A Teacher Turns the Page

Judith Pfister is retiring after teaching in the Montauk School for 32 years. Judy D’Mello

After 32 years of teaching at the Montauk School, Judith Pfister is looking forward to not having to wear a watch every day.

“For as long as I can remember, my whole day has been about looking at my watch. It’s a constant reminder of schedules — sort of an alarm clock around my wrist,” she said following the announcement of her retirement during a meeting of the school board on Tuesday. “I will have an extra 8 to 10 hours a day, and I will relish that time and enjoy every minute of it.”

Ms. Pfister grew up in Southampton and after graduating from high school attended East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, where she received her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She moved to New Jersey and taught English in an inner-city school for three years.

In 1985, while visiting her family in Southampton, she saw an advertisement in The East Hampton Star for a teaching position at the Montauk School. “I came back home,” said Ms. Pfister, who teaches reading and English language arts to the fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

Unlike other schools on the East End, Montauk’s attendance figures have been dwindling. When Ms. Pfister began her tenure more than three decades ago, there were 420 students. Today, there are approximately 350.

Jack Perna, the district superintendent and principal, addressed the declining student population. “We are losing families every day because rents and property values in Montauk are simply unaffordable. If the town doesn’t do something to help, we will be looking at very small classes in the near future,” he said during a discussion of whether 21 prekindergarten students should be combined to form one class or remain as two smaller classes.

For Ms. Pfister, the unique qualities of the school — its small classes, low turnover rate of administration and faculty, and support for the staff’s needs — provide the opportunity to be “the best teacher you can possibly be,” she said. “They give you every opportunity here to be the best and nothing less.”

Mr. Perna listened to Ms. Pfister’s retirement letter as it was read at the meeting — in it she called the school “a diamond in the rough” — and then addressed Ms. Pfister. “I hope when it’s time to find a replacement for you, I can find someone with your teaching ability, your class and dedication to the kids and this school. Are you sure you want to retire?”

“Do you know,” she said later, “I almost wanted to jump up and say, ‘I’ll stay.’ ”