Saying goodbye

Four Decatur staff to depart for the last time

Ella Burge

At the end of the year, teachers will pack their things in preparation for the summer, but for some, it will be the last time they pack their classrooms at Decatur. On June 3, Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, Charles Copp, Laura Nolan and Faizal Emamaullee will end their Decatur careers.

 

CARDOZA: From little league to major league

Cardoza and his grandmother, Aida Nancy Graulau, at an outlet mall in Barcelonet, Puerto Rico. Graulau played a strongly influential role in Cardoza’s introduction to baseball.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo
Cardoza and his grandmother, Aida Nancy Graulau, at an outlet mall in Barcelonet, Puerto Rico. Graulau played a strongly influential role in Cardoza’s introduction to baseball.

“This is an opportunity that may or may not ever come up again,” Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo, Spanish teacher and baseball coach, said.

When school ends, Cardoza will take a managing position with Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers.

He’ll fly to the Dominican Republic to train the Rangers’ international prospects on June 1. From then to July 2, signing day, he will help coach a higher league called the Dominican Summer League (DSL). The DSL is comprised of players that signed with the Rangers in previous years. It is the equivalent to the U.S.’s Rookie League.

After that, Cardoza will manage the “July 2nd team” in its league, the Tricky League, which consists of newly-signed international players. He will oversee games and coordinate all field workouts.

Cardoza will return to the United States in mid-September and move to Surprise, Ariz., the Rangers’ spring training site, for the instructional league.

The Decatur alumni has taught at Decatur for four years and coached baseball for two. He also played for the Decatur baseball team in high school.

Cardoza’s grandfathers introduced him to the game. They both followed the sport and their commitment intruiged Cardoza. There was someone else, though, that inspired him to play.

“My grandmother got me into baseball,” he said.

Cardoza’s passion for baseball has lead him through many years of playing the sport. He played little league, he played at Decatur and he played in college. He also spent two years in Puerto Rico playing right up until he started teaching.

“Ms. Burke had been subbing for my classes because I was still playing baseball two days before,” he said. “I showed up three weeks into the year. I signed a bunch

3-year-old Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo plays tee-ball outside of his old home in Dorado, Puerto Rico. “In Puerto Rico there’s a baseball tradition, so it was always around,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo
3-year-old Carlos Cardoza-Oquendo plays tee-ball outside of his old home in Dorado, Puerto Rico. “In Puerto Rico there’s a baseball tradition, so it was always around,” he said.

of papers at lunchtime and then fifth period I was teaching, not prepared. I didn’t have any materials, but I was teaching.”

Despite this unconventional start to his teaching career, Cardoza believes “there’s nothing I would have done differently.”

Cardoza enjoys “getting to know the students,” and does so through his Spanish classes. Classtime acts not only as a way to meet students, but also as a “vehicle to teach them the importance of diversity,” he said.

The time spent with colleagues Brent Eickhoff and Jesus Martinez is what Cardoza finds he will miss, but above all, he will miss hanging out with his players.

“[I’ll miss] not having time to grow together,” he said. “The players have taught me as much as I’ve been able to teach them, probably more.”

 

COPP: Chasing his basketball dream

“It is heartbreaking to pull away [from Decatur], but if I did what I wanted to do, I’d stay here until I retired,” Charles Copp, teacher, graduation coach and basketball coach, said.

In April of 2014, Copp’s older brother passed away at 35, pushing Copp to look at life in a new way.

Charles Copp with his wife Amelia Copp and sons Bennet, 5 years old (left), and Baxter, 1 year old (right).
Photo courtesy of Charles Copp
Charles Copp with his wife Amelia Copp and sons Bennet, 5 years old (left), and Baxter, 1 year old (right).

“It makes you realize how short life is,” he said.

Copp recognized it was time for him to move on from Decatur and tackle his dream of being a professional basketball coach.

“I knew I had a desire to coach basketball full time,” he said. “I need to just go after that dream.”

The loss of his brother wasn’t the only thing driving Copp to leave Decatur. He realized he wanted to set an example for his sons.

“I will have to tell [my boys] someday to go after their dreams, and I need to be in a place to do that,” he said.

Copp started coaching basketball at Decatur nine years ago. He later taught special education social studies and, most recently, became graduation coach.

As graduation coach, Copp helps “make sure everyone gets across the finish line.”

One of his fondest memories as graduation coach was helping a student last year who had “everything going against him in terms of graduating.”

Charles Copp plays for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in December 2003.
Photo courtesy of Charles Copp
Charles Copp plays for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in December 2003.

“The student was determined, and we [created] a path for the student to get to graduation,” he said. “We were able to get what we needed done, and the student graduated. I think that is something that inspires me to come to work every morning.”

Copp didn’t only experience successes in a school setting. He witnessed many triumphs on the basketball court as well.

“Last year we were down 14 points in the fourth quarter to Woodward, and our guys fought hard and found a way to put in overtime and win the game,” he said. “The students rushed the floor. I remember that as a great moment for our school.”

Copp recognizes the places where he has room for improvement because of his experiences at Decatur. He has learned on the court and in the classroom, and his leaving Decatur will not keep him from remembering those lessons.

“As a teacher, obviously you could always learn more quickly how to interact with students,” he said. “I would say those kinds of things are  what I take with me.”

 

NOLAN: Going when the time is right

“This place really injects so much extra life into my actual life,” librarian Laura Nolan said. “This is the part that I cry about when I think about leaving.”

Nolan and her family will move to Chapel Hill, N.C. at the end of the semester.

The Nolans are no strangers to Chapel Hill. Nolan attended college there, and she and her husband previously lived in the area.

The family wanted to reconnect with old friends and re-establish their lives in N.C. Nolan’s husband works for himself, and his ability to “go wherever he wants” made the decision easier.

“The pull [to move back] is getting stronger, and we just decided while our kids are young, we should just do it now,” she said.

Nolan worked in the library for six years. When she arrived, she met her librarian team of Heather Newman and Susan Riley. Newman and Nolan share a full-time position and rotate which days they work.

“The three of us are a family,” Nolan said. “When I got here, one of the greatest things was [having] Newman sitting right next to me.”

Despite leaving the place where she made her librarian debut, Nolan plans to continue her career in N.C.

Nolan accompanied the convergence staff to Washington D.C. in November 2014 for the NSPA conference. “Chaperoning the NSPA trips–and I’ve only done two–for me have been some of the most fun, interesting, hysterical experiences that I’ve had here,” she said.
Photo courtesy of Laura Nolan
Nolan accompanied the convergence staff to Washington D.C. in November 2014 for the NSPA conference. “Chaperoning the NSPA trips–and I’ve only done two–for me have been some of the most fun, interesting, hysterical experiences that I’ve had here,” she said.

“My hope is to do a high school librarianship again,” she said. “Whether it’s right away or if it’s next year, I don’t know yet. We’re sort of winging it.”

Nolan’s work at Decatur “runs the gamut,” but no matter what she’s doing, she always finds herself supported. She is happy her co-workers and students know librarians “do so much more” than check out books. Even in librarian school, she was taught support for librarians was hard to find.

Nolan has formed relationships with many students. Her friendships bring laughter and funny memories. She remembers one from a few years ago.

“I had a kid on one of my tall library chairs, and the kid spun so fast, and I watched him fly off the chair,” she said. “It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.”

She also recalls the time when she missed out on the unannounced Dress Like Nolan Day.

“[A group of girls] called me on my day off to come down to school,” she said. “I got there, and there were like four girls in a row dressed like me in jeans and black v-necks and chucks, and it was the one day that I didn’t have a black v-neck on.”

Jokes aside, Nolan found that becoming a librarian was a decision well made. Through Decatur, she has met life-long friends and enjoyed every minute of it.

“I can honestly say that this is the best job that I’ve ever had in my entire life, and I’ve done some stuff,” she said. “I will tell you that I became a librarian by accident, but when I think about my history, there’s a reason I am one.”

 

EMAMAULLEE: Returning home to Canada

“It’s hard,” Faizal Emamaullee, English teacher of three years, said. “When we moved here in 2010, our goal was to stay here, which is why we bought a home.”

Once he completes this year, Emamaullee will move his family to Alberta, Canada, a mere 39 hour drive from Decatur.

The Emamaullees are moving back to Alberta because it’s an ideal place for Emamaullee’s wife to carry out a fellowship in transplant surgery. She will graduate from Emory in May as a general surgeon.

Emamaullee and his Portland-native wife first moved to Alberta because of a desire to take on something new.

Faizal Emamuallee poses with Frederick Douglass in New York City last Spring break.
Photo courtesy of Faizal Emamaullee
Faizal Emamuallee poses with Frederick Douglass in New York City last Spring break.

“It was very far from home,” he said, “but we thought why not try something different, right? So we moved.”

After moving to Georgia, Emamaullee started teaching at Renfroe for a year and then moved to teach at the high school.

Teaching is a part of Emamaullee’s life, and he doesn’t see that changing with the move.

“My hope is to continue teaching English,” he said. “I’ve always taught English, and I love it, and I’m excited about it. If I’m passionate about something, I can do a good job. I’ve always been passionate about reading and sharing what I read.”

Emamaullee believes that his colleagues inspire him not only as a teacher but also as a person. He knows that the people he works with can “really make a difference.” And on his bad days, Emamaullee knows that he’ll have people to offer him their time and support. If his colleagues don’t provide that, “it makes for a very isolating environment.”

Faizal Emamaullee and his wife, Juliet Emamaullee, with daughters Grace (left) and Mira (right) atop Stone Mountain. Emamaullee and his wife met while attending the University of Alabama.
Photo courtesy of Faizal Emamaullee
Faizal Emamaullee and his wife, Juliet Emamaullee, with daughters Grace (left) and Mira (right) atop Stone Mountain.

In his eyes, Decatur takes a new perspective on teaching, one with a hands-on approach.

“There’s something about this school district that fosters growth, innovation and thinking outside the box,” he said. “I will miss it because too often we go through the same motions because that’s just the way it’s been done.”

Emamaullee’s passion for teaching is one common among many teachers. It’s all driven by the students and the impact they have on the teaching experience.

“We [teach] because we love working with kids, right, and there isn’t one single moment that defines my time here. Overall the kids have been just–” he pauses searching for the right word, “–interesting.”