The Sag Harbor Elementary School, which earlier this summer lost longstanding teachers Nina Dohanos and Kryn Olson to retirement, will bid farewell to two more veterans this fall.
Second grade teacher Maryellen LeClerc, who has taught in Sag Harbor for 33 years, and kindergarten teacher Susan Raebeck, who has spent 23 years at the school, have both announced plans to retire.
“Even though I’m 66, I was planning to stay a couple more years,” said Ms. LeClerc, who added that the COVID-19 pandemic helped force her hand because she has a health condition that leaves her at risk for catching the disease. Plus, she said the stress of teaching under the conditions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, convinced her it was time to pass the torch.
“It was extremely bittersweet,” she said of her decision, because she loved teaching so much, adding that she gets choked up when she sees the notes on her refrigerator from former students “because I know I’m not going back.”
COVID-19 also helped Ms. Raebeck, 65, move up her own schedule. “I was going to retire next year,” she said, “ but with COVID, remote learning, and all the uncertainty, it just seemed like now was the time to do it.” Her decision was made easier, she said, when her husband, Barry Raebeck, an English teacher Southampton High School, decided to retire as well.
“I loved teaching there, I loved every aspect of it,” she continued. “I loved the building, the faculty, the staff, the parents, and the kids were just wonderful.”
“Kindergarten is great,” she added. “The kids just want to learn. They are so excited by anything you do.”
Teaching was a lifetime vocation for both, although Ms. LeClerc got an earlier start. The year after graduating from high school, she was hired by the Montauk School as a teacher’s aide and worked as an aide to her former kindergarten teacher, Betty Reutershan.
“I feel like teaching is something God put into my hear to do,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl.”
The experience at the Montauk School galvanized her to get her teaching degree at Stony Brook University. When she graduated in 1976, teaching jobs were in short supply, so she worked in a department store in Patchogue before becoming a teacher at Ivy League Nursery School in Middle Island. She later worked as a reading teacher at Tuckahoe School before landing her job at Sag Harbor.
Ms. LeClerc said she had a special bond to the elementary school building. When she was a student at the Little Flower School of St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Church in Montauk, she won a scholarship to the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary, a Catholic high school that occupied the building. “It closed that year,” she said, “but I ended up working there.”
Ms. Raebeck got her start teaching at the Hampton Day School in Bridgehampton in 1978. After several years there, she took time off to raise her children.
She said she was thankful at age 42, to be hired for a one-year job as a replacement for another teacher on maternity leave. Those appointments were extended for two more years before she was hired full-time.
“The teachers were so welcoming,” she said of her experience in Sag Harbor, noting that the staff was smaller at that time and was “very cohesive with a good sense of camaraderie.”
Both teachers said they were blessed to have supportive principals first in Joan Frisicano and more recently in Matt Malone.
“There’s a lot of creativity in that school,” Ms. Raebeck said. “They really worked hard to make sure that all the academics were balanced with good play.”
In retirement, Ms. Raebeck said she planned to travel more, spend more time with her children and grandchildren and do some tutoring.
Ms. LeClerc said she would love the opportunity to serve as a mentor to a student teacher to maintain a presence in the classroom. She also said she would probably work on completing a number of children’s books she has started, and noted that when she read the one she had finished to her classes “everyone loved it.”
“It’s all about having fun with the kids,” said Ms. LeClerc. “So many times we laughed and bonded.”
Those ties lasted. Last year, when Greg Wands, a former student of Ms. LeClerc, published “The Woman Inside,” the novel he co-wrote with Elizabeth Kennan under the pen name, E.G. Scott, he mentioned her in the acknowledgments. “That’s one of my proudest moments,” she said.