Sarah Ingle (left) sits in her first-grade classroom at West with her mother, Phoebe McCormick, and a photograph of her grandmother, Mildred Patterson.
Three of a kind
By Chris Strunk
Last Updated: August 25, 2017
First-year teacher follows in footsteps of mother, grandmother
Sarah Ingle might be more nervous than excited. She doesn't know which.
Her classroom is set up. She's ready to begin her teaching career at West Elementary in Valley Center. She's just not sure how her first-graders are going to respond, and she so wants to start out on the right foot.
"I just think I'm blessed," said Ingle, who grew up here. "I'm very lucky to be here. I don't plan on moving. I plan on building a life here."
Just like her mother and her grandmother did before her.
Ingle is one of 31 teachers and certified staff new to the Valley Center school district this year, but she may have the deepest roots.
Ingle is a third-generation teacher at West Elementary. Her mother, Phoebe McCormick, taught at West from 1992 to 2011. Her grandmother, Mildred Patterson, taught there from 1961 until her retirement in 1984. It's thought to be only the second set of grandmother-mother-daughter teachers in the district's history.
"I always knew I wanted to end up in Valley, but I figured I would have to work elsewhere for a while first," Ingle said. "… I just love Valley Center."
She also has a love for teaching. Patterson and McCormick planted the seed and watered it over the years.
"My grandma, growing up, she would tell stories about when she was a teacher," Ingle said. "I could always tell how much she loved it. She was always so passionate. She had fun stories to tell. … She carried it over into helping raise us. She helped us with homework. It was always about education. She always wanted to know how we were doing in school."
Ingle said her mother was the same.
"It was cool to see her passion as well," she said. "It just carried over from my grandma to my mom. She would show me how students changed. … I would help grade papers. It was a natural thing for me to be curious about education."
Ingle graduated from Valley Center High School in 2012, went to Butler Community College on a vocal music scholarship for two years and then finished her education degree at Wichita State University in December 2016. She was a substitute teacher in Valley Center this spring.
McCormick said her mother, who died last year, likely would advise Ingle to "keep your expectations high for your kids."
"Keep that bar high, expect the best and help them get there," McCormick said. "From me, I'd just say, keep the passion alive. If there's a day that feels boring to you, you can guarantee the kids are bored. Do something about it. You're in control. Art, science outside, make it exciting every day. … You're in control of this classroom's tone."
McCormick described the classroom as a "mission field."
"These children need teachers that care about them and are praying for them and love them like our own for the nine months we have them," she said.
Patterson's career started in a one-room schoolhouse in Harvey County and spanned more than 42 years.
McCormick's career started at Franklin Elementary in Wichita in 1986, where she taught for six years before coming home to West Elementary, teaching first and second grades. She moved to Wheatland in 2011 and is beginning her 32nd year of teaching.
Ingle's father, Mike McCormick, is a longtime music teacher at the high school.
"Beyond proud, and I know Grandma is beyond proud, too," Phoebe McCormick said of Ingle's career. "… How special that she can start here."
While Ingle's move into education seemed a natural fit, the McCormicks' children made up their own minds. The couple's two older daughters went into medicine.
The first set of three-generation teachers and administrators at West were Irene Box, Linda Freed and Jana Hogan.
Box started in the district as a kindergarten teacher at Abilene in 1956. She became the principal at West when it opened in 1960. She moved back to the classroom after a year and taught until her husband's job took them to Washington in 1967. Freed, her daughter, taught in Valley Center from 1975 until she died in 1998.
Hogan, the granddaughter, has been teaching at West Elementary since 1995. She is a community-based early childhood special education teacher.
"I have loved working (at West) because it feels like home," Hogan said. "It is a connection to my family that has passed, especially my mom. I was able to work with her for only a few years, but the building is an extension of our family and home."
There are a number of other new teachers and administrators with strong Valley Center ties.
Mary Carpenter, first-year principal at Abilene Elementary, had two children graduate from Valley Center schools.
"I'm excited and blessed to be able to serve a community I love," Carpenter said.
Jeannette Blackwell, new English teacher at the high school, has lived in Valley Center for six years. Her children attend Wheatland Elementary. Blackwell has taught in the Wichita school district the past nine years.
"Connection to the local community is important to my family," Blackwell said.
Dillon Jackson, who will begin teaching science at the high school this year, has three stepchildren who attend Valley Center schools.
Abby Younts, a new kindergarten teacher at Wheatland, lives in Valley Center and has two children attending Abilene Elementary.
"My children go to Valley and it's home," Younts said. "I've wanted to be in Valley for as long as I can remember."
Younts has been teaching in the Wichita school district for the past 13 years.
Colton Durham has strong ties to Valley Center. Like Ingle, Durham graduated from Valley Center High School. He'll teach social studies at the middle school to begin his career.
"There was nowhere else I would rather be," Durham said.
Tia Massey, a new fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary, is married to one of Bobby and Beth Massey's sons, Levi. The Masseys have been involved in Valley Center for many years.
"We are excited for me to be working closer to our new home and become further integrated into our community," Tia Massey said.
Rebecca Buctha is the new psychologist at the middle school and for Abilene's early childhood program. Her father, Dean Schulz, is the longtime tennis coach for Valley Center High School and retired from teaching here.
David Jantzen, a special education teacher at the high school, returns after working in the Valley Center school district in the 1990s.
There are a couple new husband-and-wife teams filling some needs in the district this year.
Joel Thompson joined the staff at Wheatland as a PE teacher, while his wife Abby Thompson has been named assistant principal and athletic director at the middle school. Both were previously in Hutchinson.
"Our welcome to Valley Center has been amazing," Joel Thompson said.
The couple will have children attending the high school, the middle school and Wheatland.
Amanda Markel is a new English and creative writing teacher at the high school, and her husband, Adam Markel, is a para-professional at the high school.
Tempa Huffman completed a husband-wife duo, joining Wheatland Elementary as a music teacher. Huffman is the wife of longtime director of technology, Josh Huffman.
"I loved how the district has treated my husband, and I wanted to get back into the classroom," Tempa Huffman said.
Karl Ely also joined his spouse in the district. Ely, whose wife, Rachel, is a first-grade teacher at Abilene, will be physical education teacher at the middle school and Abilene.