GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Ten teachers and administrators will retire this year from Grand Rapids Christian Schools, taking 290 years of experience and countless memories with them.
The list of those leaving includes two key administrators for the district, Joanne Vander Wilp, the dean of students at the high school, and Dr. Mark Krommendyk, principal of Grand Rapids Christian Elementary School’s Iroquois Campus.
VanderWilp started her career as a teacher at Grand Rapids Christian High School in 1984, having waited until her children were through their younger years before getting her teaching degree. She was 35 years old when she started teaching, 45 years old when she became an administrator, and is now 70 years old as she gets ready to retire.
“(The are all) round numbers, which I like,” she said.
But leaving won’t be easy.
“This is the best job in the house. People look at me like I’m crazy, but it’s such an amazing position to be in. I do discipline, I take care of the whole facility, I offer support for the teachers. My claim to fame has been being everybody’s ‘other mother,’ which I love, and that’s one of the things I’m really going to miss,” she said.
The dean of high school students says she’s been savoring every moment during this final year and feels “melancholy” about leaving after 25 years as an administrator.
“I love it. And if I weren’t 70, I would stay longer, but it’s time to move on,” she said.
This is a special year for her to graduate to the next stage because her grandson will also graduate with her.
VanderWilp’s two children went to Grand Rapids Christian Schools also, so everything is coming full circle, she says.
But don’t expect this grandmother to sit idly by.
“I want to learn how to finish carpentry, I’ve got all the equipment, I just haven’t had time. I want to hold babies at (Helen Devos Children’s Hospital) and read to kids whose parents can’t be at the children’s hospital. I want to take geology classes that I haven’t had time for,” she said.
VanderWilp is confident she’s leaving her position in good hands. She’s been working with her replacement to help the transition.
“I am a meticulous note-taker and keeper, so everything I’m responsible for I have on file and I’m making these lists,” she said.
Iroquois Campus Principal Krommendyk has been with the district for the last 22 years. He helped open the school he’s leaving.
Krommendyk sees himself as a bit of a first responder.
“I’m not a principal, I’m a fireman. Every morning, I come to work and I have a hose and a hat, and I’m just waiting to see the fire,” joked Krommendyk about his problem-solving skills.
Krommendyk was a teacher in California and Michigan to start. He joined the district as an administrator after completing his master’s degree.
“It didn’t take me long to learn that I didn’t know what I thought I knew,” he said. “You realize that the things the program prepares you to do — i.e., lead and take the school forward, share your vision — all those things can only happen if everything is organized and running smoothly and going well,” he explained.
The Iroquois Campus opened nine years ago with 550 students and now has nearly 700 students, so Krommendyk feels he’s leaving behind a good situation for his predecessor.
“I’m gonna miss it. The way I look at things, I’m glad I loved my job. It beats the other way, and I’m glad I’m leaving when I’m still enjoying my job and when I’m still doing a good job”, he said.
Krommendyk also feels encouraged by the “next generation” of teachers and administrators coming into the district next year.
“For every person that’s leaving and taking all of that experience with them, we’ve hired a vibrant, enthusiastic learner who’s eager to step in,” he said.