Schools bid farewell to retiring employees

As schools let out in early June, staffs in Homewood and Flossmoor said their good-byes to longtime friends who retired. The Chronicle is profiling a few of these staff members who have served students for decades.
 
Carol Krull, 30 years
  Carol Krull
 
For hundreds of students, Carol Krull was their first teacher and mother away from home.
 
“I loved teaching kindergarten. They’re so ready. Their minds are like sponges. Just to teach them how to read, it’s the best. The greatest story of my life is that I was teaching kids to read,” she said.
 
Krull retired after 30 years with District 161. She was a teacher at Western Avenue School from 1988 to 2012, and at Heather Hill School from 2012 to 2018. She taught two sessions of kindergarten each day until 2000 when District 161 started a full day kindergarten program.
 
Back in the 1980s when she started teaching, kindergarteners were learning the alphabet and numbers. Krull said today “kindergarten is like first grade. We have reading groups and math groups. They are writing topic sentences with details. We have very different expectations these days” in part because of the district’s rigorous curriculum.
 
Krull is proud of all that her students have accomplished. Many are doctors, lawyers and teachers themselves. 
 
Although she’s leaving the profession, Krull has encouraging words for those who are thinking about a teaching career.
 
“It’s a lot of work, a lot of commitment, but the rewards are ten-fold.”
 
Sally Parker-Johnson, 30 years
  Sally 
  Parker-Johnson

 
After graduating from Western Illinois University with a degree in parks and recreation, Sally Parker-Johnson wanted to set her own course. Her first profession was working for the National Park Service at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.
 
But when she got married, she couldn’t accept location transfers, so she earned a master’s degree in teaching at National Louis University and got a job at James Hart School in Homewood.
 
“I really like teaching,” she said as the 2017-18 school year wound down. “It’s definitely a life I understood. My mom was a teacher, my dad was a superintendent. (Parker Junior High in Flossmoor is named for him.) I did enjoy teaching, even though I tried to do something different.”
 
Parker-Johnson has been teaching sixth grade the past 30 years. She’s worked through the changing curriculum that today emphasizes the Next Generation Science Standards.
 
At the start of her career, Parker-Johnson said there wasn’t much hands-on learning. It was reading and answering questions. Then the science curriculum adjusted to lab-based programs. With the introduction of technology into the classroom, lessons have gotten much more interesting. 
 
“I think maybe over the last four or five years is when the really true emphasis in science has come about. I love it,” she said. Parker-Johnson is excited about a new science curriculum she got to test in her last school year. District 153 adopted the new curriculum. 
 
With her two children grown, Parker-Johnson has been planning for her retirement for about two years. She went back to school to be certified as a massage therapist and is ready to sell her Homewood house and move to the Caribbean and work as a massage therapist at a Virgin Islands resort.
 
Eileen Nickolaou, 20 years
  Eileen Nickolaou
 
Eileen Nickolaou has handled crises — large and small. As the nurse, she was a calming force for every child’s mishap.
 
After 20 years as a school nurse at James Hart School, she retired from District 153 in Homewood.
 
“You never know exactly what to plan for the day. They’re always interesting,” she said. 
 
Nickolaou has been keeping track of kids at James Hart from the day they submitted their sixth grade physical reports until they left in eighth grade.  Some days the paperwork could take over. The state requires her to file reports on physicals, immunizations, vision and hearing screening.
 
But at the end of the week, she would have an interesting story or two: Like the science experiment of melting pennies. One student decided to melt three or four pennies at once and they exploded and melted onto a girl’s eyebrow. Or the girl who had a sharp pencil that went through the skin of her hand. Removing it “required hospital attention,” she remembers.
 
Sixth, seventh and eighth grade also is a time when kids are discovering their body changes. It can be pretty challenging. 
 
“When people say they’d like to go back in time, I don’t think anyone would want to go back to being a 12-, 13- or 14-year-old,” she said.
 
Nickolaou and her husband, Michael, bought a new camper and plan to travel in retirement and enjoy time with their five grandsons.

Deb Farino-Stranc, 20 years
  Deb
  Farino-Stranc

 
Pizza is a favorite kids food, but so are salads and vegetables.
 
Deb Farino-Stranc spent 20 years in the kitchen at Churchill School in Homewood. As head cook, she and her team of 16 started their day between 7:30 and 8 a.m. preparing meals in a hot kitchen.
 
“We do our magic and all our kids get fed,” Farino-Stranc said.
 
Over her 20 years, Farino-Stranc said the district moved to serving healthier meals, shifting from canned to fresh food for the more than 300 students served during six lunch periods.
 
“There’s more variety than what most people think of as school lunch,” she said. “There’s more fresh food, more variety and fresh salads and broccoli. They like the fresher foods. A lot of kids are excited to see salad on the plate. Some kids ask for extra broccoli, but I can only give them what I’m allowed to” because portions are set to meet the daily food requirements.
 
Pizza is typically on the menu once a month. Kids also are happy to see chicken nuggets, breadsticks, ravioli, nachos and chicken fajitas on the menu. 
 
Farino-Stranc said she’s going to start her retirement by taking a few trips on the family’s sailboat.
 
District 161 retirees 
  • Pat McCraven, principal at Flossmoor Hills School, 34 years.
  • Nina Sabey, physical education teacher at Parker Junior High, 36 years.
  • Carol Krull, kindergarten teacher, Heather Hill, 30 years.
  • William Magnuson, health teacher, Parker Junior High, 20 years.
  • Martine Phelps, paraprofessional at Western Avenue School, 22 years.
  • Gina Punda, art teacher, Parker Junior High, 30 years.
     
District 153 retirees
  • Cindy Buxbaum, secretary at Churchill School, 9 years.
  • Terry Colins, assistant, Churchill School, 13 years.
  • Deb Farino-Stranc, head cook at Churchill School, 20 years.
  • Kim Genduso, assistant at Willow School, 15 years.
  • Eileen Nickolaou, school nurse at James Hart School, 20 years.
  • Sally Parker-Johnson, sixth grade teacher at James Hart, 30 years.
  • Mary Steiner, resource room assistant at Willow School, 15 years.
  • Kathy Thompson, first grade teacher at Willow School, 20 years.
     
District 233 retirees
  • Patricia Childs, business office staff, 30 years.
  • Cathy Bordenaro, special education teacher, 21 years.
  • Jill Bezanson, math and applied academics office staff, 19 years.
  • Kay Holdren, dean’s office staff, 19 years.
  • Michelle Paus, associate principal’s office staff, 18 years.
  • Rusty Sayler, math teacher, 15 years.
  • Sue Donaghue, English office staff, 14 years.
  • Sue Dunlap, business office staff, 13 years.
  • Elizabeth Shuman, computer services office staff, 12 years.
  • Jodee Sparr, special education office staff, 12 years.
  • Laraine Ruberry, instructional assistant, 11 years.

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