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CK Faces: Not blue about departing the orange and black

John Sitton and Cindy Hjelmaa aren’t watching the calendar. The couple, who have spent a combined 62 years teaching, coaching and advising two generations of students, are in their final days at Central Kitsap High School. So when is their last day?

“We’re not sure,” John said, honestly not knowing the last day of school is on June 21.

It’s a typical response from a couple of educators who have spent the better part of four decades giving everything they can to improving the educational experience at CK High.

“They’re just part of the culture of our school,” principal John Cervinsky said. “They established a lot of the traditions we have. Their absence is going to change the complexity of the school. I believe their impact has been so strong that a lot of their traditions will continue.

“They’re both positive staff members who have the best interests of CK High at heart,” Cervinsky added. “They’ll be sorely missed.”

John’s been a coach, class adviser, teacher and the school’s athletic director. Cindy’s resumé includes history teacher, class adviser, graduation guru, department head and activities director. All of which add up to many hours of working with, teaching and coaching thousands of students.

“We’ve had a lot of kids over the years,” Cindy said. “They had a Founders’ Day event where John and I were honored and the number is unbelievable.”

“Was it 19,000 or 60,000?” John tried to recall.

“And those are just the students we’ve had in the classroom,” Cindy said. “Then you have all the students that know us through activities that John’s coached, so collectively we don’t know. We do know there isn’t a grocery store or gas station we can go to where somebody isn’t calling out ‘Ms. Hjelmaa, Mr. Sitton.’”

Starting fresh out of college, John said it’s weird to think that some of his former students are now 50 years old. “We’re getting out before we start getting their grandchildren,” he said.

With their retirements coinciding and few plans ahead (they are going to be in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on the first day of the 2006-07 school year and John says he’s going to continue to be Bruce Welling’s assistant softball coach in the spring, other than that there’s nothing else they’re committed to), the pair says they’re ready for what lies ahead.

“A lot of people say that when you retire, you have a difficult time being around your spouse all the time,” Cindy said. “But for us, we’ve always done things together.”

“Every dance, every graduation, every prom, every (basketball) game Cindy was on the bus,” John said.

The couple has taught together and even shared an office space for several years.

“When he was athletic director and I was the activities director it was really good,” Cindy said. “We coordinate well.”

Being part of everything is something they’ve always done.

“From day one of when we started teaching, we were multi-tasking,” John said. “And so, being able to, especially for the last decade or two, handle the major activities as one person — now there’s four people doing our jobs — it was actually easy for us. Back when we started you had to do all these things because of the job market. And then it never stopped. We’ve been doing multiple jobs for 31 years, never just taught.”

All those activities, combined with their strong personalities, kept the pair more focused on their lessons .

“About a month ago somebody asked, ‘So how many days do you have left?’ and we didn’t know,” Cindy said. “That’s kind of good to teach that long and not to be counting down.”

But are these builders and creators ready for life without Central Kitsap High?

“When you’ve been there and done that for so long, we don’t need to be attached to it because everything was given to it at that time.” John said. “We’ve left everything on the table.”

“There is nothing that we couldn’t have done better,” Cindy said. “It’s how we’ve always been.”

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