BY CAROL ROEHM
Linda Culotti, who retired last month after 25 years with Danville District 118, didn’t initially set out to become a teacher.
Looking back, she has her daughter to thank for her 38-year career in pre-kindergarten education.
“I started out in early childhood education as a mother volunteer when my daughter was 3 at Central Christian Church preschool,” Culotti said.
That led to her being asked to teach a class of 4-year-olds at Central Christian, then teaching kindergarten and eventually becoming the preschool director there for nine out of 13 years.
During that time, Culotti returned to school, earning first an associate degree from Danville Junior College and then bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Illinois University.
“It took a lot of years to get my bachelor’s degree, but I graduated in 1988 from EIU,” she said.
Shortly thereafter, Culotti landed her first teaching job with District 118.
After teaching at East Park, McKinley, Edison, Northeast, Lincoln and Meade Park elementary schools as well as at Roselawn Fitness Center when the district rented two classrooms for pre-kindergarten and at the Jackson Building, Culotti ended her career at East Park — where she had been a student in the school’s first eighth-grade class — as the pre-kindergarten program coordinator.
“It’s been very rewarding but sometimes challenging,” she said of her career.
Culotti said she believes one of the biggest changes to occur during her career has been the advances in technology.
“The technology has changed so much,” she said. “We still used ditto machines when I started out.
“The classrooms are using smart boards to augment their lessons for their students, and the students readily use computer themselves,” she added.
“We all are so tied to our computers and other electronic devices that were not around when I first started.”
Culotti said the role of teachers and schools has evolved during the years.
“The expectations of schools have changed,” she said. “Not only do we have to educate, we also have to be a support system.
“I feel that schools are expected to cure the ills of our society,” she added. “Many problems cannot always be remedied by sending the children to school. Our children and families are faced with many challenges today.”
One of Culotti’s favorite memories is a statement a child made when she was putting a record on a record player in her classroom.
“The student said, ‘Ms. Culotti, that sure is a big CD!’”
Culotti also said she was thrilled when she recently received a message on Facebook from a former Central Christian student.
Most of all, though, Culotti said she will remember the students whose lives she touched, which includes the children of former students.
“The memories of the children and families that I have come in contact with throughout the years will always be very special to me,” she said.
In her retirement, Culotti plans to volunteer, work in her yard and spend time with her grandchildren.
Also retiring from East Park at the end of the school year were: Debra Bryant, trainable mentally handicapped teacher, 32 years of service; Debra Collins, learning disabilities resource teacher, 33 years of service; Trudy Hinkle, early childhood special education teacher, 22 years of service; Lutitia McMillan, third-grade teacher, 24 years of service; Angelica Perez, English as a Second Language teacher, 35 years of service; Barbara Sadler, learning disabilities resource teacher, 34 years of service; Beth Shinn, speech language teacher, 15 years of service; Martha Waggoner, READ 180 teacher, 32 years of service; Carolyn Bunch, non-certified staff, 28 years of service; Susan Grimes, teacher assistant, 27 years of service; and Julia Parker, teaching assistant, 11 years of service.
Position: Prekindergarten coordinator at East Park Elementary School
Education: Graduate of Danville High School; associate degree from Danville Junior College; and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Eastern Illinois University.
Experience: Thirty-eight years total as a prekindergarten teacher, a home-based teacher, quality improvement coordinator and the prekindergarten program coordinator, 25 years of which were with District 118 at East Park, McKinley, Edison, Northeast, Lincoln and Meade Park elementary schools, Roselawn Fitness Center when the school district rented two classrooms for prekindergarten and the Jackson Building. She started her career as a mother volunteer at Central Christian Church’s preschool, taught 4-year-olds and kindergartners and was the preschool director for nine years.