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Longtime Simpson educators say goodbye for last time

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Simpson Elementary School teachers Kathy Russo, left, and Susan Wise play a trivia game with their fifth grade gifted students Sam Carton, Rory Doran and Trent Johnson on the last day of school in Norcross on Wednesday. Russo and Wise retire after combining for 79 years of teaching experience.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Simpson Elementary School teachers Kathy Russo, left, and Susan Wise play a trivia game with their fifth grade gifted students Sam Carton, Rory Doran and Trent Johnson on the last day of school in Norcross on Wednesday. Russo and Wise retire after combining for 79 years of teaching experience.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Simpson Elementary School teachers Kathy Russo, left, and Susan Wise talk with Principal Bron Gayna Schmit, top left, during their last day of teaching after a combine 79 years teaching experience.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fifth grade students from Simpson Elementary School in Norcross present teacher Kathy Russo with a homemade retirement gift after her 38 years of teaching experience.

NORCROSS -- Students of Kathy Russo and Susan Wise climbed over each other to give the teachers a big group hug Wednesday during the last day of school and the final day of the educators' careers.

"Remember," Russo said, smiling as the students encircled her, "You're all going to be extremely successful next year. I know you can do it."

As teachers of gifted students with 79 years of combined classroom hours, the Simpson Elementary educators have learned to embrace the idea that "it's better to teach kids how to think than what to think."

They've made it their motto.

Russo, who has taught for 19 years at Simpson and 38 total, said it's important also "to love them and let them know we care about them. They learn better when they're in an atmosphere where they are accepted for who they are, and we respect their feelings and thoughts."

Wise, who has also taught at Simpson for 19 years and for 41 total, said inspiring the students "to do the best they can and to be risk takers" is of equal importance.

Russo and Wise, an inseparable gifted teaching team, said goodbye to their students for the last time in the classroom on Wednesday as they prepared to enter retirement.

Both plan to continue in the field as tutors but will no longer teach in a classroom setting.

The educators will be missed, said Principal Bron Gayna Schmit. "They truly entered this profession 38 and 41 years ago to make a difference in the lives of children. With their combined teaching, they've made a difference in the lives of thousands of children that have passed through the doors."

Schmit said it's the duo's commitment to the children that sets them apart.

"It's the way they stay with them before or after school or in working with them on projects or cheering them on at tournaments ... the focus is always on what's in the best interest of the child," Schmit said.

Wise said that as a teacher "your primary job is motivating students. You're the coach."

Schmit agreed.

"When children know that somebody's got their back and that they're cared about, that's when we see the progress," Schmit said. "The best of the best teachers are the ones that make every child feel like they are the most important child in the whole class. And that's what these two women do."

Added Schmit: "We will miss them both terribly, but their impact and the legacy they leave at this school will stay with us forever."