ADDISON — Vergennes resident Karen Florucci can’t pin down whether she was in second or third grade when she picked out her career, but the choice stuck.
In early June, Florucci will retire after 25 years teaching at Addison Central School, 21 in kindergarten and four in second grade.
Before arriving at ACS, the 1972 Castleton State College graduate taught two years of elementary school in Castleton and three years at the now-shuttered Brandon Training Center, and then for four years in the 1980s operated her own kindergarten in her Vergennes home.
Florucci foresaw that path when she was growing up in Dorchester, Mass., even before she noted in her high school yearbook she wanted to be an elementary school teacher.
“I was the kid in the neighborhood, the weird one, who didn’t want run to the ballpark or ride bikes. I wanted to play school,” she said. “I always loved school. I was the kid who watched everything the teacher did.”
Her many babysitting jobs, which Florucci said she loved, and then her own high school years convinced her to pick elementary education.
“In high school I knew what I was like,” she said. “I said I’m not teaching beasts like me. No way ... And little kids, they’re like little sponges.”
Florucci’s mother came from Ludlow, and visits to Vermont convinced her to head north, first to college and then for good.
“There was something, my first blueberry patch, my first beautiful mountain, Okemo, hiking it, I was hooked,” she said.
At Castleton, she met her husband of many years, Alan Florucci, a longtime teacher at Middlebury Union High School. They split seven years ago, and Karen Florucci, who still calls her ex-husband “supportive,” kept their Vergennes home.
When they moved to Vergennes from Brandon, Florucci discovered the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union had no kindergarten, and that private kindergartens had years-long waiting lists.
The Floruccis started renovating their basement to give their two children, Alison and Michael, a kindergarten. Demand was strong in the early 1980s.
“A year before I opened ... I was filled up,” she said.
In the mid-’80s, Florucci joined the ANwSU committee that explored adding kindergarten to the district elementary schools, but resigned to apply for kindergarten jobs when it became clear the project would gain acceptance. By then, her children were old enough to attend Vergennes Union Elementary School.
Addison Central School (ACS) hired her. Florucci still gushes about her first principal, Veronica Bereen, and a group of teachers she said helped her become a competent professional, including Mo Lussier, Paula Lundberg, Mary Thelen, Jane Demers and Carol Adams.
“They’re all still in my life. But the kids and the parents then were my best teachers,” Florucci said. “They taught me to ask questions and take questions.”
And she discovered there is no substitute for wading in and learning on the fly. Florucci still remembers her first parent meeting, when Bereen surprised her by asking her to demonstrate a musical activity.
“I went over and grabbed Lummi sticks to no musical accompaniment at all and did, like a fool, ‘Our sticks tap high, our sticks tap low. We tap our sticks and around we go,’” she said.
But before long, led by former Addison pastor Daryle Cook, parents started joining in.
“I loved that group of parents. He stood up and started singing. So a few others did, and they wandered over and got Lummi sticks and said, ‘Do it again. We’ll do it with you.’ So I looked at Veronica and she was beaming at me,” Florucci said. “So it was good. I loved getting that job. I loved having it.”
ACS had one of the first full-day kindergartens not only in Addison County, but also around the state, and generally it went well. But at times finances got in the way. Some years the program was cut to half-time to save money; Florucci said one year in the mid-1990s it ran from just 8 to 11 a.m. and pupils were bused home before lunch.
“That was really, really wicked sad,” Florucci said. “It was after a year the Addison budget went down four or five times. It was the worst ever for the kids. We didn’t even get to order supplies. Thank goodness for the Ferrisburgh and Vergennes schools. They gave us some pens, pencils, notebooks, paper. That was slim pickings, but we picked ourselves up.”
And she acknowledges she hasn’t always agreed with curriculum mandates and administrators.
“I will never be called a team player, and I’m proud to say that, because I’ve always looked out for whichever students are in my class that year,” she said. “And I’ve listened to whatever everyone has to say, and my bottom line is whatever’s best for kids. I think I know and I’m in the trenches.”
Florucci said that academic demands — which derive from test-based state and federal mandates — on kindergarteners can be counter-productive; she said that countries with high literary standards rely on play-based curricula for five-year-olds.
“Our whole country is like that. And boy, if you don’t show those test scores, then it’s more academics for those kids,” she said. “That isn’t necessarily the answer. I want them good little people first.”
Florucci is also unhappy that she was switched from kindergarten to second grade four years ago, a move that she said was made over her objections and contributed to her decision to retire as soon as she could afford to.
“I think every teacher should have a say in their grade placement,” she said.
But ultimately, Florucci said she will remember the many positives.
“I’ve loved my career. I got to do what I wanted to do from a very young age,” Florucci said. “I’ve watched these families grow up, so now I’m teaching children of the children I taught, and in a few cases their grandchildren now. I’m going to love that forever.”
And the timing is ideal. Her daughter lives in Colchester and Florucci’s first grandchild, a boy named Sam, arrived in early May. Florucci plans to sell her home and find an apartment or condo in Burlington’s North End.
“It’s close enough for me to be Granny-nanny when Alison goes back to work,” she said.
Florucci might substitute-teach, but she will definitely make friends.
“My thing is just to go around and talk to people. I’m a talkaholic. I can walk Battery Park or the North End and feel very safe and just start talking to people,” she said.
Still, after all those years, fall will feel a little strange
“I have no doubt when I see those first school buses in the North End ... I’m going to go, ‘I’m late for school,’” Florucci said. “But I won’t be. I’ll be with Sam.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]