Retiring educators loved what they did, their students, their districts

| Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sandi Denti has a lifetime of memories packed in a three-ring binder.

It can barely hold all the awards, letters, and notes she's received from students and colleagues after teaching for nearly two decades at South Fayette Middle School.

A principal once told her to "keep a warm and fuzzy file, because there are days when you think what you are doing doesn't make a difference," said Denti, who retired this month from instructing math. "Then you pull out a letter like this (one in her file) and you think somewhere along the line, it does make a difference."

Margaret Sollon, who has 37 years as an educator, most recently as principal of McClellan School in the West Jefferson School District, likely would echo Denti's sentiments. Her office, which she left this month when she retired, featured pictures of her 2-year-old granddaughter, Olivia. The photos were there not just to brag.

"That was to let (students) know that every child in this building has someone that loves them the way I love her," Sollon said.

Both women said that the greater community of students, teachers, parents and administrators, as well as a love for education, buoyed them in their careers.

Denti, who left teaching at one point to raise her son and daughter, was hired at St. Agatha School, now Holy Child, in Bridgeville to resume her career before going to South Fayette 18 years ago. St. Agatha was special to her, but so is South Fayette.

"I've been at all these different school districts, and I can truly say this: Never have I seen a school that has been so passionate about learning," she said of South Fayette. "The teachers are absolutely wonderful."

She will miss her middle school students, too. Although middle schoolers are known to be a challenging bunch, "You can tell them what you think, and they never hold a grudge.

"They're honest. They're as honest as the day is long. Plus, you can still get the excitement out of them. If you are excited about a subject, it's going to show and spill over to them."

Sollon, who began her career as a home economics and early childhood education teacher before eventually becoming an administrator, draws accolades from parents and fellow employees.

"She just loved to be with people, to be with the kids," said McClellan secretary Liz Grieves.

"She fought for her teachers," said second-grade teacher Lisa Marcheleta. "She had no problem speaking her mind. It's a great feeling when you have that trust with your principal."

"The community embraced me, and they will always have a special place in my heart," said Sollon. "The students here at West Jeff are kind, loving and generous."

Denti's career fulfills her early desire to become a teacher.

"(Growing up) my mother had a blackboard, and I would teach the kids in the neighborhood," she said. "I would play school after school was out.

"I always wanted to teach. There was no question."

She says she will spend more time with her family in retirement, as well as travel and pursue her love of dancing.

Sollon has similar plans. Honored this year by the Pleasant Hills police department for her work in supporting McClelland's DARE program, she hopes to keep in touch with all associated with the school. An "office ladies" monthly card club will keep her in the loop.

"We were a good blend. We were a good unit, a good team," she said.

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