CASA GRANDE — An emotional ceremony in recognition of teacher and staff retirees was held at the Casa Grande Elementary School District’s administration building Wednesday afternoon.

Twelve retirees were recognized with awards and service years pins, with five present for the ceremony.

In her opening remarks, CGESD Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales said together, the five retires present had given 113 years of combined service to the district.

“Teaching is a lifelong profession that is going to impact our lives and the lives of the children and the other adults that we work with,” Gonzales said. “Each of you that are being honored tonight have helped transform the lives of many young people. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Everybody here celebrates you.”

Cynthia Escobar was the first CGESD employee to be presented with an award. The teacher at Palo Verde Elementary School has been employed with the district since 2002.

Outgoing principal of Palo Verde Joanne Kramer praised her contribution.

“For the past twenty years, Cynthia has offered children in the Casa Grande school district the hope for a better education and life. She is an unsung hero who inspires her students every day by example,” Kramer said.

After beginning her teaching career at CGESD in 1987, a tearful Leslie Kramer told the audience, she knew she had made a good career choice.

“Four years ago, I had a career change. I left the district office and went back to the classroom, which was the absolute best thing I have ever done. I don’t know what I’ll do in my retirement, but I’m excited,” she said.

Cholla Elementary School Principal Azure Sullivan described teacher Vicki Sutera, who has been with a teacher with CGESD since 2012, as “the sunshine in everybody’s day.”

“You have never met a more positive person even through dark times in our own life, scary times during education, she is the first one who pops into my office with a smile on her face asking ‘What can I do, what do you need?’ and she means it,” said Sullivan.

Sutera told the audience she was thankful to work for the CGESD.

“This was such a great district to work for,” she said. “I appreciate everything. It’s one thing to be a teacher, but to be a teacher in your hometown — I grew up here, that was special.”

Sutera told PinalCentral she was looking forward to her retirement. “I’ll be listening to The Beatles a lot and hopefully will try to see Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band if they tour. I’m also hoping to see as many national parks as I can around the country,” she said.

Desert Willow Elementary School Principal Melissa Davey described teacher Vicki Walz, who began teaching at CGESD in 2013, as “humble, quiet and a powerhouse.”

When it came to congratulating Palo Verde Principal Joanne Kramer, Gonzales described her as a “lighthouse.”

“The lighthouse symbolizes permanence and constancy, the light never ceases. The light produced by the lighthouse is a pointed symbol. It represents the ability to emit energy and to influence those around us,” said Gonzales. “That, my friends in this room, is the essence of Joanne Kramer. Joanne Kramer has built her career in this community as an educator and as a leader. She is a true lighthouse and a beacon for others. She shows the way in good times and in bad times.”

In response, Joanne Kramer told the audience her career at CGESD actually began in 1978, with a couple of breaks before 39 years of consecutive service from 1983.

“I can honestly say that almost every day of this lengthy career I have been thrilled to go to my job. It’s so rewarding, I can’t wait to get in and get started,” said Kramer. “It’s so wonderful to live in this community and have these children that we taught for years and years come up to me and say ‘Remember, you taught me how to read this, Mrs. Kramer?’

“You remember the faces, you don’t remember all of the names obviously because there are thousands of them. ... What a wonderful career it has truly been for me and I have just loved every minute of almost every year.”

Retirees for 2021-22 are:

  • Elizabeth Calcaterra — Mesquite Education Specialist
  • Paula Chamblin — Transportation Bus Driver
  • Cynthia Escobar — Palo Verde Teacher
  • Lisa Flores — Cactus Teacher
  • Bruce Gemmell — Transportation Mechanic
  • Joanne Kramer — Palo Verde Principal
  • Leslie Kramer — Cottonwood Teacher
  • Stephanie Nilson — Cactus Teacher
  • Colleen Stephens — Transportation Bus Driver
  • Vicki Sutera — Cholla Teacher
  • Angela Vayas — Transportation Bus Driver
  • Vicki Walz — Desert Willow Teacher

Jodie Newell is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. She can be reached at

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