Retiring educators reflect on careers helping students learn
By Reggie Ponder
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Rory Remillard has made a life of cooking and teaching others to cook.
Remillard, who is retiring this year as foods and nutrition teacher at Pasquotank County High School after 17 years, honed his craft in commercial kitchens for 25 years before he started teaching.
He’s one of a number of educators retiring from area school districts this year. Two others are Sarah McLaughlin, who is retiring as an assistant principal at White Oak Elementary School in the Edenton-Chowan Schools, and Paul O’Briant, who’s retiring as chief information officer for the Currituck County Schools.
Remillard said he became interested in teaching when he was 18 or 19 because he was amazed by his mentor in community college in upstate New York and fascinated by the way he taught. Remillard got the practical experience in the hospitality industry first but knew he eventually wanted to teach.
“I knew it,” he said. “And I was bound and determined to do it.”
Remillard earned an associate degree in restaurant management, an associate degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University, a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from Florida International University. He also earned a master’s degree in food service education from Johnson & Wales University.
His career in culinary arts and hospitality management took him from a country inn in New York to jobs as a sous chef and then executive chef at a yacht club. He also served stints in management with Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn and Morrison’s Cafeteria.
Remillard also had a chance to work in food service at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
“All my life I have been surrounded by food,” he said, explaining he enjoyed cooking as a child with his mother and grandmother.
His said his father told him if he went into the food business he would never not have a job, and his father was right.
Remillard said he has always told his students that the food business is a good opportunity if you’re willing to put in the long hours and work hard.
He said when he visits restaurants in the Elizabeth City area he sees many of his students working — “even ones that said ‘I will never work in a restaurant.’”
Three or four students every semester go on to attend culinary school, but Remillard is just as satisfied to hear former students say they cooked a dish at home and their family loved it.
“I’m teaching them a basic life skill,” he said.
Remillard said he will miss teaching at Pasquotank County High School because he has gotten up every morning eager to go to work.
“I’m happy when I walk in the door and I’m happy when I leave,” he said. “And I love the kids.”
Sometimes the job has required him to take on the role of a counselor, or something like a father or grandfather figure, he said.
“I’m 62 but when I’m with the kids I feel like I’m 20,” Remillard said. “And if anybody says that we don’t have great kids in this area, they’re crazy.”
His students have been eager to learn and they enjoy working in teams, Remillard said.
“And they’re always proud of what they make,” he said.
Remillard’s retirement plans include moving with his wife to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he plans to look for a part-time job either in teaching or cooking.
“I just can’t get that food out of me,” he said.
McLaughlin, who is retiring as an assistant principal, says it’s been a privilege to work in the Edenton-Chowan Public Schools. She’s worked for the district since 1995 and served as assistant principal at White Oak for the past 14 years, working with four different principals.
“I can’t think of anything that I haven’t enjoyed,” she said.
McLaughlin, who taught 13 years in Connecticut before moving to Chowan, has particularly enjoyed working at White Oak Elementary with the kids, teachers, community and families.
“I feel like I have formed a lot of good relationships with families,” McLaughlin said.
She said she has been able to work with parents to find what works best for a child “and that’s so rewarding.”
Trying to find the best way to do things has long been an interest of McLaughlin’s. It’s in fact one of the reasons she became an educator.
As a child she thought school was boring.
“It just seemed like it could be a better experience since you spend so much time there,” McLaughlin said, noting she didn’t grow up in Chowan County.
She thought there were ways to make school instruction more engaging and motivating.
“I remember how I felt like I always could do better with the children,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, whose last day with the Edenton-Chowan Schools is July 31, says she’s not “counting down” the days to her retirement. Instead, she’s enjoying every day at White Oak.
“White Oak School is the happiest place in Chowan County,” she said. “White Oak has just gotten stronger and stronger and stronger and the faculty is amazing.”
She said she’s very fortunate to retire when she’s at a great place, still looking forward to work every day.
“It’s a great way to retire,” McLaughlin said.
As for her retirement plans, McLaughlin said she has been working all her life and plans to continue working. While she plans to enjoy traveling and do some reading, she is looking for a part-time job working with children. Before she steps away, however, she wants to make sure things are ready for her successor at White Oak.
“I’m going to help get the school ready for the new school year,” she said.
Paul O’Briant has had the best seat in the house for the revolution in technology that has swept through education in recent decades.
O’Briant has served as chief information officer for the Currituck County Schools since 2005, with primary responsibilities in technology and the state testing program. He also worked for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Northeast Regional Office for five years in the testing department.
O’Briant said he has enjoyed working with the Currituck schools.
“You just won’t find much better people than we have here in Currituck,” O’Briant said. “Everybody works hard every day to do what is best for the students.
“I think what I’ll miss is the interactions with the people,” he continued. “I have a great staff that works with me.”
O’Briant said his interest in education began he was still serving in the Navy.
“That really got me interested in teaching,” O’Briant said.
After he got out of the Navy, O’Briant’s first job as a teacher was in Currituck in 1987. He taught math, electronics and principles of technology, never thinking he would do anything other than teach in the classroom. But his interest in technology ending up taking him places he never expected to go, including DPI and his current role as the district’s technology director.
When O’Briant started out, he was one of the first Currituck teachers to get a computer in the classroom.
He also remembers when students first got a chance to try computers at school. Shortly after he started the school district received a grant to offer a program in the summer that allowed students to assemble a computer and run some basic software.
Over the past three decades the curriculum has grown from only using computers in a programming or business applications class to the present day, in which teachers and students use computers as a resource in every subject.
And computers also are at the center of operations for individual schools and central administration.
“We use technology for student attendance and grades, and the finance department relies on it heavily,” he said. “In that way we’re similar to most other industries.”
As for his retirement plans, O’Briant said he plans to stay in Currituck, noting his wife and son both are employed with the school system.
“This is home for us,” he said.
O’Briant said he doesn’t have any firm plans for going back to work at this point but plans to take some time to enjoy gardening, cooking, reading and writing.