Familiar teachers retiring from L’Anse Public Schools

L’ANSE – Elementary Principal Thomas Sprague and Athletic Director Brenda Ballor, both longtime fixtures in the L’Anse Area Schools, will be retiring at the end of this school year. The district’s board accepted their retirements with regret on Monday, at their regular monthly meeting.

“The Jolly Green Giant is gone,” board trustee Anne Koski said sadly, referring to Sprague, who served as a kindergarten and developmental kindergarten teacher in Baraga before spending the final 16 years of his career as principal.

“I have a 5-year-old who says he goes to school every day ‘just so (Sprague) says hi to me,” commented trustee Suzette Reilley. “He’s great with the kids, and you’ll never find a teacher with a bad word to say.”

Sprague, a native Texan who began his education career there, said he’ll be returning to the Lone Star State for part of each year, but definitely spending his summers and falls, which are “too nice to give up,” in Baraga. He doesn’t expect to disappear entirely, saying he’ll likely continue to take in district athletic events and visit the elementary school on occasion.

“I’ll miss just dealing with the kids, and a lot of the teachers are almost like sisters, I’ve known them so long,” he said. “I hope in some small way I’ve made a difference here. They’ve all made a difference in my life.”

Ballor taught in the L’Anse Schools for 31 years – in subjects ranging from home economics to physical education – and also coached several sports, before spending the final eight years of her career as athletic director.

Superintendent Carrie Meyer said Ballor was a true professional who made sure athletic scheduling and events went off without a hitch.

“I never had to worry about anything,” Meyer said. “She took care of it all.”

District Administrative Assistant Joanne Hochstein remembered Ballor as a home economics teacher.

“We had some challenging students in our class,” Hochstein said. “She was wonderful. Very patient and a lot of fun.”

Trustee Scott Swanson described Ballor as someone who normally remained in the background, but worked hard to make sure things got done right.

“She’s always there, at every game and every event,” he added.

Ballor said she enjoyed her nearly four decades with the district, and appreciated working with colleagues that truly cared about the district, as well as the students.

“I’ll miss the kids,” she said. “This year’s seniors were a unique group. I’ve known them since they started and it was fun to watch them have the success they’ve had in sports.”

In other business, the trustees:

heard a report on the preliminary budget from Meyer, which she said is far from complete. Despite a state per-pupil funding increase, she said total state funds will likely decrease by as much as $75,000. At the same time, she said, the district needs two new school buses, and new curricula for both math and language arts.

“This budget scares me right now,” she said. “We’re going to have to restructure. We’re going to have to look at everything. This needs to be done – we can’t go into a deficit budget.”

nominated several individuals and groups for Copper Country Association of School Boards Awards: Outstanding Education Employee, Thomas Sprague; School Service Award, Laura Schneider; Student Leadership Award, Samantha Hatfield; and Leadership Award, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

approved the continuation of unpaid military leave for teacher/coach John VanDusen, through fall 2016.