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Onto the next chapter: Retiring staff reflect on their career journeys
May 26, 2022
Debbie Schmalz, science teacher
“I just just love seeing students get excited about learning, and the best part is the joy of an ‘aha’ moment,” science teacher Debbie Schmalz said.
Schmalz has always enjoyed science. After being a physician assistant for a gastroenterologist in Washington, Schmalz moved to California and earned a biology degree at San Jose State University. Afterward, Schmalz became a research technician in an infectious disease lab at a Stanford University hospital but soon missed working with others and decided to teach science instead. She taught biology, chemistry, physics, PE and algebra at Cuyama Valley High School in California, before coming to Lynbrook in 1997, where she has taught science for the past 25 years.
Schmalz involved herself at Lynbrook by helping with activities such as initiating and maintaining the paper recycling program and advising the Rubik’s Cube club, Bridge club and Leaf club, a past environmental science club. Having always been interested in the environment and animals, Schmalz has kept animals in the classroom for her students, ranging from tarantulas to her snake, Elizabeth. As she concludes this chapter of her life at Lynbrook, she expresses appreciation for staff and students for creating a fun and enjoyable school atmosphere.
“I just know I’m going to really miss this place,” Schmalz said. “It’s like a second home to me.”
Carol Fong, Chemistry Honors teacher
“I advised many incoming college employees after years in the industry,” Chemistry Honors teacher Carol Fong said. “I decided to become a teacher so I could impart some of that real world experience to the students.”
After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Fong worked in the semiconductor industry before pursuing business management. She later settled down to raise her children, and later attended Stanford University to earn a master’s degree in education. At FUHSD, Fong worked with a mentor at Fremont High School, where she prepared lesson plans and taught to train for her degree with a mentor teacher before teaching Chemistry Honors at Lynbrook in 2005.
Fong savors memories from her time at Lynbrook such as performing fun chemical reaction experiments with her students, such as creating fiery hands by lighting soap bubbles. She has also enjoyed the countless corgi artworks created by her students, who know that corgis are her favorite animal. Instead of focusing only on grades, Fong has always pushed students to apply their logic and critical thinking skills to Chemistry.
“I tell every class this: if you want to take anything away, I want you to learn how to think logically,” Fong said. “That is a skill that will always be applicable in life.”
Rita Korsunsky, AP Calculus BC and Algebra 2/ Trigonometry teacher
“I had really good math teachers growing up, and I wanted to be like those math teachers,” AP Calculus BC and Algebra 2/Trigonometry teacher Rita Korsunsky said.
Because her parents were teachers and she had positive, influential math teachers throughout her years at school, Korsunsky wanted to be a math teacher since childhood. After moving to the U.S. from Baku, Azerbaijan, she taught math at multiple California schools in cities including Fresno and Milpitas before joining Lynbrook in 2000.
Consistent throughout Korsunsky’s teaching career, her goal has been to explain the concepts she teaches as clearly as possible. She gets the most excited when her students understand the material and ask additional questions to dive deeper into topics. Appreciating Lynbrook’s supportive and safe and positive learning environment, Korsunsky has been able to immerse students with detailed learning and help them develop skill sets useful in the future.
Although Korsunsky has been recognized with numerous accolades, such as earning the prestigious Edyth May Sliffe Award twice, she feels proudest when students name her as one of their most influential teachers.
“Students say I made a change in their life — this is the most important to me,” Korsunsky said. “Not the awards, but just that I was influential.”
Maya Baba, Executive Assistant
“Lynbrook is a good way for me to keep in touch with kids and be around kids at school,” Executive Assistant Maya Baba said.
Baba first worked at a human resources company, then took a break from working to raise her children who attended Lynbrook before working again after her children went to college. Familiar with the school from volunteering as a parent, Baba was offered a senior clerical job at the front office, which she started in 2010. She switched between multiple front office positions, starting from Senior Clerical Assistant, moving onto being an AP secretary and finally landing a position as Executive Assistant.
“Mrs. Maya Baba, the Executive Assistant to the Principal, heart of the Lynbrook staff, and font of wisdom will be leaving us at the end of June,” Principal Maria Jackson said in a Week Ahead email. “As principal, I cannot fathom life at Lynbrook without her by my side.”
Of the projects she was involved in at Lynbrook, Baba is most proud of initiating and maintaining the Lynbrook Excellence in Education Foundation which supports and funds programs like providing new technology, construction, and music department resources. From talking with Mrs. Jackson and students in the Student Voice group for student opinions to watching the school sports teams’ games, Baba has loved interacting with many of the groups on campus.
“You feel more connected,” Baba said. “You have relationships with people. There’s a broader range of people that you can meet and talk with every day, and it’s just fun to connect with people on that level.”
Barb Takahashi, College and Career Adviser
“I’ve always loved visiting and learning about colleges,” College and Career Adviser Barb Takahashi said.
After volunteering at Lynbrook as a parent of three Lynbrook students, Takahashi became one of Lynbrook’s College and Career Center Advisers in 2014. During her time at Lynbrook, Takahashi often adjusted the workshops and resources she offered to better fit students’ evolving college application and career needs. Takahashi feels that the most rewarding part of her job when when students thank her for helping them get accepted to colleges.
Takahashi decided to retire so she could spend more time with her granddaughter. She plans to visit Italy as a group leader for the Lynbrook Italy tour as her last project for the school, then travel the world and spend more time outdoors hiking during her retirement. From her 17 years at Lynbrook, Takahashi appreciates how supportive the Lynbrook community is.
“It’s home for me,” Takahashi said. “I love it, I will always think of it as home. I’m sure I will return for visits.”