Cranston teachers reflect on long careers
Dedication, devotion, patience, a sense of humor and a good immune system. All highly regarded and necessary job skills when you are a teacher. And, when you have been teaching elementary students for 47 years like Kathleen Perry, you put these skills to good use when interacting with students, families, co-workers and the greater community.
Starting her career as Ms. Brannon in 1970 at the former Valentine Almy School, she moved over to the now closed Pettaconsett School on Pontiac Avenue and has been at Stadium Elementary School since 1977.
Perry's influence has been felt by many students throughout the district over her long tenure. Christie (Garceau) Watts had her as a teacher in 1987 as a third-grader.
"I would cry every day before school. She would bring me inside and comfort me. She would make me feel safe at school. She would read to us every day after lunch. Charlotte’s Web, James and the Giant Peach and The Trumpet of the Swan were some of my favorites. When I did my student teaching at Stadium, while not in her classroom, she was always helpful and supportive, a great resource for me. I still see her out and about in Cranston, and she always asks for my family and my two brothers whom she also taught,” she said.
Perry’s former parents also have a great fondness for her.
"I absolutely love Mrs. Perry. I remember how she made sure they knew their times tables and believe that's one of the main reasons Megan is in geometry in ninth grade. Her shoes and her glasses were always on point too, and she is always kind and has a smile for everyone," said Cathryn Nota, whose daughter Megan was a student.
Megan shared her own memories as well.
“If we did good during the week we'd get to go to the back of the class and yell ‘we are awesome’ or something and that was always fun and a confidence boost,” she said. Shelley Fusco’s daughter Kailey had her for third grade in the 2007-08 school year.
“OMG!! She is the best!!! I could never put into words how wonderful that woman is. My kids [along with every other kid] love her!! She can be having a conversation with you and a student will come up to her and start talking, she puts her hand up as if to say ‘wait’ and doesn't have to say another word and they actually stop talking. They respect her so much. Every year she puts into her lessons the leprechaun trap and the kids have to complete their project at home using pullies, levers, etc., and then they bring them in and leave them overnight the night before St Patrick's Day. You should see the mess that the leprechaun makes. He's never been caught but he’s jumped out the window leaving a trail behind him. It's the best day when you hear the kids go into her classroom. I loved that when Kailey had her, we [Kailey, Domenic and myself] would snuggle up on her bed each night to get the parent/child reading in and we would read the Magic Tree House Books. That gave us so many awesome moments,” she said.
During Perry’s time at Stadium, she has formed a team working closely with Marie Lupino and Sandra Sabetta. Lupino is a lifelong Cranston student.
“I went all through Cranston Public Schools and graduated from Cranston West. I taught 23 years at St. Mary's Elementary School in Cranston and the last 17 years at Stadium,” she said.
Sabetta also has a long history with Cranston Public Schools.
“I went all through Cranston Public Schools and graduated from Cranston East. I taught in the classroom for 14 years and have been a reading specialist/consultant at Stadium for the last 16 years,” she said.
Sabetta was acknowledged in November with the Golden Apple Award for excellence in teaching.
Together, they have 117 years of teaching experience. To say they have seen it all is putting it mildly.
“Times have changed, society has changed, but students really haven’t,” said Perry.
“They want to learn, they like to learn, it is the methods in which we teach them that have to change,” said Lupino.
Technology plays a great role in the changing face of education today. Kids are not afraid of technology; they use it every day. “Children nowadays are smarter,
“By working as a team [the whole school], we are able to be stronger teachers. We are locked into date driven instruction; we teach to the Common Core,” said Sabetta.
Perry was insistent about the importance of relating with the students.
“We form a connection to the children in the classroom that can never be replaced with technology,” she said.
One thing that has not changed over the years is the need to be in touch with families.
“We practice ‘old school’ communication. We send notes, we will call, we do everything we can to keep parents/families/community in the know,” said Lupino.
As times change, so do the demands on students.
“A school day is more rigorous now, there is not as much downtime, there are so many pulls on kids’ time,” said Perry.
All three of them agree on the issue of homework. It should not introduce anything new, but it is meant to be a review of the day’s work, it is a support. Children should be doing 10 minutes per grade.
PBIS (positive behavior intervention and supports) are used at Stadium.
“They are a set of expectations, that we use and the children rise to them. They are expected to sit and do their work. We use more interaction, we recognize that differentiation instruction is key,” said Perry.
Perry’s principal for the past five years, Cheri Sacco, appreciates everything she has done over the years.
“Mrs. Perry is a dedicated professional who comes in every day with a smile and determination to make a difference for each and every student. This is an impressive feat when the demands on educators are so high. Kathy cares about each and every child and has a determination to make sure they reach their potential academically and personally. She also has a kind way when reaching out to her families. She makes connections each day at dismissal and makes sure she follows up with parents and guardians. This home connection helps improve the children's success. Of course, we know that Mrs. Perry is number one on the seniority list, but you certainly would never know it by her fashionable wardrobe or her high energy level. During her prep time every single day, she makes her way around the building to check on teachers and see if they would like a cup of coffee. No matter what new strategies or techniques come down the pike, Kathy is willing to make the shift and try new things. It is a real pleasure to work with Mrs. Perry every day,” Sacco said.
Perry has also worked closely with several superintendents over her 47-year tenure. Peter Nero, former Cranston superintendent from 2009-2012, remembers Perry from years ago.
"We sat on a curriculum writing committee together. Our sons took piano lessons from the same instructor. She is simply outstanding; they simply don't make them like that anymore," he said.
Dr. Judith Lundsten, who was superintendent from 2012-2015, has wonderful memories of Kathy.
"I've known Kathy for at least 15 to 20 years. I never taught in the same building but worked with her in my position as curriculum director, assistant sup and superintendent. I know as a teacher we were on some committees. Kathy Perry is a dedicated teacher who is incredibly kind and thoughtful with her colleagues and students. When I think about Kathy, one word that comes to mind is “welcoming.”
Perry, who says she is nowhere close to retiring, knows when that day will be, however.
"The day I wake up and say I am going to 'work' is the day I know it is time to step down," she said.