A longtime Maricopa school teacher is preparing for retirement, but she’s not going anywhere soon.
Jerri Early, math coach and teacher with Maricopa Unified School District, has taught Maricopa children for more than two decades and is the longest-tenured educator employed with the district.
She’s a favorite of many students for “managing to make math fun” by accommodating interesting teaching techniques to accommodate students’ many different learning styles.
A part of her strategy has been balancing her calculated lessons with a little humor.
“I understand these kids are under a lot of pressure and I know how it is when you’re sitting in a class all day long,” Early said. “You need to have laughs and have fun because if you can laugh and have fun, you’ll do better.”
Early’s phased retirement won’t mean an absence from the classroom quite yet, however.
She plans to work a few additional years in her same positions at Maricopa High School and the district’s two middle schools as an employee of SmartSchoolsPlus, an agency often utilized by area educators easing into retirement over an extended period. Retirees can draw their pensions but return to their same jobs, as allowed by the Arizona State Retirement System.
In addition to her work at MUSD, Early has also taught math at the collegiate level. For the past 12 years, Early has instructed night classes at Central Arizona College. At MUSD, she is mentor and coach for junior and high school math teachers and the instructor of a dual-enrollment course at MHS.
Her years spent teaching at the once small, rural district are an asset to students and staff, say Early’s colleagues.
“She pushes teachers to be the best version of themselves because she believes the students at MHS deserve to have the best teachers,” said Jennifer Miller, high school English teacher and MHS alumna.
Early’s career in education was preceded by a degree in electrical engineering from Arizona State University in 1986. She worked as a summer student at Motorola prior to graduating and eventually was hired as a test engineer after receiving her diploma.
During that time, she wrote software that tested airplane radar tracking systems her team developed.
The young techie and her husband Scott moved to Maricopa the same year she graduated and later began a family with the addition of their first daughter Kelsey in 1989.
“We’ve seen all the changes in the town from being a little, tiny, two-lane road with wild horses running across it; to the four-lane, divided highway and (Maricopa becoming) a city,” Early said.
Early began her career at MUSD in 1991 as a substitute teacher when the small school district was still located on one campus.
The next year, Early’s second daughter, Tatum, was born. The family moved to Mesa and then to Tucson following Scott’s career with Southwest Gas.
There, Early gained her teaching certificate and worked as a full-time math teacher at Marana High School.
The family eventually migrated back to Maricopa, where Early worked at MUSD again as a substitute in 1995. The following school year, then-Maricopa Middle School Principal Mat Reese hired Early as a full-time math and science teacher.
The position with the district allowed Early to spend more time with her children, who also attended school there and shared the same vacation schedule. Raised in rodeo, the Early girls traveled with their mother when school let out every summer.
Although she loved her work as an engineer, Early said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I really enjoy teaching and finding ways to help kids understand the material and finding different ways to approach a lesson because all kids don’t learn the same,” Early said.
As a 21-year-old rookie teacher 17 years ago, MHS teacher Bernadette Russoniello said Early’s mentorship was invaluable.
“She listened, she observed, she made recommendations, but she never judged or criticized, or made me feel inferior,” Russoniello said. “These qualities are what makes her a superstar teacher.”
This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.