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32-year veteran, 'foundation of the school' to retire

Published: April 25, 2009   
Maryanne Meyerriecks
Sharon Neufell only has a few more weeks in her English classroom at Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith. She will retire after 32 years at the school.

FORT SMITH -- English teacher Sharon Neufell, called "part of the foundation of the school," will retire May 29 at Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith.

Neufell, who spent her entire career at Trinity, began teaching in 1977 when her two children, Timothy and Karen, were in school full time.

She was well prepared for the task, earning an associate's degree from Fort Smith Junior College and bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. When she began teaching, Trinity was called Immaculate Conception Junior High School and was located in the St. Anne Building on the Immaculate Conception campus.

In 1990, under the leadership of Trinity administrator Father Jack Harris, the diocesan junior high school moved to its current location in the west wing of St. Scholastica Education Center.

Neufell has seen Trinity's student population, academic reputation and facility grow rapidly since 1977 and has matched her teaching style to each new academic challenge.

"English teaching has indeed changed in my 32 years of teaching," she said. "Technology has, of course, played a big role in the way we do things in the classroom. Computers are used for research more than print sources. Students use word processing programs to write reports instead of handwriting them. The curriculum is basically the same, but more emphasis is put on writing and literacy, especially in the last few years."

In her final year, Neufell is teaching gifted and talented education, seventh grade and regular and pre-Ad vanced Placement ninth-grade English classes, but during her career she also taught journalism, speech, geography and American history.

Neufell mentored her students in many afterschool activities as well. She was a long-term sponsor of the National Junior Honor Society and advised the pep club, drill team, student council and Quiz Bowl.

"It is gratifying to work with students outside of the classroom," she said. "We get to know each other in different ways and appreciate each other more."

During the 2006-2007 school year, Neufell took on a new challenge, serving as interim principal before the appointment of current principal Chandler Doss.

"That year certainly gave me a new appreciation of principals," she laughed, adding that she had never aspired to be a principal although she had great admiration for those who did. "One year was enough for me," she said.

When her husband Robert retired last year, she began to think about retirement herself, dreaming of a more relaxed lifestyle without alarm clocks set at 5:30 a.m. and busy work schedules.

"We have no set plans for our retirement; we do want to do some traveling, but we are just going to take things as they come in our own time and at our own pace," she said.

She will also enjoy spending more time with her children, son Kenny of Fort Smith, and daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Kenny Griffin, and step-grandson Noah, 13, of Van Buren.

Although Trinity has not yet hired her replacement -- "There's not a way I can replace her because she's just made such an impact over the years," principal Doss said -- Neufell takes comfort in the fact that her English Department colleague, former student Kerry Roller, has become a master teacher in her four years at Trinity.

"Sharon's positive influence upon my life has been tremendous, beginning in my ninth grade year and continuing today in my career as a teacher," Roller said. "She has been an invaluable mentor to me and she will be deeply missed. Although I have not been her student in many years, I continue to benefit from her wisdom and kindness. That is part of her enduring gift to all of her students."

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