Retirement Letter from Debbie O'Neal GLC Preschool

Retirement Letter from Debbie O'Neal (GLC Preschool)

Author: Debbie O'Neal
May 12, 2021

Dear Grace,

In August of 1983, John and I traveled from St. Paul Minnesota to Des Moines Washington for his interview as Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.  As a graduate from PLU in Tacoma, and a teacher in the University Place School District, I had been hired as an Elementary Curriculum Development and Content Editor for Augsburg Publishing House, the publishing house of the ELCA.

I was excited to hear that GLC had a Preschool in place – and eager for our daughters to join the classes when they were old enough.  I didn’t have any plans at that time of teaching again, as I had a writing and editing career that I was able to continue along with my mom duties. 

I was so impressed with GLC Preschool, and I didn’t even know at that time that the first year we were at Grace was the first year of the Preschool under the leadership of Cheri Beer and Sally Vraspir.  My experience in the field of education showed me that this Preschool was of the highest quality, and an asset to not only GLC but to the children and families of our community and neighborhood.

As they grew old enough, all of our daughters – Lindsay, Morgan and Shannon – were students in the Preschool.  Then one day, Cheri and Sally asked me to consider developing and teaching a Kindergarten program as an extension of the Preschool.  This was a big step!  I had taught grades 2, 3 and 5 before my work as an author/editor.  Now I would need to consider a new grade, along with figuring out how to use the spaces we had in the church building to meet the needs of a class of 5 and 6 year olds.

And so, 30 years ago, GLC Preschool expanded to include Kindergarten.  How excited I was to be a part of this great school and great staff of teachers.  Our school grew and thrived, at one time holding classes for 125 students!  Kindergarten was a natural addition to our class offerings, and for 18 years, we had full classes of 3 year olds, 4 year olds and Kinders.  Gradually, as the local school district began offering full-day free Kindergarten, it didn’t make sense for our Kindergarten program to continue in the same way and I shifted to teaching Pre-Kindergarten. Along the way, Cheri and Sally and many other teachers retired – so I took on the role of GLC Preschool Director.

This past year with the pandemic, has been a challenge for us but I am so proud of our staff for navigating together to create a quality hybrid Preschool and Kindergarten (yes, we added Kindergarten back in this year to help our families!) program, and to reopen safely in person for learning on March 1.  We are able to offer Summer School this year as well, as a way to help kids stay in their learning trajectory as we move into a more normal fall school schedule.

This year has had many changes for all of us.  God is always in the mix, and leading us in new directions.  And so it is a bittersweet time for me as well – not only has John retired after 37 years as Pastor at GLC, but I am retiring as well to take on a new job – I am going to be caring for and teaching our new granddaughter Mallory!  I will miss my classroom -- my happy place -- my kids, and my staff who are all friends…. but I will still be involved as a mentor and board member to help when needed.

I couldn’t be happier to let you all know that one of my former students, Miranda Winter, will be taking on my role as not only PK Teacher but also as the Director of GLC Preschool.  How cool is that, a former student stepping into the same classroom and taking on the best job in the world?  I know that Miranda will love this job as I do, and that with her leadership GLC Preschool will continue to grow and thrive in the years ahead.

I am so grateful for all that the congregation of GLC has done throughout the years to support and include our GLC Preschool as a ministry of the church – we have touched so many lives in our wonderful classrooms; we have loved the “good junk” donations you have saved for us; and we have shared God’s love through all of the many ways our students and families have been invited to and welcomed into the family of Grace.  I firmly believe that we build a foundation and love of learning through our classrooms and staff at GLC Preschool, with dedicated teachers and staff and a quality curriculum.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of being a part of GLC Preschool and this congregation! 

God’s heart. Our hands. grace in ACTION.

Grace-fully,

Debbie O’Neal


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