Simmons retires


Gunter Kleist

Richard Simmons

Richard Simmons, after 14 years of working in the Vermont school system and four years of working as the learning specialist at Johnson State College, will be officially retiring on May 31.

“It’s bittersweet for me in a lot of ways,” said Simmons. “It was a hard decision for me.”

Simmons job at JSC primarily involves him working with students who have documented disabilities. He is responsible for writing academic and test accommodations for students and handling the applications and paperwork for students applying for therapy animals, and is involved with residence life in regards to college apartments and the dorms, such as when students may need particular living space accommodations related to mental or physical health issues.

Simmons also works with Academic Support Services, which is available to any JSC students who need help or academic coaching with homework or studying outside the classroom.

“I like working directly with people and working around developing life skills, and supporting them in that way,” said Simmons. “So this job was perfect for that.”

Prior to working at JSC, Simmons worked in the Milton, Vermont school district at both the Milton middle school and high school for 14 years. Throughout his years working there, Simmons worked as a planning room supervisor, a licensed special education consulting teacher, and a behavioral specialist, and was involved in the alternative program for students with emotional disabilities.

“I think what benefited me the most [at JSC] was having that special education background. Sometimes it’s not just the matter of looking at a student and their disability,” said Simmons. “You have to look at their strength and be able to look at their cognitive profile, the assessments that are there, and what that really tells you about the student and how they learn. That’s very important for various reasons.”

Despite enjoying his years working in the Milton School District, Simmons said that working at JSC has been the cap-stone of his career in education. Simmons said that he is pleased to be leaving with such valuable work experience and the wonderful memories of the connections he has made at JSC.

“I really love JSC. I love the people I work with and the kids I work with. The professors have been great. It’s really been a fantastic experience for me,” said Simmons. “Everybody that I’ve worked with has been wonderful in every respect.”

Simmons said that his decision to retire was partially based on the fact that he works a lot more hours than he is contracted to because of how much time investment that the job requires. Another consideration is that his wife is the co-founder of a  young but highly successful software development company based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Through the company, Simmons’ wife works up to 10 days a month in Minnesota as the chief strategy officer for the company and works from home the rest of the time. Simmons and his wife currently live in Georgia, Vermont, and, despite the offerings that the company has made, they have no plans to move to Minnesota.

Simmons said that because of their extremely busy schedules, he and his wife decided that his retirement would greatly benefit their lifestyles and would increase the amount of time they want to have together to as a married couple for the things they want to accomplish.

Simmons said that for the first couple weeks of his retirement, he will focus on creating guides for his successor so that whoever takes over is keenly aware of how the position operates.

“It’s a job with very specific skills that are very technical, so it really takes someone who has experience that work with special education,” said Karen Madden, head of the Academic Support Services at JSC. “It’s a difficult position to fill. And with Richard leaving, it makes it even harder.”

Madden is Simmons’ direct supervisor and is responsible for finding and hiring a person qualified to be Simmons’ successor. Currently, there are multiple individuals who have applied for the job, but someone has yet to be chosen to take over the position.

Madden said that Simmons has been a tremendous member of the academic support services team, has provided a huge amount of professional development for the department, and has helped enhance the reputation of the college in general.

“He’s been a wonderful member of this team,” said Madden. “He really enhances everything that we all do because he provides information to us to help us serve all students.”

“I never had any idea I’d end up in education,” said Simmons, who studied marketing and sales as a business major in college.

Before he and his wife moved to Vermont, Simmons owned two wallpaper and paint stores in Florida. Simmons said that despite focusing his career on his businesses for most of his life, he has always enjoyed working with students and kids.

“Even when I had my businesses in Florida, I worked with a couple of kids from the local high school there who had emotional difficulties and needed internships,” said Simmons. “So I would hire them and work with them through internships as part time work force for the store.”

Simmons said that he knows retiring will be a new phase in his life and looks forward to enjoying time fishing and spending time with his wife. He and his wife are hoping to become involved in small business ventures and helping with non-profit organizations during his retirement.

“I guess I’m excited about the next thing that’s going to come around the corner for us, because that always seems to be how our lives go,” said Simmons.

Simmons said he will miss JSC greatly, but thinks that his time working there was the perfect way to end his educational career. However, Simmons hinted that there is a possibility of him returning to JSC in the future.

“Karen Madden and I talked briefly about the possibility of me being able to volunteer up here a couple days a week,” said Simmons. “I’m definitely not ready to go just sit on the porch.”