May 7, 2007

Retiring from Delano Elementary school: 67 years of experience and dedication

By Jen Bakken
Staff Writer

When fourth grader Raechel Olson handed a note to Delano Elementary School teacher Cindy Krattenmaker April 24, the situation represented more than just an exchange of a permission slip.

In a way, it brought the 35-year second grade teaching career of Krattenmaker full circle.

Thirty-seven years ago, during Krattenmaker’s first year of teaching in Delano, the long, blonde-haired girl in Krattenmaker’s classroom was not Olson, obviously, but Olson’s mother, Shely (Wetter) Hiller. Sporting the same blonde locks her daughter now has, Hiller occupied a desk in Krattenmaker’s inaugural second grade class.

That was then, when Mrs. Krattenmaker was still Ms. Smidt. Today, Krattenmaker is in her second year, as a basic skills teacher at the elementary school. Until June 1, that is. That day will be the last day of teaching for Krattenmaker, who announced her retirement at the April school board meeting.

Thirty-seven years of teaching experience is a lot for the Delano School Board to replace. But the number of teaching years being lost after this school year is actually much larger. Thirty years larger, to be exact.

Coinciding with Krattenmaker’s retirement is the retirement of Jane Shanks, who has taught alongside Krattenmaker as a second grade and special education teacher since 1977. Between Krattenmaker and Shanks, 67 years of teaching experience and dedication will be retiring from DES.

Two careers, many years, many changes

In 1970, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was 36 cents, and it was during this year that Cindy Krattenmaker began her teaching career at DES.

“I remember when I interviewed for the position, I had never owned a car of my own and had to take a bus,” she recalled.

After much planning, and a nearly two-hour ride from Morris, Krattemaker stepped off the bus and stepped into Delano. As luck would have it, an acquaintance happened to be in town.

“He was at the gas station, getting gas, near where the bus dropped me off and offered to drive me to Elm Street to the high school, otherwise I would have had to walk that mile or so,” she said.

Once she completed the first interview at the high school, a second interview was necessary, as was a walk to the old elementary building, which is now the community education building.

Krattenmaker was then asked to walk back to the high school, and this is where she was, finally, offered the choice of teaching, kindergarten, second, or third grade.

“I chose second (grade) and I never looked back,” she beamed with pride.

Shortly thereafter, Krattenmaker and her husband, John, were able to find a place to rent across the alley from the old elementary building.

“It was the upper level of a home,” she said. “The house is still there. We rented it for $55 per month, furnished.”

In 1977, the price for a gallon of regular gas had risen to 62 cents, and it had been seven years since Krattenmaker first stepped into Delano. This was the year that Shanks joined the teaching staff at DES in the special education department.

Teachers in this department work schedules on rotation, spending four years teaching special education, followed by two years in the classroom as a second grade teacher.

“It’s been nice to be able to do both,” Shanks said.

Krattenmaker and Shanks each began their lengthy careers in the old elementary building, and both teachers have seen many changes over the years.

Krattenmaker giggled while remembering her first year of teaching when, midway through the year, women teachers were allowed to wear pantsuits, even remembering purchasing those first few pantsuits. She also recalls when, due to over- crowding, the high school and junior high students had to attend school on split shifts.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same, because now, we are looking at over-crowding again,” she said.

With just as many memories from the old elementary building, Shanks talked about the special education classroom moving to different rooms throughout the school as the student population increased.

“Eventually, we (special education) ended up in a basement locker room, we used an old shower stall as a teaching station . . . you can imagine the noise level, and we were sure ready for the new elementary building,” Shanks said with a grin.

It’s obvious that more than just gas prices have changed since the ‘70s; society, itself, has changed in numerous ways.

“These days, we are clicking all those remotes, and that’s something we didn’t have before,” Krattenmaker commented.

While she doesn’t feel all the video games have made society better, she does feel that there are aspects of technology that have had a positive impact, such as being able to find information readily on the Internet. However, she doesn’t think the students, themselves, have changed much.

“They (students) need to know that someone cares about them – that has always stayed the same, but they aren’t as patient or as willing to wait as they use to be . . . with the age of information, they are used to everything being at their fingertips, yet they still have that sweetness inside and they are still delightful to work with,” she said.

Krattenmaker said the amount of volunteers and parent involvement has increased tremendously since the ‘70s, but quickly added, “However, as long as I have been in Delano, there has always been tremendous parental support for education . . . again, the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Krattenmaker and Shanks, with their decades of teaching, have also experienced changes in the educational system.

Shanks feels teaching is much harder now than when she first began her career, because there are more laws within special education that create more paper work. She also said new testing for students has put a lot of pressure on classroom teachers and everyone involved.

Krattenmaker added, “The things we are teaching now, in elementary, are things that used to be taught in junior high. It’s just amazing, and these young minds are just ready to take it all in.”

Although, there may have been many changes during the course of their teaching careers with society, school facilities, parent involvement, curriculum, staff, and with students, there have been as many, if not more, wonderful memories they hold near and dear to their hearts.

Krattenmaker became nostalgic while reminiscing about Christmas tree cutting trips the teachers used to make. They did this for several years while in the old elementary building. While cutting a tree to put in each classroom, the teachers would also cut a tree for their own homes.

“Afterwards, everyone would come to our little furnished apartment for chili, then that evolved into the teachers taking canoe trips in the summer,” Krattenmaker said.

With tears in her eyes, Shanks spoke of the special bond she’s been able to have with students, and admits it’s been hard for her when those students move up, from the elementary school to the middle school.

Modesty is very apparent when speaking with Shanks and Krattenmaker, and so is the appreciation they have for their teaching colleagues.

Krattenmaker said the second grade staff has always been great and supportive. In the two years she has been teaching basic skills, she has been able to meet more staff in other grade levels and said, “They (the staff) are all great. It’s been great to work with them.”

Shanks voiced her appreciation by adding that the teachers at DES are dedicated and driven to do the best they can.

“When I first applied for a position here, I hadn’t intended on staying this many years, but because of the great teachers, I never left,” Shanks said.

The teachers and staff at DES reciprocate those feelings of appreciation for Krattenmaker and Shanks.

Second grade teacher Char Sorenson feels Krattenmaker is a teacher who is devoted to her students.

“She does what needs to be done to help children achieve, she has served Delano’s students and families with her dedication, professionalism, and caring, and she will be deeply missed in our building,” Sorenson said.

Nancy Wetter, an administrative assistant at DES, added, “She is an exceptional teacher. She combined a gentle touch with a firm resolution to help every student she worked with attain their highest potential. Her wealth of experience is a tremendous asset to our school district and she will be sorely missed.”

Fellow special education teacher Cindy Briesemeister holds Shanks in high regard, and considers her an inspiration, mentor, role model, and an exemplary teacher.

“Throughout her career, she made time to put herself in leadership roles to improve the direction and instruction in education. Above all is her ability to positively touch lives,” Briesemeister said.

Sorenson added, “During her almost 30 years of teaching, she has been a wonderful teacher and leader.”

Delano Elementary School Principal Darren Schuler feels both Krattenmaker and Shanks have used their teaching careers to positively impact the elementary school in many ways.

“We have been blessed to have them in our school,” Schuler said. “We will miss them greatly, and we wish them the best in retirement.”

DES will be honoring these well-respected teachers with a retirement party Thursday, May 10 at B’s on the River.

In her retirement Krattenmaker said she, of course, always has a list of projects, but plans to spend more time at the lake place at Lake Minnewaska she shares with John, who is also retiring in May.

“In the old years, I’d be out there skiing, but John tells me I’m going to be fishing now instead,” she chuckled.

The Krattenmakers live in Montrose, and have two adult children, John Ryan and Breanne. While she talks about how it’ll be nice to be able to travel if they want to, she admits this time is bittersweet.

“I will miss teaching and might do some subbing and volunteering, because I dearly love education,” she said with the same sincerity in her eyes that countless students must have seen throughout her career.

Shanks’ thoughts regarding her retirement are also bittersweet and stir many emotions in this woman, who obviously loves her job.

She resides in Buffalo with her husband, Ed, who retired in 2006 from Becker School District, where he was an industrial arts teacher. The couple has two adult children, Ben and Claire. They plan to do a lot of traveling in their retirement, including a six-week trip to Alaska this summer.

Again, with tears in her eyes, Shanks expressed how much she will miss the students, “When I need a kid-fix, I’ll come back and sub. I’m looking forward to retirement but it is hard to leave.”

Then her modesty appeared, once more, when she added, “One thing teachers never seem to have enough of is . . . time. Every lesson you teach, you think . . . if you had more time, you could have made it better. You always think of ways you could have improved for the benefit of the students.”

With decades of dedicating themselves to Delano Elementary School and the community, it’s safe to say Krattenmaker and Shanks have made a positive impact – with no more time needed.

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