Ms. Schramm: an Adieu

“A Special Article Highlighting the Career and Retirement of Ridge’s Veteran Science Instructor.”


Mrs. Schramm in the hallway

“No matter what you do in life, you have a teacher somewhere that helped you get there.”


For many students, that teacher was Leslie Schramm. Many know her as a ‘Spirit Week Legend’ or as a passionate science teacher, or the Queen of the best shoes! But there is so much more to Ms. Schramm that ultimately makes her an influential part of Ridge’s history.


“Don’t do what I did because I kind of did things out of order,” Schramm warns, regarding her life and career.


Ms. Schramm got married at a young age and had a son before deciding to go back to school in favor of working for minimum pay at a job she didn’t like. This decision opened up many different opportunities, and would eventually lead her to take a job at Mountain Ridge High School. This path wouldn’t be a cakewalk for her, yet it would end up deeply impacting the rest of her life.


“I had to work to put myself through school because I was attending college being older, and so just being able to find a balance between being a mom and being a full-time student and then student teaching, so it was just very, very challenging.”


Despite the initial difficulty of the journey, Schramm was quick to assure that she wouldn’t change a bit of it.


“Every step of the way was worth it because . . . getting an education is your investment in yourself, and so it made it worthwhile. I could have been spending the same amount of time in a dead-end job or just, you know, a profession that didn’t have as much meaning, so it was important for me to do that,” she elaborated.


“One of my college experiences that really led me to teaching occurred while working in a lab at ASU. We did all kinds of really cool experimentation,” Schramm noted. “But the sad thing about that is that most labs run very lean in the amount of money they have for employees, and so you would be in there for hours at a time by yourself. So I found myself wanting to talk about the science, and the scientific findings we were uncovering, but there was no one to talk to about it!”


Wanting to talk more about the science and laboratory outcomes was one of the main factors that drove Schramm into deciding to become a teacher.


“It wasn’t until I really figured out that I liked to discuss, process and ultimately explain the science that we were working on in the lab, that teaching would be a great fit for me. That’s how I got into teaching,” she said.

Mrs. Schramm’s Ridge Headshot

However, Ms. Schramm didn’t find her teaching career path right away. Even before entering college, she went through a series of different jobs that included retail and dental office management. It wasn’t until the age of 34 that she began teaching.


According to Schramm, even after all of the years she’s spent as an instructor, every August felt like her first year all over again. No matter her 23+ years as a teacher, Schramm always got butterflies before the school year begins.


“It’s a new group of students and you want to do a good job,” Schramm explained. “And the students are constantly evolving and changing, and so to keep the base foundation relevant and meaningful for them, it’s always exciting.”


“You think you know everything and you’ve gone and gotten the certificate and the credentials and the degrees, but nothing truly prepares you to be the only adult in that room, completely in charge of everything you do,” Schramm noted.


Lesson timing was a key factor that Ms. Schramm had to learn as a teacher, one that, in her experience, took around three years to really master.


“It’s a balancing act—it’s like no other job,” Schramm said.


Schramm notes that in a classroom, “once you close that door, that’s your domain and those are your students, and so you get that wonderful privilege and freedom to just change it up . . . you get none of that in the private sector. In the private sector, you’re one of many cogs along the line to “feed the beast”.”

Schramm with students

Over the years, Schramm has taught everything from Wildlife Biology to both regular and Honors Biology, as well as AP Biology and dual enrollment classes in the sciences


One of her passions is preservation of the planet and so teaching the AP/Dual Enrollment Environmental Science course was one of her “passion projects”. According to Ms. Schramm, she often worries about the condition of the planet and the need to have some kind of sustainability measure in place so that our world has a better future. She loves being able to share her passion for the environment with others.


“The kids who take [Environmental Bio] also share that passion, so unlike some kids who are taking Bio because it’s a square to fill to get to medicine or their true passion, if you’re in that Environmental class, you most likely have a genuine interest in the subject,” Schramm said.


Although Ms. Schramm loves to teach, as with any job there are plenty of hardships that go with the profession.


“[People will] criticize the way you do your job, or [say] ‘it should be done better, it should be done differently’ but yet they’ve never been in a classroom as a teacher,” Schramm said.  “It’s totally different being a student than it is being a teacher.”


“Arizona, particularly, just seems to not have an underlying respect for the educational field. Honestly, I think that they’re showing us that now by making us be at school with COVID running rampant,” Schramm laments. “We look as though we’re collateral damage to them.”


It is widely known that teachers are underpaid in the United States, especially here in Arizona. Teachers all over the country have had to strike in recent years just to get higher wages, and yet they arguably still aren’t being paid enough. This is just the tip of the iceberg for Schramm when concerning the way Arizona handles the situation.


“It just saddens me that we don’t have a climate of respect from the top down, and sadly, I think there are some people who consider the educators as disposable,” Schramm said. “I would hope that for future teachers and continuing teachers that, somewhere along the line, we get new leadership or lifeblood into the state that values teachers.”


Ms. Schramm believes that those in power, such as Governor Ducey, aren’t keeping Arizona teachers in mind when forcing them to work in a dangerous and overwhelming COVID-19 environment.


“They put us in a very, very difficult position by the way that they have shown us time and time again how little they value us,” she said solemnly.

Schramm with Mrs. Mac!

Ms. Schramm understands the business side of the education system; she was a department chair member for 18 years, and the 2nd science department chair head at MRHS. She wanted to take an active role in the department for a number of reasons.


“I do like the business aspect of things, and that is, of course, what the district is,” Schramm clarified. “They’re more about the business aspect and the monetary aspect of it, and then we’re about the functionality of achieving the goals, so I like the bridge between those two things.”


Being the head of the department isn’t all that Schramm has under her belt. She was also the sponsor for Student Government, the National Honor Society, the Society of Female Scholars, Club Earth, and a coach for both cheer and cross country. It may sound like a lot to handle, but Schramm enjoys those experiences.


“I think it’s just fun to see the kids in different arenas,” she said.


But, outside of school, Schramm has been involved in some pretty “out there” hobbies or endeavors! One activity stands out in particular: “Roach-Wrangling”! “I used to raise giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches and sold them to people who have exotic pets to raise money. I earned enough one season to take my son to Disneyland,” she said.


Roach-Wrangling isn’t the only exotic animal exposure Schramm has had in her repertoire. She’s also done spotted owl counts and bat captures, as well as native amphibian population counts. She also did her Master’s thesis working with Gila monsters that wander into garages and after those human interactions, the ability of the large lizards to regulate body temperature.


Being in the scientific field and working with a variety of creatures has greatly influenced Schramm’s affinity for exotic pets. She’s been the proud owner of snakes, tarantulas, tortoises, and a few different lizards.


“I’m more of a reptile person,” Schramm admitted.


Being completely virtual gives Schramm more time to care for her pets, but in the long run it’s not the ideal situation for her.


“We’re all hurting when we have to do virtual or when we have to keep some kids virtual because it’s just removing the human aspect of it and making it so much more machine-ish, so I hate all of that,” Schramm lamented.


Having to teach through Zoom instead of through her classroom also puts a strain on how science is taught especially in respect to doing labs.


“Not being able to do labs because of the risk of COVID has been difficult because that’s the sweet spot for us in science—it’s the point when you can stop talking about the topic and actually do it or see it or experience it,” Schramm elaborated.


Despite not being able to be in-person with her students this year, Ms. Schramm has still made a lasting impact on MRHS as a whole. Her passion for science makes her lessons legendary, and she genuinely cares about her students’ understanding of the subject matter. Schramm doesn’t believe a class is just a class; she wants her students to get something out of her lessons, and many of them have.


“The feedback from the students that I’ve had that have now gone on to [get] their PhDs or MDs, etc and they’re working in the medical field or they are in research labs doing important work like cancer research, well to know that I was a small part of that is so amazing to me . . . just to be in that sphere of influence is so humbling,” she commented.


Schramm’s decision to leave is far from selfish; it is, perhaps, the most selfless thing she could do in her situation. By returning to the classroom, Schramm would be jeopardizing her husband’s health.


“He’s much more at-risk than I am,” she detailed.


Schramm notes how retiring this semester wasn’t a choice she wanted to make. For her, when she asked to remain virtual and finish this school year, retirements was the only option she was given.


“To have to retire in December, which is halfway through a contract year, is the nuclear option,” Schramm explained. “And when you execute a nuclear weapon, there is collateral damage. And the collateral damage now is the students, my fellow science teachers, other teachers on campus . . . the impact just exponentially grows when you push that button.”


Though Ms. Schramm is upset by the fact that she hasn’t gotten support from higher-ups, she has received genuine support from other teachers. “They’re not just friends, they’re family,” she said heartfully.

Mrs. Schramm with Mr. Prey, Mrs. Mac and Mrs. King

Although Schramm doesn’t want to leave MRHS, she’s determined to make sure her students continue receiving good education, which she’s confident they’ll receive with the current science department composed of her coworkers and friends. She’s been working with the school, trying to push the decision-making process to keep the standard of education for her students.


“I don’t want any compromises in the integrity of the [students’] education,” said Schramm.


As for her department chair successor, Ms. Schramm does have someone particular in mind.


“I can wholeheartedly say that my successor should be Jon Devenney,” she stated decisively. “I think he’s ready, I think he’d be great. I think it’d be good to have some other perspectives in there other than mine.”


Jon Devenney graduated from Northern Arizona University with an extended major in physical science. He currently teaches both Regular and Honors Chemistry, as well as AP Physics at Ridge, where he’s been employed for 20 years.


Passing the torch was difficult for a number of reasons, but it was especially hard for Ms. Schramm to let go of her students.


“Each individual learner is unique,” Schramm said. “It’s hard to just pass off a student; they’re not a commodity, they’re a person.”


There is also the matter of finding replacement teachers for her classes. Ms. Schramm has a good idea of who at Ridge is to take over her Environmental Bio class, as he already works for MRHS in the science department.


“The person who will take that, who is qualified, should be—and I’m guessing, and I can say this because of qualifications—should be Mr. Prey,” she said.


Jason Prey has taught Human Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Wildlife Biology, Environmental Biology, Marine Biology, Chemistry, Honors Chemistry, and Chemistry in the Community. For Rio Salado College, he’s also taught BIO105, BIO145, BIO160, BIO201, and BIO202, as well as an additional paramedic course for BIO160 at Glendale Community College.


“He’ll be just perfect,” she said assuredly.


Schramm is more worried about her AP Bio class, considering their success depends on a good teacher who will get them through their AP exam in the spring.


“Those kids are halfway through a journey to something they need to excel on to get credit in college, so that’s the piece that’s still the sticking piece that makes me nervous,” Schramm said. “We’ve got to get that locked down because they have an exit exam coming.”


Even though she still has some reservations, Schramm knows that her students are going to be alright in the end.


“Honestly, if anybody in the science department takes these things, the kids are going to be just fine—we have such a good department,” Schramm said earnestly.


Since retirement, the AP Biology has gone to Ms Jewett. (Add bio about Jewett as you did for Devenney and Prey above please) Schramm was thrilled and releaved to hear the school gave the AP Bio program to Ms Jewett. She said “having worked closely with Ms Jewett for many, many years in the honors biology program, the students are in excellent hands! Ms Jewett will continue to tradition of excellence in this course and I no longer have to worry about them at all!”


Ms. Schramm knows, realistically, that her time at Mountain Ridge will be forgotten by her students as they graduate, but she wants them to remember a few important things.


“I would hope that the students who have passed through my doors would think of me and the journey we took as worthwhile,” she said.


Schramm leaves her students with a few words of wisdom, composed of the knowledge she’s collected throughout her entire career.


“Things that are worthwhile are not always easy, and the measurement of success is not how many times you get knocked down, but it’s how many times you get back up . . . Take on something that’s challenging, take the road that’s less traveled; go through the stuff that’s going to challenge you. Things that take you outside of our known success. The hard stuff! The stuff that knocks you down and break your bones and makes you cry. Because when you learn how to get back up, that’s inner strength” Schramm said. “Don’t deviate from what you think you want because something provides you with challenge. Tenacity is often the measurement of success.”


Ms. Schramm is leaving Ridge with over a year of extra time since she never took any time off. Now, she isn’t sure what will keep her high-energy personality occupied, but she knows that at the very least she definitely wants to keep doing what she loves.

The Queen in an iconic pose

“I’ll probably do some volunteering. I’ve also talked to the Phoenix Zoo, and they would like me to work with their educational center,” Schramm said. “So I’ve got some iron in the fire that would keep me educating but also working with wildlife and biology and the environment. But I don’t know for sure yet.”


Now, more than ever, Schramm is thankful for her students and is glad to have been able to guide them. She is also thankful for the life-long friends she has made at Ridge.


“Young people stand on the precipice of making real change in so many places in our country and in our world,” Schramm commented. “It’s been very exciting to be around them. I can’t wait to see what all they do!”