Sterling, VA (September 2, 2015) – You’re not dead!”
That’s always good to hear.
A jogger was running past Park View High School recently when he saw Beth Walker standing next to a ceremonial plaque with her name and image on it near the school’s softball field. The man had seen the plaque before and assumed it was a memorial to a departed staffer.
Walker has departed, but only through retirement.
When she retired on June 30th, Walker became the last member of Park View’s inaugural faculty to leave the ranks. (The school opened in 1976.)
Walker didn’t intend to stay anywhere near 39 years when she joined Park View’s staff straight out of college. “I was going to be here three years, just until I paid off my college loans. I had a state teacher’s loan that was good for three years. Once I paid that off, I was out of here. I was movin’ on. I had a plan; three years and movin’ on.”
Pay was a big reason Walker didn’t see herself staying around. Her initial contract was for $8,900 per year. Money was very, very tight. “My mom used to make my lunch and I’d drive by the house and pick it up. I couldn’t even afford to buy lunch at school.” To make ends meet, Walker worked at a jewelry store in Tyson’s Corner for a decade; Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and one Sunday a month.
“Almost everybody worked a second job.”
Something changed Walker’s plans, however. “The three-year plan pretty much ended after three years. I decided I liked it. I liked teaching.”
She also liked the feeling of family that developed among Park View’s faculty.
This year, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) opened its 15th high school (Riverside). It’s hard to believe that after Park View opened, it was 21 years before Loudoun opened another high school (Potomac Falls). “A lot of the friends I made when I was first teaching, I’m friends with now because we all stayed here for 20 years before anything else opened up.”
Walker became a legendary softball coach for the Patriots, posting a 354-156-1 record between 1976 and 2003 while winning three state championships. She also transitioned from being a health and physical education teacher to being a technology resource teacher (TRT).
Walker and her family first moved to Sterling Park in 1969. Looking back on her career and life in “The Park,” she can say a lot has changed while much has remained the same.
“We moved here because it was an affordable living environment, which is what it is now; that never changed…
“The diversity is, obviously, the biggest change. I live here in the Park and I like it. I like it not all being the same and learning different cultures and having access to different people. That’s why I’ve liked Park View over the years. It changed, but it was always full of people who wanted to get a good education, parents who wanted their kids to get a good education, teachers who truly cared about it. It became a home for me.”
Demographically, Park View is an entirely different school than the one Walker came to in 1976. Then, it was almost all white and middle class. “We had a lot of parent involvement. It was a total community buy-in at that point. I don’t remember us having any worries about anything.”
Park View is now 80 percent diverse with 63 percent of the students being classified as economically disadvantaged. “No two days are the same. The challenges are different than you find in any other school in the county.”
Helicopter parents aren’t something you’ll see at Park View. Walker said many parents work multiple jobs and have a hard time fitting school involvement into their life. That means the staff has to take on a different role for their students.
“We have kids who maybe don’t have parents at home all the time, who don’t have food to eat, who don’t have clothing and people to take care of them. Every school has got its issues, ours is just a little different…
“It’s tough to be mom and dad to them outside of the day. We can only do so much for them between 9 and 4. Then they leave; they have jobs at home, they have jobs outside, they take care of younger siblings and I think people looked at us more and more to pick up the parenting… That became very difficult. We do a lot of outreach programs here. We try to make sure our kids have meals and some kind of support system in place when their own parents cannot do that… A lot of the parents of these kids work two jobs, so they’re not home in the evenings. I could see our staff becoming very connected to the kids because they sometimes took on the role of the parent. Not just in education; they took on the role of advising them on personal issues. It was just a very challenging situation and continues to be.”
Walker dismisses those who dismiss Park View because of its demographics.
“They’ve never been here. The people who often say that are the people who don’t come in and walk the halls and see our kids, see our teachers busting their butts every day with these kids, see an administration that’s structured to put the best education we can every day out there for these kids.”
Walker’s coaching career also is a severe study in contrasts.
When Park View opened, physical education coaches had to coach two varsity sports. Softball came naturally to Walker, who was a standout in that sport at Broad Run. Her second sport…
Walker became an assistant girls’ soccer coach, even though she’d never played – or even seen – the sport. Softball at Park View also was a little different than the version played today.
Bases were placed 40 feet down the line on the boys’ baseball field. That meant the baseball pitching mound became a defensive hazard with fielders climbing up and down it to catch fly balls. If it was time for the baseball game to start, the umpires would tell the softball teams they could play one more inning or, in some cases, that the score would revert to the last inning. (This situation lasted until the late ’80’s when the Virginia High School League said having a pitcher’s mound in the midst of a softball game was a safety hazard.)
The softball Patriots never got to practice on the baseball diamond, which led to a rather odd feeling. “It was odd not having that home-field advantage. You always felt like you were a visitor on your home field.”
Beyond the wins and losses, Walker said she wanted to teach her players long-lasting lessons through softball. “I hope it’s that they learned a sense of fair play with me. A sense of ownership; when you’re playing on a team, you’re taking ownership for each other and taking ownership of that team and what’s happening on the field…It’s not just you. I want them to think about the big picture…
“Winning’s sure fun. Winning can be a part of the big picture. But it’s walking away and knowing you’ve done the honest thing and had some integrity and you’ve had ownership of what was done on that field.”
Speaking of the big picture… that came into play in 2002 when Walker’s last state champion team had to skip prom to play in the championship game. “Of course they were devastated. I said ‘You know what, you don’t realize it now, but when you look back, you won’t know who you went to prom with…but you’re never going to forget a state championship.’ ”
Walker was only 22 when she started coaching high school softball, which led to a misunderstanding with her first team. “Who’s the new kid? Hey, I’m your coach…They thought I was the new kid trying out.”
And the one tie?
That came against Loudoun Valley during Walker’s final season. The Patriots and Vikings were tied 1-1 after 16 innings when the contest was called because Park View’s softball field didn’t have lights.
Walker’s career switched gears when she went back to school in 1999 and 2000 to get her master’s in instructional technology, setting the stage to become a TRT. “It’s different because you’re working with adults,” Walker said of her final posting at Park View. “Technology for me was not only a job, it was an interest and hobby. I got into it because I enjoyed it…
“I’d gone from being a teacher to a coach to the computer lady, it worked out well.”
No matter her job title, it became clearer by the year that the pool of original Patriots was growing shallower. “It’s always been a running joke as people have retired over the years…As people went down the line, it came down to…me.”
Principal Kirk Dolson introduced Walker at the first faculty meeting for the 2014-15 school year as the last original staffer. This declaration brought out Walker’s competitive side. “Yeah, I win; I stayed here the longest…
“Being here was the grand prize for me. I loved this school…
“It went by in a blink. I swear, it seems like I just walked in here and had an interview…Now its 39 years later. I never, ever thought I’d be the last one.”
Walker said deciding to retire was a decision made with an eye toward going out while she still had something to offer. “You have to go when you’re going in a blaze of glory and not a blaze. I felt the same way about coaching. Coaching was great, but I left at the right time in 2003. Had I stayed longer, it might have been a blaze.”
Written by LCPS Information Office
Special Thanks to Pamela Butko Smith & Pam Freedman Horton for the images.