Meads spent 33 years in Clintonville
By Bert Lehman
When the final bell rang on the last day of school at Rexford Longfellow Elementary School in Clintonville, it marked the end of Stannye Meads’ 57-year teaching career.
After beginning her teaching career in Louisville, Kentucky, Meads’ teaching journey took her to Illinois, and finally Clintonville in 1990. She has spent the last 33 years teaching kindergarten in the Clintonville School District.
It’s a teaching career that almost wasn’t, because Meads said she originally didn’t want to be a teacher and “fell into it accidently.” Meads said she majored in political science and sociology in college, but after she graduated from college, someone suggested that she think about teaching at a parochial school since she enjoyed working with kids.
“So, I did, and they hired me Johnny-on-the-spot, and I fell in love with it,” Meads said.
She originally started teaching second grade students in Louisville, Kentucky. The next year she taught first grade students.
A move to Illinois took her to a small district that was looking for a kindergarten teacher. She said the district told her that it would hire her if she would obtain a teaching certificate.
“I worked really hard and really fast and got my degree,” Meads said. “I taught in that district and juggled another district at the same time. On my lunch hour I ran between two different districts because kindergarten was only half day. The district I started in merged with another district so it was fulltime kindergarten. In fact, at one point we had triple session. That’s how crowded it was. I stayed there and taught for 21 years, got married, and moved to Wisconsin because my husband was a large animal vet and I’ve been in Clintonville for 33 years.”
While some may shy away from teaching small children for that many years, Meads relished the role.
Joys of kindergarten
“Kindergarten allows me to use, what I call my creative juices,” Meads said. “You can be a little more spontaneous and flexible in kindergarten.”
She added that seeing the academic growth young kids achieve over the course of a year is rewarding.
“To watch them leave reading, doing mathematical equations, I think the growth spurt is probably more noticeable with the little ones, Meads said. “And they’re really fun. I love all the students, but there’s just something about the little ones.”
Meads said three years ago it would have been a difficult decision to retire, but she said she knows now is the right time to retire.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for me, but it’s the perfect timing for a new teacher to go to a new classroom in a new building,” Meads said. “That’s probably the main reason. … And this has been a phenomenal (class)room, I’ve loved this room. This has just been kind of a home, and now that they’re shutting it down, it’s time to let somebody take over.”
Elementary school children will attend classes in the former Clintonville Middle School which is currently being renovated into the elementary school.
While she admitted retirement is a little “scary,” she still plans to be a substitute teacher for kindergarten and first grade in the district. She also plans to volunteer for different things.
Looking back at her teaching career in the Clintonville School District, Meads said she has many fond memories. One of those is being the first elementary school teacher to win the Clintonville Educator of the Year award. She won the award three years ago, and said the award was always won by a high school teacher prior to that.
Another good memory she takes with her is when she was originally hired by the Clintonville School District. She said at the time she had more than 20 years of teaching experience and a masters degree, and most districts weren’t interested in hiring a teacher with that much experience and education because of the salary it commands. She said she appreciates the Clintonville School District willing hire her.
Other memories include the celebration Rexford Longfellow Elementary School staff and children held in honor of her 50th year in teaching.
Also, Mark Zachow, when he was a member of the Clintonville Police Department, spending one day a month for 25 years to read to and talk to her students.
“That was a very special one,” she said.
And of course, she has many fond memories of all the children she has taught over the years, and the staff she has worked with.
“I have felt very fortunate because when I started teaching here in Clintonville, I was one of three teachers who didn’t live in Clintonville, so, you were kind of not on the in-circle,” she said. “All the people in the community have kind of snuggled me in. I have felt a real part of this community. They just have always been there for me, so that has been very special.”
She added, “It’s all been rewarding. It was a real rude awakening to me to move to Wisconsin, to a little farmhouse after living near Chicago. Then teaching in a district where I knew no one, and just having it all work.”
When asked what she will miss the most, Meads said, “The children and the staff. And the ability to hopefully feel like you’ve made some sort of difference.”
Meads said she doesn’t have any big plans for her retirement. She currently lives on 13 acres of land, so she said she will have more time to work on that. She said she also has family in Kentucky and Maryland she can visit.
“One thing that I’d love to do is go back and visit the school and friends in Illinois where I taught,” she said. “Some of those students still keep in touch.”
Some of her former Clintonville students also keep in touch.
“How special is that to have a kid just sit down and take time to write to you,” she said.