More than a century of experience walked out the door of Riverside-Brookfield High School at the end of the school year never to return. Four veteran teachers, Laura Nickelson, Kathleen Lojas, Lori Sullivan and Christine Stiel, and counselor Maggie Leiteritz all retired this year.
Nickelson came to RBHS in 1993 after teaching a couple of years at Crete Monee High School. In her 28 years at RBHS, Nickelson taught many classes including AP European History, AP Government, AP World History, western civilization, global area studies and sociology.
Her last year was like no other. She taught remotely from home most of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then had a car accident driving home from RBHS after the one day she taught in person this spring.
The recovery forced her to teach from home for the remainder of the school year. It wasn’t how she had envisioned her last year of teaching, with remote learning making it harder to forge strong connections with students.
“It’s disappointing,” Nickelson said of her final year. “What are you going to do? It’s a worldwide pandemic.”
Nickelson, who served as the president of the school’s teachers union in 2008-09, got choked up when talking about RBHS meant to her.
“It’s bittersweet,” Nickelson said. “You just think about the people more than anything. Just getting to know really good people.”
In retirement Nickelson and her husband, Tim, also a retired teacher, hope to use their camper trailer to explore state and national parks around the Midwest and the country. When conditions allow, Nickelson plans to enroll in a Spanish immersion language program in Salamanca, Spain.
Before coming to RBHS as a counselor 16 years ago Leiteritz was a science teacher at Hillcrest High School and then a dean at Glenbard South. Now that she is retired, Leiteritz and her partner will be moving to Saugatuck, Michigan, where she has long had a second home.
“I’m retiring because I am ready to pursue other interests which will include working part-time for the Michigan Department of Transportation, as a local bus driver in a resort town, playing golf, cycling and traveling,” Leiteritz said in an email. “I definitely look forward to less stress and slowing down a bit.”
Leiteritz said the best part of her job has been dealing with a wide range of students and working as part of a close knit team in the Student Services Department.
“What I am most proud of is the work Student Services does in supporting the needs of students,” Leiteritz said. “I consider my colleagues in Student Services my family.”
Leiteritz was unafraid to speak her mind and did so at a school board candidate forum sponsored by the RBEA in 2017. Leiteritz told the school board candidates that RBHS staff feared retribution if they spoke out against things the school administration was doing. Leiteritz merely said publicly what many others were saying privately.
In her email Leiteritz heaped praise upon her direct boss, Assistant Principal for Student Services Beth Augustine, calling her “a consummate administrator who has done an extraordinary job leading this department and creating an environment which promotes student growth, opportunities and emotional well-being.”
Lojas taught at RBHS for 30 years. She has mostly taught special education, but according to a recent story by the Clarion, the RBHS student newspaper, she has also taught English, social studies, consumer economics, health and life skills. Lojas also served as the sponsor of the minority empowerment club.
Sullivan has taught science, primarily earth science, at RBHS for 27 years and also served for a few years as part-time dean. According to a recent Clarion story, Sullivan had planned to retire in 2023 but moved up her retirement date by two years after a year of mostly remote learning and wondering whether she could be as energetic as she felt she would need to be.
Stiel taught English at RBHS for 23 years. For many years she taught Advanced Placement Literature and Composition. When she was younger, she had been a theater critic and was skilled at teaching writing.
“She herself is a beautiful writer and tried to inspire students to hone their own personal voice and style,” said Wendy Cassens, the instructional coach of the RBHS English Department.
Stiel also did a lot of work developing curriculum in the humanities and taught part of the Fine Arts Survey class.
“She’s someone who likes to share her overall love of the arts,” Cassens said.
Stiel was also tech savvy.
“She was honestly the first teacher in our department to have her own website, before they were popular,” Cassens said.