ANwSU’s Thurber to retire after 30 years

VERGENNES — It was more than 50 years ago when Ferrisburgh Central School challenge and technology teacher Linda Thurber first stood in front of a class and taught.
At that point, Thurber, 65, who will retire at the end the week after a three-decade Addison Central Supervisory Union career, was a freshman at her hometown high school in Doylestown, Pa.
Her teacher, probably already sensing where Thurber’s path would lead her, asked Thurber if she wanted to take over for a while.
“In ninth grade I had the opportunity to teach a high school class. One of my teachers gave me that opportunity, and I really loved it,” Thurber said.
But Thurber didn’t really need that push to pursue teaching as a career.
“I never even considered anything else, and I still wouldn’t,” she said in an interview last week. “I love being with the kids.”
Thurber’s job, mostly fulltime at Ferrisburgh Central since 1994 but cut to an 80 percent level in recent years, has been split 50-50 between running the school’s challenge program and acting as its technology coordinator. That half of her job includes weekly sessions with each of the school’s classes as well as supporting and teaching its staff members.
Principal JoAnn Taft-Blakely said she has fulfilled both roles well and cited her technology expertise.
“She’s highly respected by the staff,” Taft-Blakely said. “I go to her and say, ‘Hey, Linda,’ and she can usually help me through it.”
But working with the students has been Thurber’s passion, the principal said. Taft-Blakely praised Thurber’s patience, understanding, and ability to work successfully with students with all varieties of learning speeds and abilities.
“She could really bring out the best in kids,” Taft-Blakely said. “She knew when to push, when to ease up and when to push further.”
And she cited Thurber’s work ethic, for example, in teaching the potential downside of modern technology and social media.
“She reads every email that our 5th- and 6th-graders put out so she knows they are doing the right thing,” Taft-Blakely said. “That’s way above and beyond the call of duty, but that’s just who she is.”
Coincidence and love brought Thurber to Vermont. When she was a senior in high school, she met a freshman at the local agricultural college who was studying agricultural science. Four years later, they were wed.
His name is Richard Thurber. Forty-five years later they are still married and co-own the Nor-Dic Farm on the Panton-Addison line, as well as a small trucking company.
Thurber laughed and admitted none of that exactly went according to her initial plan.
“He was the one, apparently. I didn’t know that at the time,” she said. “One thing I was sure of was that I would never marry a farmer and that I would never move to Vermont.”
But she did, happily, and completed her teaching degree at the University of Vermont in 1970. She found work at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury and a niche in its history.
“Mary Hogan actually hired me. I was her last hire,” Thurber said. “That was my claim to fame.”
Family soon trumped career. The Thurbers have four daughters, two of whom teach locally — Sara Thurber, who works at Bridport Central School, and Elizabeth LeBeau, the choral music teacher at Middlebury Union middle and high schools. Karen Thurber owns her own business in Loudon, N.H., and Megan Sergi lives in Beverly, Mass., and is a finance manager for a company in nearby Gloucester.
Thurber mostly stepped away from work outside the home except for a semester stint at a Christian school, although she later traded her expertise for tuition at a Vergennes preschool. Then she became active as a volunteer at Addison Central School and served as its Parent-Teacher Organization president.
In 1983, the ANwSU board, aware of her background and seeing her efforts at ACS, recruited Thurber and another woman with an educational background, Jane Krasnow, to evaluate the possibility of enrichment programs at the union schools.
Thurber said she enjoyed the process, with one exception — a long and in her view unnecessary state test to evaluate whether young pupils were gifted.
“It became very clear to us we didn’t need the test to pick out who was interested and who was not. I mean, it confirmed what we observed. So we just started going into the schools and giving enrichment pieces,” Thurber said.
She described that program as small and experimental, and Thurber worked part-time as an ANwSU consultant until 1985, when she became an employee and offered enrichment at all three union elementary schools and at the Vergennes Union High School middle school. Then Vergennes Union Elementary and Ferrisburgh Central schools hired her, and in 1994 FCS lured her fulltime by adding in the technology piece.
Before then, she said, “I was itinerant, basically.”
Since then, computers have played a large part in her challenge program, in part because programming goes hand-in-hand with math.
“I have quite a few kids doing programming and learning code,” she said. “Everybody was introduced to it, but some kids really took off on it, so they come and work independently with me.”
The concrete nature of programming appeals to the students, Thurber said.
“The majority of kids love it, because it feels real to them, and they can visualize how you can use it later on in life,” she said.
As well as individuals working independently, Thurber also offers regular group units in a variety of disciplines, in the past up to four a year, but now three. This year’s have included focuses on Japan and architecture, for example.
In all, she estimates she works with up to a quarter of the FCS students in her challenge program during each school year, as well as seeing all of them in her computer lab. Thurber finds the two roles overlap well, and FCS hopes to find one person to handle both.
“It works out well having the enrichment person in the building longer because the two mesh pretty nicely,” Thurber said.
The program is not just for the exceptional and gifted, she stressed. Sometimes, teachers and she agree students need to “get them to love coming to class and realizing there’s just so much to learn,” Thurber said.
“You have to love learning. They have to love coming to school,” she said, adding, “So we don’t have a traditional gifted program. We have an enrichment program.”
Thurber described what she has tried to accomplish in a nutshell.
“I think it’s important for kids to have a safe place to make mistakes or be really smart,” she said.
And she described what she sees as her greatest reward, citing, for example, one student who recently learned the value of planning to accomplish his creative vision.
“When I saw the lights go on, I told everybody about it in the school. It just feels so good when you see them realizing learning something new isn’t scary, and it’s OK not to get it right the first time,” Thurber said. “When I used to teach reading and I saw kids all of a sudden get it, you can’t be paid for that.”
Taft-Blakely suspects Thurber has enjoyed that reward repeatedly.
“She’s probably seen a lot of light bulbs go off in her years in Ferrisburgh,” the principal said.
But as much as she has enjoyed her students and colleagues, other rewards and another role await Thurber. Those four daughters have given Thurber 10 grandchildren, half of whom are in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“I had debated about teaching longer, but when I had my 10th grandchild, and five are local and five are not, I said I’m missing out on the kids who are not local,” Thurber said. “And I feel like that’s maybe an important job.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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