Renton teacher retires after 42 years, shares changes at Tiffany Park, district

Teacher Sue Brumfield hugs kindergartner Leonie Nguyen the last day of school. Brumfield is retiring after working in the Renton school district for 40 years. - CELESTE GRACEY/Renton Reporter
Teacher Sue Brumfield hugs kindergartner Leonie Nguyen the last day of school. Brumfield is retiring after working in the Renton school district for 40 years.
— image credit: CELESTE GRACEY/Renton Reporter

Summer came as a bittersweet moment for one Renton kindergarten teacher, who is retiring after 42 years with the school district.

“Some people, when they retire, they’re all excited, but I still love teaching,” said 62-year-old Susan Brumfield, watching the last of the students trail off campus for the summer. “It’s a new chapter.”

Spending 37 years at Tiffany Park Elementary, her career has been marked by changes in the district and the demographic of the community.

It’s an increasing rarity to have a teacher commit to a school for that long, said Principal Irene Olson. “She has a depth of knowledge for early childhood education.”

When she started at Tiffany Park in 1973, there was heavy student turnover. So much that one year a class finished in June without any of the same students it started with, she said.

Two large apartment complexes attracted low-income families and made up much of the student demographic, she said.

The woods that surrounded the school were eventually developed with single-family housing, which helped stabilize the student population.

Today, one of those apartment complexes, Royal Hills, is also filled with first-generation immigrants.

“I think it’s (Tiffany Park) like a miniature world,” she said. “I was here when we got the first wave of immigrants.”

By the ‘80s the diverse student group dominated the classroom.

To grow a deeper understanding of her students and for the love of travel, she participated in a Russian teacher exchange in 2000.

In the summer she was known to visit incoming kindergartners with a backpack and school supplies.

Though teaching several grade levels, she’s spent most of her career with kindergarten students.

“There is never a dull moment in a kindergarten classroom,” she said. “It’s exciting to see the lightbulb go on.”

At a school-wide pep assembly, Olson asked all of Brumfield’s former students to stand. A third of the school got to its feet.

“She’s touched so many people’s lives,” said kindergarten teacher Denise Gomes. “I’ll miss her.”

As a University of Washington junior, Brumfield was first hired in the Renton School District as a teachers’ aide in 1968.

“Renton was a very very innovative school district,” she said. Since she was hired, it’s become much more conservative, but new leadership is bringing a focus she appreciates.

Brumfield has always had an open mind, Olson said.

In 1986 she earned her masters degree in learning styles from Seattle Pacific University.

She found the subject fascinating, she said, before explaining the various ways she used her education to help students.

A mentor for many, Brumfield was also known to organize social outings for the staff, including Bunco and Mariners games.

She brought the staff together, Gomes said. “I think that’s why the kids do well and the teachers stick around.”

Occasionally Brumfield would initiate a red-shoe day to brighten the mood or encourage a staff member, she said, looking down at her red slippers. “Teaching can be very serious... It’s nice to have fun.”

Brumfield’s twin children went to Tiffany Park and graduated from Lindbergh High School in 1996.

She lives so close to the school that if she starts a song when she leaves home, she has to wait in the parking lot to finish it, she said. “This was my home.”

It’s likely she’ll return as a substitute, but only for Tiffany Park, she said. “Once people get here, you don’t want to leave.”

Before she ended her last day, she sat her students down for their last story time, the 411th that year.

The book was abut Clifford, the big red dog. The children wiggled in their spots, their cubbies already cleaned for the summer.

“You know why you’re extra special?” she told them. “Because you’re the last class I’ll ever have.”

Sue Brumfield

Teacher Sue Brumfield responds to a standing ovation from Tiffany Park Elementary students and staff the last day of school. She is retiring after teaching 40 years in the Renton School District.

Celeste Gracey/Renton Reporter

Susan Brumfield

Kindergarten teacher Susan Brumfield says goodbye to her students before they leave for the summer break. After working in the Renton School District for 42 years, she's retiring this month.

Celeste Gracey/Renton Reporter

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