Donna Kagan retires after 23 years in the school district

by:  VERN UYETAKE - Donna Kagan will retire after teaching music for 23 years in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.After 23 years teaching in the school district, 14 of them spent at Stafford Primary School, Donna Kagan still isn’t tired of one annual performance. Kagan, who will retire this month, estimates that she has directed “The Three Piggy Opera” nearly 100 times.

“Even though I’ve played the same songs over and over,” she said, “it feels different with every group. I never get bored of it. It’s truly the nicest experience to work with these precious children and watch how happy and excited they are when they perform.”

After presenting two performances at Stafford this spring — and two more at Bolton — Kagan describes the annual kindergarten ritual as one of the things she will miss the most after retiring.

“It’s just heartwarming and rewarding,” she said. “I can’t think of any other way to describe it.”

The kindergarten performance may be one highlight of Kagan’s career, but families also single out her ability to inspire students of all ages.

“Her love of music and for the children make her very special,” Julie Sepp said. The mother of four said that three of her children have had Kagan as a teacher. “She has high expectations and standards for these kids and they do their best to deliver.”

“These kids feel like family,” Kagan said, “and it’s really hard to let go.”

Her decision to retire developed rapidly, just two months ago.

“I want to start publishing the music I write,” she said. “My husband said, ‘You could do that at home.’” by: SUBMITTED - Donna Kagan poses with students from Kristy Claypooles kindergarten after their performance of The Three Piggy Opera on April 26.

With family in north Florida needing attention, the decision became an easy one. She and her husband will soon be packing up and moving to Florida.

Kagan grew up in Hasting, Sussex, in England, and displayed musical ability at an early age.

“When I was 6 years old,” she said, “they put a recorder in my hand.” She carried the instrument home with the greatest care. “I got a pillow,” she said, “and put a dent in it” so she could safely display her prized instrument.

“When I was 8,” she said, “we were playing xylophones (in school) and I said, ‘That would sound really good in thirds.’” The teacher didn’t appreciate the suggestion.

“She said, ‘Would you like to come up here and teach this lesson?’ kind of sarcastically, and I said, ‘Yes, please.’ I guess that was the start,” Kagan recalled.

She started teaching at the age of 15.

“The high school teacher was rushed to hospital on the day of a concert. The principal called me to the office — I thought I was in trouble,” she said. by: VERN UYETAKE - Donna Kagan holds one of her favorite instruments, a recorder, during a music class at Stafford.

Far from landing in trouble, however, Kagan found herself standing in the music teacher’s place at the concert.

“I never looked back,” she said.

Kagan’s career has taken her to several schools in West Linn. She taught for a year at Sunset before a music position opened up at Willamette, where a new principal named Jane Stickney, who is now deputy superintendent, was overseeing the conversion of the school from a middle school to a primary school.

“Five minutes after talking to (Stickney),” Kagan said, “I knew I wanted to be her music teacher. ... She, like me, believed that music should be an integral part of a child’s education.”

After eight years at Willamette, Kagan moved to Stafford. Facing retirement, she knows she will miss West Linn.

“It’s not just the school,” she said. “The whole community is great to work for. ... I feel I’m leaving someone a treasure chest. They’ve got the best little jewels here.”

Kagan is the kind of teacher students stay in touch with.

“I’ve been to weddings and christenings,” she said. “When they call me up to say, ‘I’m getting married, will you play for me?’ it just touches my heart.”

She intends to set up a special email account families can use to stay in touch with her. And she has no intention of slowing down after retirement.

“The first thing I’m going to do is get my nest situated — my house,” she said. She already has connected with a church choir in Florida and area elementary schools, although she has no immediate plans to teach.

Her first book of music will be released soon. It will include recorded music and 12 original songs for recorders. She is working on a children’s storybook as well, called “Eddie, the Music Teacher’s Cat.” A new scrapbooker, Kagan also is an avid gardner. “It’s heartbreaking that I can’t take my plants with me.”

A celebration is planned at Stafford Primary School for June 10, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the library. Cake and tea will be served at the event, which is open to all — children of all ages included, especially current and former students.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Donna Kagan starts teaching students to play marimba as early as their kindergarten year.

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