Veteran Santa Rosa teacher showered with affection at retirement party after 38 years
If not for the loss of his home in the Tubbs fire, Jim Boyce might have quietly slipped into retirement after 38 years of teaching a total of 1,136 children, most of them at Kawana Springs Elementary School in southeast Santa Rosa.
Boyce, whose last day on campus is Tuesday, said he probably would have gone out for a beer with his longtime colleague, Martha Menth, Kawana’s other third grade teacher.
But in the wake of the firestorm that consumed all of his possessions, Boyce, 61, said he posted on Facebook for the first time - with surprising results.
“Within a week I had 300 friends,” he said, and just before Christmas in 2017 dozens of former students and parents showered him with food, gift cards and mementos.
That’s also when Menth and others started planning the retirement party that filled the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building main auditorium Saturday with about 350 people of all ages for a four-hour celebration featuring food, games, music, speeches and walls decorated with items from Boyce’s career, including class photos for all but one year of a career started in 1982.
Also on display was the maxim that had adorned his classrooms all 38 years: “Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you,” from American author Myrna Ericksen.
A GoFundMe account for the retirement celebration raised almost $2,300.
At the party, Boyce said he overheard one of his current 8-year-old students ask a 50-something former student if the advice had been on the wall in his day.
The elder student said it was, and the younger one asked: “Do you think it is true?”
“Of course,” the elder said. “Why do you think we are all here? Because we have all given it our best.”
Boyce said the exchange “about made me want to cry,” realizing what an impact he had made on so many lives doing “the best job that I possibly could have for the last 38 years.”
As he was cleaning out his classroom this week, Boyce, a member of a pioneer Santa Rosa family, said he was content to leave.
“I’m done. I’m gonna be like Bill Walsh. I want to go out on top,” he said, referring to the late, great San Francisco 49ers head coach who retired with three Super Bowl rings.
Powered by the energy he gets from swimming more than 2 miles every morning, Boyce has made a lasting impact at Kawana Springs, a school for about 350 students located south of the county fairgrounds in a working-class neighborhood.
To commemorate the death of teacher and mentor Gary Bullington in 1993, Boyce led a campaign to raise $500,000 and build the Field of Dreams - an asphalt track, two baseball fields, rugby field and soccer field - on what had been a weedy, barren plot behind the school. He and Bullington started girls’ volleyball and boys’ basketball elementary school leagues that now have 15 teams.
In the classroom, Boyce emphasized reading and math to the third graders he has taught for the last 28 years.
Third grade is a “benchmark year,” he said, a student’s last chance to become proficient in reading or risk falling behind in higher grades and possibly never catching up. In math, they need to know multiplication and division.
“I really wanted to get these kids ready for the upper grades,” he said.
Kawana School’s area has changed dramatically from the early 1980s, when it bordered farmlands and most students were from white families, with a smattering of Southeast Asian immigrants. The area is a “gateway community” with cheap housing, Boyce said, and Latinos gradually formed the dominant share of the population.
More than half of Kawana’s students are English learners, meaning their families speak Spanish at home; 89% qualify for reduced-rate meals and the same percentage are Latino, with under 6% white students.
Boyce doesn’t speak Spanish and said he doesn’t need to. “I always tell them you gotta learn English,” he said, noting that by third grade most Latino students have picked it up.
His classroom has enough iPads and Chromebooks for every student to become computer savvy and some are building their own websites, he said.
A slender man with tousled gray hair and a mustache, sunglasses tilted back on his head, Boyce habitually wore shorts, Hawaiian shirts and running shoes at work.
He is the great grandson of Dr. John Boyce, the first practicing physician in Santa Rosa, who settled here in the 1870s. A graduate from Montgomery High School in 1975, he was student body president there and at Slater Middle School.
At Saturday’s party, accolades came from all ages.
“I love him,” said Ramona Herrera, 44, of Sebastopol, who had Boyce as a teacher in fifth and sixth grade. “I was always kind of a shy person, and he was always very encouraging.”
Boyce made a “night and day difference” in her daughter, Vonne Marsden said. “He made her believe in herself. She was happy to go to school.”
Fifth grader Jolette Martinez learned multiplication - not her favorite subject - from Boyce in third grade. “He was a great teacher,” she said.
“He’s a ball of fire,” said Armando Flores, former longtime superintendent of the Bellevue Union School District, who hired Boyce in 1984. “The kids loved him. He could maintain discipline and inspire kids to learn.”
Menth, a primary organizer of the party, said her colleague of three decades is indefatigable, and “makes lemonade out of the worst lemons - every time.”
“He’s Mr. Kawana. He’s the man; he’s a legend,” she said.
The inevitable question is whether the “give to the world the best you have” maxim proved true for Boyce.
“It kinda came back to me,” he said. “I gave it my best as a teacher. It’s karma.”
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @guykovner.