After nearly three decades at one school on the edge of the Gardnerville Ranchos, third-grade teacher Debbie McNeil is leaving the classroom to officially retire.
It is a classroom that has seen children grow into adults, adults grow into parents, and parents grow into middle age.
“It’s the reward of being in a small town — to see where my students go and to meet the next generation,” McNeil said Monday. “It’s wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.”
Saying goodbye isn’t easy. McNeil, 53, knows exactly what she’ll miss most:
“The kids,” she said. “Their eagerness to learn, their excitement. I’ll miss my cohorts, too, but they have promised to keep in touch with me.”
For McNeil, education runs in the family. Her grandparents were teachers. Her mother was a middle school librarian, and her father was a teacher, principal and coach.
She grew up in a suburb of Madison, Wis. During her freshman year in college, her parents retired and relocated to Reno. She soon followed, substitute teaching and waiting tables at night.
In fact, she remembers working at Cheryl Anderson’s wedding at the Eldorado in downtown Reno. Anderson would become her colleague at Scarselli.
In 1981, McNeil interviewed for a teaching position at Meneley Elementary School. Three teachers sat on the hiring panel: John Soderman, Jerry Van Sickle, and Nancy Bryant.
After a second interview with Human Resources Director George Mross, McNeil accidently locked her keys inside her car. She and Mross had to use a hanger to unlock the door.
“He called me later and told me I got the job, but he asked me if I could bring an extra set of car keys,” she said. “It was the fall of ’81. I was 22. Meneley was on the edge of town then.”
Coming from Wisconsin, McNeil had no problem settling into a small agricultural community.
“I’m a small-town person,” she said. “The people here are fantastic. They’re very family-oriented.”
The Ranchos continued to grow into the neighborhood it resembles today. McNeil transferred to Scarselli as soon as it opened in 1988. She has remained there ever since.
“I’ve taught every grade but fourth,” she said. “Now, every year, I’m teaching kids of the kids I had as students.”
McNeil has also seen the profession itself change.
“At Meneley, we didn’t have computers,” she said. “Now, we have a Promethean board. It’s exciting to see what’s going to be ahead of us.”
At the same time, the veteran educator believes that there’s no replacement for hands-on instruction.
“You have to be part kid, in a sense, so you can see what they’re thinking and put yourself in their shoes,” she said.
Not only has McNeil taught a whole generation of Carson Valley children, but she’s raised her own family in Gardnerville, including two grown children. Her husband works for the state and will be retiring next year.
“We’ll travel,” she said, mentioning Kauai. “But I’ll miss the faces, the kids, the smiles, the questions, and the stories.”