Mary Finifrock de Perez, a third grade teacher at Cameo Elementary School, unpacks books in her classroom Friday at the school. Photo by Eric Kluth.
By Gary Mitchell
Mary Finifrock De Perez is a teacher who never stops learning — or, apparently, teaching.
After working in the Clovis Municipal School District for 28 years as an elementary teacher, Finifrock De Perez retired a year ago — if you count serving as the secondary principal at Clovis Christian School, which is a private school, as retiring.
“New Mexico law now states that if you lay out one year from being employed in New Mexico public schools, then you can come back after that year and teach again,” she said. “That’s what I did, and I get to draw my retirement plus my regular school salary (like New Mexico educators used to retire, and then go across the border to teach in Texas).”
So when school officially starts Monday, Finifrock De Perez will be a “new” teacher for the third grade at Cameo Elementary School.
She is one of 49 newly hired teachers in the Clovis school system.
“I’m really excited to be back,” she said. “My year off has given me a new perspective and a new inspiration.”
In her first career, Finifrock De Perez taught primarily third-graders at Parkview Elementary School. She also taught part-time and during the summers at Clovis Community College.
“I really do like to teach,” said Finifrock De Perez, who is fluent in Spanish, which she learned from her husband. “Working last year at Clovis Christian School was a fabulous experience. I love it there. It’s a neat school. While I was there, we completed the accreditation requirements for the secondary level. That should be completed by this September. The year I had off was really an inspirational year and gave me a completely new outlook. And now I’m coming back with excitement and joy — just like I was a new teacher again.”
Ladona Clayton, assistant superintendent for instruction, said she has known Finifrock De Perez for a number of years.
“She’s an exceptional teacher,” Clayton said. “She engages students in their learning and she understands how to use a variety of effective teaching strategies to reach all learners. We’re really glad to get her back.”
Finifrock De Perez’s time away from public school was a learning experience.
“My year off taught me that my calling is truly with students,” she said. “During that year off, I had never worked with upper-level students before. I found out they were wonderful students.”
Finifrock De Perez said she was happy to return to the third-grade classroom.
“I’m thankful they were willing to hire me back,” she said. “My experience in the past with Clovis public schools has been positive. It’s a wonderful system in itself. I’m looking forward to the years ahead as a teacher.”
The third grade, in particular, is a significant school year to Finifrock De Perez.
“My favorite year growing up was the third grade with Mrs. Staubus, the wife of Rock Staubus,” she said. “She taught me how to value every person. She was my favorite teacher, and she inspired me to be a third-grade teacher.”