of her future, a school where she would spend close to 40 years as an teacher, shaping the academic careers of countless students.

“I never imagined my colleagues were some of the same teachers that were there when I was a child,” said St. Clair, a longtime first and second grade teacher who retired in June.

St. Clair started her teaching career in Portland in 1980 as a special education technician at Nathan Clifford Elementary School before moving to Lyseth Elementary School and in 1981, to Hall School. She worked for five years in special education before transitioning to a first/second grade teaching position, the job she held until retiring last month.

Recent retiree Kathy St. Clair spent close to 50 years at the old Hall School, first as a student and then for 30-plus years as a teacher. File photo

“I loved teaching. I often said there were days I didn’t want to go to work, but I never had a day I didn’t want to teach. Teaching is such rewarding experience,” St. Clair said. “No day is the same as the day before it and no hour is quite like how you planned it. I’ve had a life of hugs and positive experiences every day. It was such a fulfilling career.”

St. Clair said first and second grade students come with such excitement for learning.

“They grow up so fast in those years. They learn to read, they learn to do math and this really sets them up for the rest of the schooling. My goal was always to instill a love of learning in them,” St. Clair said.

That goal was evident in St. Clair’s classroom, Rowe School Principal Barbara Fletcher said in a virtual retirement ceremony in June.

“During physical school, Kathy’s classroom is abuzz with enthusiasm and energy for academic and social/emotional learning,” Fletcher said. “Student’s in Kathy’s care are happy and well connected to others in her beautifully orchestrated classroom.”

Heidi Litman, who co-taught with St. Clair for 25 years, said St. Clair was always a strong advocate for her students.

“One of the most evident things about her was her devotion to her students, especially those who were struggling. She gave extra time and extra TLC,” Litman said.

St. Clair had a good “pulse” on what was going on in the school and was someone other teachers, and even principals, looked to for guidance and input, she said.

“She was very well thought of in the Hall School family of teachers,” Litman said. “A lot of people looked to her for leadership.”

St. Clair was one of 43 teachers and educators, including four from Rowe School, who retired from Portland Public Schools at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Superintendent Xavier Botana said schools couldn’t operate without a great team of people behind them.

“This is always a bittersweet event as we combine our gratitude for your years of contributions with the realization that as you leave, we are losing a wealth of knowledge, expertise and commitment,” Botana told the retirees at a June 16 school board meeting.

St. Clair said she couldn’t have had the career she did without the support of the students, parents and staff over the years, especially Litman.

“Hall School was always a tight-knit community and one big family. The Hall School staff was one of longevity. Many teachers who started there, retired there. I was one of many who didn’t leave. It was a community that supported us and made us feel nurtured. The parents were always supportive of the work we were doing,” she said.

St. Clair said retiring is a bittersweet moment for her, much like the final day in the old Hall School, which was reconstructed and reopened at Rowe School in 2018.

“That old school had a lot of memories for me and it was hard to see it go,” St. Clair said. “At the same time, it was wonderful to see the school improved and everything it could offer students.”

St. Clair said she doesn’t have any specific retirement plans, but wants to travel and see her children and grandchildren more often.

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