- Union County Public Schools
UCPS school counselor, maintenance manager reflect on decades-long years of service
The number 33 is significant to East Union Middle counselor Gayle Polk. It represents promise, she says.
It’s also the number of years Gayle has worked as a school counselor, a decades-long career with UCPS that she often refers to as her mission and ministry in life.
Now, as she reflects on those 33 years of service, Gayle said she’s so at peace with her school’s outstanding counseling staff that she finally feels now is the time for her to retire.
“Hope and a promise– that’s the gift that I’ve given to students during these past 33 years,” she said. “I’m not retiring because I’m frustrated or unhappy. I love this job and was called to this job, but now I feel like there’s a new ministry for me.”
In some ways, Gayle said it only feels like yesterday that she walked through the doors of East Elementary as the school’s newest counseling assistant. The job seemed like a natural fit for her as she loved working with children and had already dedicated her life and future to helping others.
When she talks about her colleagues, Gayle’s eyes light up and she often breaks into laughter. However, when she talks about the thousands of children she’s worked with over the years, her eyes begin to well up as her passion for helping children becomes abundantly clear.
“I love the students here,” she said. “When I think about them, and I think about impact, the thing that I want them to remember most is that somebody cares and there is always hope.”
In her role as counselor, Gayle said students throughout her 33-year-long career have always had to deal with childhood trauma. However, a renewed focus on addressing that trauma coupled with additional counseling resources and support at schools in recent years have been a tremendous help to her profession.
Now, as she prepares to retire, Gayle said she is more than happy to pass the baton to East Union Middle teacher Misty Tarleton.
“My prayer has always been that I would know the person who would follow me. I can honestly say that she knows the students and the community, she has the relationships and will do an amazing job,” she said. “Now, I’m ready to pass the baton.”
To celebrate the 123 other UCPS employees who, like Gayle, are retiring this year, the school district hosted its annual retirement luncheon on June 12. Several members of the Board of Education, district leaders and administrators were also in attendance.
“I know how hard our retirees have worked for our school system and you have made UCPS the best school system in North Carolina,” UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan said. “On behalf of our entire team, I want to say thank you. Without our teachers, support staff and staff members, this organization would not be as high performing as it is.”
After the ceremony, UCPS maintenance manager Warren Welsh couldn’t help but break out into a big grin as he reflected on his 29 years at UCPS. As a graduate of Monroe High, he’s seen firsthand how the district has grown leaps and bounds over the years.
Warren joined the school system as an electrician helper in 1990, and was one of only five maintenance employees on staff. Now, he said, there are more than 100 UCPS maintenance employees.
When asked why he made the decision to retire, Warren said he looks forward to spending more time with his young grandchildren. Even so, he was quick to praise his time not only with his school system but with his tight-knit group of colleagues he’s worked with in recent years.
“I really enjoyed it, and I’ve had the honor of managing one of our teams. The guys who worked with me – I could not have asked for better guys to work with,” he said. “We had a lot of fun but when it came time to get something done, we always got it done. The relationships, that’s what I will remember most.”
Click the following link to retrieve pictures from our 2019 Retiree Luncheon: https://tinyurl.com/y5phohnq