HOMETOWN HEROES: Couple end long careers in education

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By Don Pace

Between them, Josephine and Don Romero have given 65 years to educating children, mostly in the Las Vegas area.

Josephine will leave her post as West Las Vegas Middle School principal after 32 years in education, and Don spent 34 years in music education. Through the years, the couple have received local, state and national honors.

Don’s transition into civilian life has been made easier because he finds an open-door policy at the band room on the west campus that is named after his father.

“I graduated and taught at West Las Vegas, so it’s always been home to me, but I’ve also taught at two of northern New Mexico’s great schools. Peñasco and East Las Vegas Schools were awesome to me, so I’ve been very fortunate,” Don said.

At one time, 11 Romero family members were teachers in the area; two remain in the classroom, his brother, Frank “Pancho” Romero, who holds a doctorate at New Mexico State, and first cousin, Wallace “Wally” Sanchez, is the band director at Robertson.

Before beginning her teaching career, Josephine worked as a secretary in the science department at Highlands University. She began her career in education in Peñasco as a teacher assistant and then went on to Paul D. Henry Elementary teaching full-day kindergarten. During her long career, she worked at Los Niños, Douglas, and Legion Park elementary schools.

Josephine was a Golden Apple finalist in 1998, and both she and Don were named to Who’s Who Among America’s teachers in 1994. She was recently appointed as a biographical candidate to represent Las Vegas in the 2009-10 Cambridge Who’s Who Registry Among Executive and Professional Women.

Don said when he first arrived at West, the band had never participated in the state fair parade. It then took second place two years in a row at the parade, edged out by Sanchez’s Red Wave Band at Robertson.

“The year after I left teaching, West tied with Robertson for first place, followed by two years of blue-ribbon titles. Teachers can see their hard work paying off, even after they leave the profession. Teachers don’t fade away, they live on with and in their students. Especially in music, because it’s not a one-year, or seasonal thing, where they move on. In music, you’ve got a group of students year around for five or six years,” Don said. “In the years I taught, I have learned more from the kids than I ever taught them.”

Don said he loved teaching, but one has to know when it’s the right time to go, he said with a chuckle. That day came shortly before he retired, he siad.

“One of my students came up to me and said, ‘My grandmother said she was one of your students,’” he said.

Josephine said for her it was a more difficult decision to retire.

“The close relationships you develop through the years makes it heart-wrenching. But I want to retire when I’m healthy and spend quality time with my children and grandchildren. I’ve also always wanted to write children’s books, which my daughter Dawn will illustrate.”

She said, “It’s sometimes the little acts of kindness that you see through the years that makes retirement doubly hard. Just the other day a young lady came in and brought me a little letter. It said, ‘To the best principal in the world.’ I was so excited. I was showing it to everybody, to see that kind of caring at the middle school is awesome,” Josephine said. “The love and support I’ve seen at this school has just made me feel so, so good and welcome.”

Superintendent Jim Abreu said the Romeros have had long and illustrious careers as educators, and with Josephine’s departure, the district is losing a dedicated principal who has brought many innovative ideas and improvements to the middle school.”

School board President Christine Ludi agreed.

“She has been phenomenal at handling her administrative duties, and she will be sorely missed.”  

Daughter Dawn, a second-grade teacher at Legion Park, summed the careers of her parents best.

“They have had a lifetime of achievements as educators. I’m very proud of them and strive to follow in their footsteps. My parents have set a very high standard for me, and are role models. I only hope I can achieve half the goals they have met. I will be happy to see the two of them retired together, but that doesn’t mean they will stop doing great things for their community.”

Josephine and Don have been married 36 years, and plan on traveling and spending time with their three daughters, Dawn, Alyssa, and Kris Martinez and husband Joe, and three grandchildren, Megan, Ethan and Samantha.