Toni Wiersma, Brendan Pritchard retire from Okeechobee school district

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County School Board recognized employees who retired after the 2017-2018 school year at their monthly meeting on June 12.

One of the employees retiring this year was director of student services Toni Wiersma, who spent 37 years working for the Okeechobee County School District. Mrs. Wiersma began as a seventh and eighth grade math teacher at Okeechobee Junior High and spent time as a guidance counselor, as well as principal at both the Okeechobee Freshman Campus and the Okeechobee High School. Mrs. Wiersma was also crucial is securing district accreditation for all Okeechobee schools.

Retired Director of Student Services
Toni Wiersma (left) is congratulated by
Okeechobee Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy.

“I graduated from Okeechobee High School back in 1972,” said Mrs. Wiersma. “And just like most of our seniors, I planned on moving away, starting a life somewhere else and never coming back. But I met someone who convinced me to move back to Okeechobee, so I came back and interviewed for my job. The principal told the department head at the time that they had to hire me because I was a school board member’s daughter. The principal thought I wouldn’t work out and I’d be gone in six months. That was in 1976, so I guess I worked out because I’m still here.

“Lots of great memories. I’ve worked for and with so many wonderful people over the years. It’s bittersweet. I’m excited to have more family time and to be able to travel. What I would always tell the teachers at the high school is to teach your standards, but most importantly, love your kids. And that’s the relationship I’ve tried to have with the kids,” she said.

Okeechobee Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy praised Mrs. Wiersma’s dedication to students in Okeechobee County.

“Toni, we can’t thank you enough,” said Mr. Kenworthy. “We appreciate everything you’ve done for us. Congratulations on your retirement.”

Longtime Brahman football coach Chris Branham, who is also leaving Okeechobee High School this year to coach in Georgia, credited Mrs. Wiersma for her support over the years.

“Toni was as strong and as loyal of an administrator that I could ever ask for,” said Mr. Branham. “Her bringing me back in 2012 and allowing me to coach was a tremendous blessing. At the time I had no desire to coach again, but I’m back to a point now where I know I’m going to do it for the rest of my life. I’ll never be able to repay her guidance and trust in me.”

Another longtime employee retiring after the 2017-2018 school year was OHS social studies teacher Brendan Pritchard, who has 30 years of service to the Okeechobee County School District.

Okeechobee superintendent of school Ken Kenworthy (left) recognized retiring social studies teacher Brendan Pritchard (right).

Mr. Pritchard began his career as an ESE teacher at Yearling Middle School in 1988, before making the move to social studies in 1989 where he has stayed ever since.
Close to 2,000 former students took to social media to post their memories of the outgoing and eccentric history teacher in a Facebook group started by his own daughter, Taylor Padrick.

“I couldn’t go anywhere as a kid or an adult without hearing ‘You’re Pritchard’s kid?! He was my favorite teacher!’,” said Mrs. Padrick in a post in the group. “This group is currently a secret being kept from my dad to collect stories, memories, pictures, and videos from his 30 years of teaching at OHS. We were blessed with him as a father and just want him to see how much bigger his impact was than just on his own two kids.”

Former students posted pictures and shared their memories of his passion for history, as well as his sense of humor which was evident in his infamous first day ice breaker talk involving bowel movements and his ‘extra credit Spam challenge’.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone,” said Mr. Pritchard at the school board meeting. “Toni was a fantastic principal, Dylan has been fantastic as well. This is where I was supposed to be and this is what I was supposed to do. Working here has been incredible, I could never say a bad word about Okeechobee County. Someone once said to leave when the party is at it’s best, and, for me, that’s right now.”

A total of 14 employees retired from the school district this year, including Rodney Field, Ann Hackett, Terry Ingram, Richard Kielbasa, Buddy Mills, Jean Zorich, Jesse Mae Clyburn, John Godwin, Kimberly Gosa, Valire Neely, Michael Wolski and Susan Wolski.

The 2017-2018 group of retirees have a combined total of 322 years experience as teachers, bus drivers, food service workers and administrators.

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