Elise Emanuel says farewell to W-JCC Schools

After 46 years, Elise Emanuel retires from W-JCC Schools

For more than a decade, Elise Emanuel's Tuesday evenings were reserved for one thing: Williamsburg-James City School Board meetings.

Instead of driving to James Blair or James City County's government complex for a meeting Tuesday, she out with a friend for some wine.

Attending meetings, reading reports and crafting school budgets is now the responsibility of Emanuel's replacement, Julie Hummel, who she endorsed for the Williamsburg seat on the W-JCC School Board.

"I have so much respect for Elise and the work she's done," Hummel said. "I've got some really big shoes to fill."

The 77-year-old Emanuel worked at James Blair when it was a high school, and she was one of the founding faculty members at Lafayette High School when it opened in 1973.

Emanuel was a guidance counselor in the 1990s, before retiring in 2001. Afterward, she served three terms on the W-JCC School Board.

After 46 years in the division, Emanuel finished her School Board term in December and didn't seek a new one.

"I think it's time," she said during a recent interview. "I've given about all that I can."

At her last School Board meeting, Chairman Jim Kelly joked that he tried to get Emanuel to stay for another four years, "but that didn't work."

Kelly said Emanuel has always strongly supported teachers and retirees and has acted as a treasure trove of institutional knowledge for the board and school system.

"Thank you Elise for your service, for everything you've done for schools, children and all the lives you've touched. It's just, it's unbelievable," Kelly said.

"It's been my pleasure," Emanuel replied.

Students make an impact

At home Thursday, Emanuel flipped through pages of memories in a 1967-68 yearbook from her first year of teaching.

"There I am," she said, pointing to the black and white photo. "That's me, before all the years and gray hair."

Emanuel started teaching in Colorado and later moved to the Williamsburg area to be a social studies teacher. She said she had wanted to be a teacher since the sixth grade.

"Mr. (James) Nickols would say it was my calling, but I didn't think of it that way. It was just something I always wanted to do and was passionate about," she said.

Joe Fuentes, who worked on the School Board with Emanuel, said her lessons and guidance shaped the community.

"Everybody who is somebody in this area was taught by Elise Emanuel," he said.

Her love of education rubbed off on former students who also became public servants and educators, including former James City County Commissioner Richard Bradshaw and Norge Elementary School principal Veronda Matthews.

Technical education leader Richard Aadahl instructs at Lafayette High School, where Emanuel taught him American history and social studies.

"I particularly remember (a lesson on) researching and presenting famous Americans biographies by becoming the person, complete with costumes," Aadahl said. "This technique is used extensively today to engage students, and it left an impression on me from 40 years ago as a student at Lafayette High."

He said Emanuel not only taught him as a student, but also showed him how to teach.

"Through examples of teachers like Elise, I saw that there are many learning styles, and because of that, I use student engagement with my students every day of my 35 years as a technology education teacher still at Lafayette High," he added.

Changes and challenges

Over the course of her more than four decades with W-JCC Schools, Emanuel said she has seen many changes in the school system her two daughters attended.

The first school where she taught, James Blair High School, become a middle school, then the central office and soon will be a middle school again.

Construction on the fourth middle school to be built at the James Blair site in Williamsburg is slated to begin with the demolition of more than 50,000 square feet of the original building in September.

"We delayed building the new middle school in 2008 because of the recession," Emanuel said. "We can't delay any longer. We need to get it done."

She said she understands objections to the fourth middle school project and concerns about its costs, but said it would cost taxpayers more if they scraped the current plans and started over.

Emanuel said the new School Board will face challenges as members figure out how to work together and build the W-JCC budget.

"The board needs to focus on setting policies that will continue to focus on children and keep our district moving forward," Emanuel said.

She said she was happy to see boosters and other supporters of Lafayette, where she taught, was a counselor and from where her daughters graduated, come to the board for their improvement projects.

She remains a staunch supporter of educators, and said teachers now are just as passionate about teaching and how children learn as they were when she was a teacher.

"Great teachers care, and I think these teachers do care about their students," Emanuel said. "Teaching is not an easy job, but it can be a fulfilling one if you care and have a passion for it and support."

Meeting her replacement

Hummel, who replaced Emanuel on the School Board, said she remembers Emanuel as her guidance counselor at Lafayette in the 1970s.

Hummel's interactions with Emanuel then were that of a typical teen trying to find her way and to decide what to do after high school.

"It's great because people like Elise could see the adult many teenagers would become, even when they couldn't see it themselves, and help them get there," Hummel said.

After Hummel graduated high school, attended college, married and had children, she moved back to Williamsburg and renewed her relationship with Emanuel.

As a parent-teacher association member, Hummel worked closely with Emanuel when W-JCC Schools went through redistricting in the mid-2000s. She's continued to work with Emanuel through the years and said she was flattered when Emanuel endorsed her for the School Board.

Hummel said she plans to lean on Emanuel and Fuentes for their institutional knowledge of the school district and encouraged the other new School Board members — Holly Taylor, James Beers and Sandy Young — to do the same.

Moving on

James City County Supervisor Ruth Larson said she is happy to see her mentor on the School Board get some time to relax.

"She was always encouraging and a mentor to me. If I was hesitating about getting involved in something, she would push me to take the next step," Larson said. "I appreciated that, and her hard work and faith in me."

Emanuel said she doesn't have solid plans, although she wants to read more and spend more time with family and friends.

She said she also plans to serve on a WHRO board that meets quarterly and to keep close to political campaigns.

"I'll think I just see what comes my way," Emanuel said.

Canty can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

About Elise Emanuel

Name: Elise Emanuel

Age: 77

Family: Husband, David Scherer, two daughters and a son, as well as grandchildren

History: She served as a W-JCC Schools teacher and guidance counselor for 34 years and as a School Board member for 12 years.

Retirement plans: More reading, time with family and friends

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