Teachers Leaving PVHS


Krista Galleberg, Staff Writer

             This is the last year that Palos Verdes High School Engineering and Earth Science teacher, Mr. Robertson, will lead PVHS’ Engineering program and be a paid educator on the PVHS campus.  He is retiring after teaching a wide variety of subjects, including Biology, Math, English, Music, and PE, in locations from the rural Australian outback to sunny southern California.  Although he will be retiring, Robertson will continue to lead the Sunday Palos Verdes Institute of Technology (PVIT) classes and will serve as a mentor for more than 70 of his students that participate in this PVIT program.

Robertson was initially inspired to be a teacher by his high school teachers in Australia. “[What they were doing] looked like fun.  I got paid to go to college if I would commit to being a teacher for 3 years,” Robertson explained.

Those three years turned into 48 years of working as an educator, and as Robertson gained experience as an educator, he developed his own teaching style, calling it teaching “in a non-teaching way.”

He continued: “My main role here has been taking wonderful kids, wonderful parents, and doing what I wished my teachers at school had done.  I said I had wonderful high school teachers, but too often they were the smart person in the room.  They told us everything.  They didn’t give us a chance to figure it out for ourselves.”

So all the projects that Mr. Robertson assigns to his students are based on what is called “ill-structured problem based learning.”  Ill-structured problem based learning is just like real life, because with this type of learning “you don’t even know what the problem is.  For example, you don’t know how this wire is going to go with that wire when you’re trying to build a successful robot, and what’s going to happen if this doesn’t work.” Robertson continues, “Ill-structured problem based learning is the most authentic, it’s the real-life world, it is so divorced from teachers assigning a problem.”

For example, he assigned his students to build a shed behind the PVIT room to apply engineering principles they learned in class.  “I did a little bit of teaching,  the absolute minimum I could get away with, and then I sent them out to measure the foundations for a fairly large structure.” When they had finished measuring, Robertson asked them if they had checked the diagonals of the foundation.  “They hadn’t. They were wrong and they had to re-measure everything. So they will never forget, in their future life, to check the diagonals,” Robertson said wryly.

And this “teaching in a non-teaching way” works, at least based on PVIT’s competition performance: Palos Verdes High School tends to rank among college-level and professional engineering programs during robotics competitions, even beating UCLA’s robotics team.

Freshman PVIT student Kristalyn Benson said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had a teacher invest in every student as much as he has. He truly cares and loves what he does, and all of us can see it.”

Robertson has impacted his peers as well as his students.  For example, math teacher Mr. Swatek has worked with Robertson since PVHS has been re-opened, and calls Robertson “an amazing and enthusiastic person” who loves his job and who “brings the enthusiasm to his students.”

Although Robertson’s students and fellow staff members will miss his presence on this campus, perhaps no one will miss it more than Robertson himself.  “What am I going to do when I retire? Read the paper in the morning?  When normally by 7 o’clock I’ve got brilliant kids in here with an aerospace scientist learning how to do digital electronics?”

Mr. Robertson continued, “I wouldn’t be retiring if the district didn’t pay me to quit.  They’re paying me a year’s pay, to quit.  Because they’ve got 30 teachers, and 6 administrators, and by getting rid of us old expensive people they can save about a million dollars. And in these budget times, if I stay, there are several teachers here who would get pink slips, young teachers with young families who would not be back.  It’s made me feel guilty these last few years.  I mean, I’m 69, I will make as much money in retirement as I do when I teach, so I’m effectively teaching for free, because my pension is just what I would get paid.”

Robertson concluded, “So why am I quitting? I don’t know.  I know I’ll have a lot of regrets.”


Willoughby’s Retirement

            PVHS will also lose its head librarian, Mrs. Willoughby, next year.  Mrs. Willoughby has been working at PVHS since the school re-opened in 2002, and began at this school with only the walls and new carpeting in the library.   As the head librarian, Mrs. Willoughby was in charge of designing the library’s furnishing and decorations and barcoding text books and core novels during the school’s first year, and continues to select and maintain the electronic databases, organize textbook distribution, and lead PVHS’s California Scholastic Federation (CSF) chapter, as well as her normal librarian duties.

Mrs. Willoughby makes sure that much of PVHS’s day-to-day work runs smoothly.  English teacher Ms. Damon says, “[Mrs. Willoughby] just does all these things that people don’t realize,” such as maintaining databases. Damon calls one of PVHS’s databases, turnitin.com, “amazing”.  Although turnitin.com is not always popular among students, it is much “more than a just a plagiarism-detector,” Damon explained; it also consists of posting boards and discussion boards and makes English teachers’ jobs much easier, thanks to Mrs. Willoughby.

Mrs. Astiazaran (more commonly known as Mrs. A), who has worked with Willoughby in the library the past four years, agrees with Damon and calls Willoughby’s retirement a “huge loss to the school.”  Mrs. A continued, “With all her dedication and time she puts in to helping the kids with their research projects and to keeping the data bases up and all of the research sites, it will be hard to find anyone who is more dedicated … than her.”

Willoughby is taking an early retirement due in part to PVPUSD’s budget crisis.  Willoughby explained, “Earlier this year I was going to be split into two different schools [due to budget cuts].  I didn’t really want to do that.”

She was also motivated to retire because of new possibilities: “I have a lot of things that I want to do with my life…I have a dance studio, so I want to spend more time with that.  [When I think about my retirement,] I have mixed feelings…I’m going to be sad, I know that.  But when I think about the other things that I’m going to be doing I get really excited.”


Chudy’s Retirement

            PVHS will also lose one of its math teachers, Mr. Chudy, next year.  Mr. Chudy has worked at PVHS for the past six years and has taught geometry and statistics.  Before teaching at PVHS, he taught for five years “way back when,” and had a long career at Boeing before coming to PVHS.

PVHS junior Ashley LaGue calls Mr. Chudy “by far one of the best teachers on campus” and says that when she had him freshman year for geometry, he “really had a special touch when it came to teaching high school [students]; he taught concepts in a way that made it sound so easy and simple.”  She says she will miss “his personality and his friendliness” when he retires next year, and says that Mr. Chudy “always puts a smile on [her] face whenever [she sees] him or remember[s] his class freshman year.”

For his part, Mr. Chudy says he has a “melancholy feeling” about his retirement. Though he “hate[s] missing, and leaving, good friends” and “love[s] the students,” he feels “it’s just time to move onto the next phase of [his] life.”