First-time visitors to the office at Eyestone may do an unconscious double-take to see if suddenly they’re wearing blue gingham and ruby red slippers, or if there’s straw tumbling out of their sleeves.
Was it a yellow brick road that led them to the elementary school?
Are they not in Wellington (Colorado) anymore? Are they instead somewhere over the rainbow?
Enjoy one long last look at Paula Cardona’s enviable collection of “Wizard of Oz” memorabilia, because Eyestone’s longtime secretary and health tech is retiring May 27 and taking her beloved things with her — Tin Man replica, Cowardly Lion doll and more.
“Paula is such a part of the fabric of this community,” said Eyestone Principal David Sobson. “Paula not only knows the kids, she knows their families, relatives and grandparents. She understands their history, their circumstances and where they’re coming from, which is incredibly helpful for staff. She’s a conduit, connecting us more personally.”
Cardona admitted she’d been thinking about retiring for a couple of years, so when Poudre School District offered employees a Strategic Voluntary Exit Incentive to help decrease its annual budget by approximately $12 million, she accepted.
“It seemed like the time,” she said.
The fourth of seven children, Cardona was born in Wellington and grew up in Fort Collins. She attended LaPorte Avenue Elementary School where Fullana Learning Center is today, Lincoln Junior High School in its original location where the Lincoln Center and Mulberry Pool are now, and Poudre High School.
Early childhood memories include breaking her arm while climbing the swing set when she was 5.
“I split both bones,” explained Cardona, wincing at the memory as she lifted her sleeve to show she still has the deep, humerus-long scar to prove it. “I was such a tomboy.”
Her favorite activities back then were to sit in an apple tree and read and act out plays in the back yard.
“We’d use sheets for costumes,” recalled Cardona, whose performance as Cinderella’s wicked stepmother was her most memorable. Surprisingly, the improv troupe never did “Wizard of Oz.”
“It was one of my favorite movies,” Cardona said. “I always loved watching it every year when it came on TV. When I got my own space to decorate, I thought…yeah.”
For the record, the Scarecrow is her favorite “Oz” character.
Cardona’s tenure at Eyestone started in the media center in 1979, where she was initially a parent volunteer. When then-media specialist Patti Williams was out with surgery, Cardona was hired to take over.
Since then, she has worked as a special education paraprofessional, and helped start the school’s “Right to Read” lab — one of the first computer labs in the district.
Fourteen years ago, Cardona took her post front and center.
“Paula is a calming influence,” stated Sobson. “She is very good in any crisis or emergency situation.”
Sobson acknowledged that change is always hard for people, and they won’t be able to replace everything Cardona is, but Eyestone has been fortunate.
“We have been through a lot of change with all the growth and the new school configuration,” he said. “What we tend to find is that as great people move on, other great people move in. They are different, of course, but different can work and can also be nice.”
Sobson said staffing plans are submitted to the district, where the “first wave” involves matching current openings with available teachers and classified employees with guaranteed contracts. Outside hiring begins after all current employees are placed.
Reflecting on her years at Eyestone, Cardona said technology has been the most obvious change.
“Even in the near future,” she predicted, “we’re not going to recognize classrooms.”
Less detectable but equally discernable is “the whole society thing.”
“There’s been a growing lack of parental involvement and individual responsibility,” she said. “Kids — especially kids this age — still need their parents to guide them.”
Cardona plans to continue her work in the food ministry feeding the homeless and the hungry via a church in Eaton. She’s also going to do “some visiting,” with relatives in Las Vegas first on the list.
Yet whenever Cardona clicks her heels and imagines herself home, there’ll be no place like Eyestone.