WATERLOO — Friday was Sharon Stiles’ last day with students at the end of a 43-year career in education. But it was her first time overseeing guinea pig races.
“I’ve never done one of these before,” said the Kittrell Elementary School librarian, calling the event in the media center “probably the most different thing I did this year.”
It came about at the suggestion of students working to organize a pet food and supplies drive for the Cedar Bend Humane Society, as an incentive for the three classes that donated the most. Four classroom pet guinea pigs — Oreo, Petey, S’more and Sweetie — participated in the race with the encouragement of students holding “kabobs” of lettuce, red pepper, clover and apple. After being rescheduled several times, the race was held on the last day of school.
Stiles, who will officially be retired in the coming weeks, was working with the students as part of the school’s Leader in Me initiative. As far as she’s concerned, doing something new or different — even on her last day of school — is all just part of the job. “That’s one of the things with teaching,” she said.
Stiles is one of 45 Waterloo Community Schools employees who are retiring this year, including five at Kittrell. Hired in the fall of 1979, she has been librarian with the district for the past four decades. Waterloo Schools now calls staff in her position “technology integrationists.”
“I started thinking about it maybe a couple years ago,” Stiles said of retiring. The death of her parents and the subsequent burden on one of her siblings to manage the family farm in southern Iowa spurred those ideas. “As I started looking at it, I just thought that this is probably going to be a good year.”
Stiles said an older sister may have planted the idea of becoming a school librarian in her head while both of them were students at the University of Northern Iowa. She started as a middle and high school Spanish and English teacher first in Central City and then in the Des Moines area for 3-1/2 years.
“Once I had got to the Waterloo district, I had my masters in library science,” she said. Stiles has appreciated her decades in the media center, where she’s interacting with children and staff from the entire school.
“It’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I really care about people learning. I love working with staff.”
As a new employee, Stiles was initially moved to different schools each year.
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She started as a librarian at Hawthorne and Edison elementaries, two schools that have long since closed and been torn down. The next year she was at Greenbrier Elementary School, a building that now serves as a district training facility. She also got some training in the talented and gifted program.
That was helpful, because by the fall of 1981 Waterloo Schools was looking at reducing it staffing. She ended up working just under full-time — part-time as a librarian at Central High School, which is now a middle school, and three-tenths time at Greenbrier in the talented and gifted program.
When an administrator proposed Stiles go to part-time, she lobbied for the eight-tenths time position. That would allow her to maintain benefits, which was important since she wasn’t married yet. Stiles also insisted it be written in her contract that she be offered the first full-time library position that became available.
The contract clause brought her in the fall of 1982 to Kittrell, where she’s worked ever since. It’s a long time to be at one building.
“I’ve had some children of kids that I’ve had and I’ve had some grandchildren now,” said Stiles.
Over her years of observing education, she has seen a shift toward more support of beginning teachers through formal mentoring programs. That’s important to her as a long-time educator who has watched a lot of young colleagues leave the field after a few years.
“I think it’s needed. We’ve got to support our new people,” said Stiles. “We need to give all the support we can to new people.”
Even though she’ll be retired, Stiles doesn’t expect to stay away from Kittrell for long. By late next fall, she plans to be back in the media center occasionally to volunteer with her replacement, who was hired from within the building.
Beyond that, she and her husband, Bruce, have talked about doing some travelling. And one of their two daughters, an artist, wants to collaborate with her mother on a children’s book.