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Platte Canyon teacher ending 30-plus-year career

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By Sal Christ

Sue Villarreal has spent more than 30 years teaching at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey. In the mid-1980s — less than 10 years after graduating from the high school — the Bailey native returned to teach home economics, known now as consumer and family studies. Back then, the classes revolved around managing a household: balancing a checkbook, meal preparation, parenting, sewing and any number of other tasks involved in family life.

Over time, home economics fell out of favor, and after 14 years Villarreal transitioned into her current role teaching at-risk students who many wrongly thought would go nowhere in life.

Now, after a teaching career that has spanned close to 40 years, Villarreal is retiring.

“It was just time,” she said. “Forty years is a long time to be in one career, and I’m just ready to move on. My husband retired about 10 years ago, and that’s a long time to be doing stuff by yourself.”

Villarreal grew up in Bailey and attended Platte Canyon schools from first through 12th grades, graduating in 1977 and heading first to Arapahoe Community College, where she received an associate degree in early-childhood development, and then to Colorado State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree.

After a two-year stint at “the state’s smallest K-12 school with 57 students,” she returned to the hallways she herself once walked.

“I just loved the community and loved what I was teaching,” Villarreal said. “After home economics went away, I wanted to keep teaching here. It would have been very difficult to find another teacher job elsewhere at that point, so I moved to teaching Warren Tech (attendees), the ACE program and what we call credit recovery students.”

A lot of Villarreal’s students have been teen parents or juvenile offenders that returned to earn diplomas after periods of incarceration. Others have been kids that were the first in their families to finish high school or were told for years that they weren’t smart enough to be successful.

It’s for that reason that Platte Canyon principal Mike Schmidt says Villarreal’s retirement will be a “tremendous loss” for both the school and the community.

“She’s been exceptional in greatly assisting our at-risk students to graduate,” Schmidt said. “There have been countless numbers of students that wouldn’t have graduated without her — she’s been a rock for those kids. … I’ve worked with her for some 18 years, and what I appreciate the most about Sue is her generally positive demeanor and attitude with the students. She’s just so attentive and sensitive.”

While the school district hasn’t found a replacement for Villarreal yet, Schmidt said whoever it is will have big shoes to fill.

For Villarreal, though, the focus is less on the changing climate of education and her soon-to-be former employer and more on the future.

After a lifetime “in the canyon,” the Bailey native and her husband have their sights set on the Southwest — either New Mexico or the Four Corners area.

“We just love it down there,” Villarreal said. “It’s warmer and the weather is nicer, but it’s still quiet.”

Villarreal will retire at the end of June.

Contact reporter Sal Christ at sal@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1035.