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Special School District of St. Louis County

SSD Teacher Retires After 40 Years
in Riverview Gardens District

“You have to be flexible.”

That’s the most important piece of advice SSD teacher Karen Lestmann has to offer new teachers.

“You have to be ready to adjust to whatever happens any given day,” she said. “Things change really frequently; programs change, expectations change and paperwork changes,” she added.

Lestmann has likely seen it all in her career as a teacher. She retired from SSD at the end of this school year after 40 years of teaching. Even more remarkable is the fact she spent all 40 of those years with SSD working in the Riverview Gardens School District.

“The first three months I was a teaching assistant at Bermuda School in Ferguson-Florissant,” Lestmann said. “Then, I was supposed to be coming over to Riverview to cover a maternity leave, but the teacher never came back and I just stayed.”

Lestmann did more than just stay. She became one of the most respected teachers in Riverview Gardens, winning a teacher of the year award three times in that district.

Many teachers will work for several different districts in their tenures, and while Lestmann says she did look at transferring once, she’s glad she has stayed with Riverview Gardens.

“I looked at transferring because it was like 10 minutes from my house and near my daughter’s high school, but it just didn’t work out. I didn’t pursue it; I’ve always felt comfortable here,” she said.

While she has been with the same schools for her entire career, she has worn many different hats for SSD and Riverview Gardens.

“When I started, I had a self-contained (class),” Lestmann said. “The class was moved around several schools for a few years; I worked at Riverview Elementary, Lemasters (Elementary), Danforth (Elementary)—all in a self-contained classroom.”

Administrators from both SSD and Riverview Gardens agree that Lestmann’s years of experience make her an invaluable colleague.

“Karen has been a model for professional practice for all staff,” said Howard Fields, principal at Koch Elementary in Riverview Gardens. “Her outlook and commitment to this community is evident in her desire to help all students, not just students who receive special education services.”

“She is internally motivated by providing the best services to students and seeing them grow,” said Max Pott, SSD area coordinator intern in Riverview Gardens. “She makes the other teachers around her better, both general education and SSD teachers.”

As she entered the final weeks of the school year, Lestmann took time to savor each and every victory her students achieved.

“I will miss seeing the excitement on the students’ faces when they meet a goal or accomplish something they have worked really hard on,” Lestmann said. “(And) watching how much they grow and change in all aspects from kindergarten on up.”

Times changed and Lestmann adapted to those changes. She moved from self-contained class settings to the resource setting, eventually settling into her role in primary education at Koch Elementary. Through all of those changes, her mission remained the same.

“I hope I have had a positive impact on (the students’) lives that they can carry with them in the future,” she said.

Published May 2017

Samantha Lotz, a student at SSD's Southview School, works at the school's Coffee Den.Karen Lestmann

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Special School District of St. Louis County (SSD) is a leader in providing special education services to students with disabilities and also provides a wide range of career and technical education programs.
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