Teachers ready to explore life outside classroom

Published May 3, 2007

Each year, Hernando County schools lose excellent teachers through retirement. Among those leaving this year are Susan Cannoy and Aimee Stratton at Westside Elementary and Tony Bruno at the Star Alternative Education Center.

Cannoy and her husband are heading to Tennessee to join family and spend more time with her 1-year-old granddaughter. She said she won't think about working again - or even volunteering - for at least a year.

"I have a beautiful craft room and a wood shop in my new home, and we're going to catch up on projects, " she said.

Cannoy, has been at Westside since the walls went up, and actually watched that happen in the summer of 1972. The second-grade teacher at the old Brooksville Elementary longed to work with first-graders, and she got her wish.

"With first-graders, you can see the light bulb switch on, " she said. "And they melt you with those big, expressive eyes."

Cannoy, a Pinellas County native, and her husband had property in Hernando County. They had considered making Hernando their home, and she said that after being interviewed by then-superintendent of schools Mitchell Black, she was captivated.

"He was a perfect Southern gentleman, and I knew this was for me, " she said.

Her biggest challenge as a teacher has been watching families change. Families are busier, and more parents are working. Cannoy thinks family involvement has decreased as a result. She thinks all concerned have to do their best to deal with the problem.

Even though she told co-workers for years that she would be at Westside till the walls came down, she thinks she's making the right move now.

"I was 2001 county Teacher of the Year. I've taught brothers and sisters and children of my original students. I've worked hard here. Now, there's something else I'm supposed to do, and I have to find out what, " Cannoy said.

Tony Bruno, a wood shop guru at the Star Center, feels the same. He has other work to do, and no one would say he hasn't worked hard. A union plumber for many years in Long Island, he also served as a volunteer firefighter there.

He came to Hernando County in the early 1980s, thinking he could contribute something to young people. He loves working with kids who have had trouble making solid decisions, and that's where he thinks he has been able to make an impact.

He took the wood shop job when the Star Education Center opened 16 years ago and has been there ever since.

Bruno's shop walls are papered with awards, certificates and news clippings about his accomplishments, but he waves that away.

"I love the kids - all of them, " he said.

Hernando County firefighter Tom Joiner was one of Bruno's students. Now, about to be married, he calls Bruno his "second father" and has asked the teacher to stand up with Joiner's dad at the wedding.

"Coming here to Star was the best decision I ever made, " Bruno said. "I can see the difference I make."

Stratton is an inclusion teacher, which means she works with first- and second-graders who need special attention or help in the classroom.

"My first year of teaching, I was ready to quit. But the second year, it just clicked. One kid yelled, 'Oh, I get it now!' and that did it for me. You help kids be somebody - they get excited about writing, and they adore reading. That's all I've needed."

And that's what has fulfilled Stratton for 46 years - here, in Pompano Beach and in California. She says she has had a lot of help along the way.

"There have been so many freckles of inspiration and excitement, " she said. "I've always wanted to make school a place (students) want to come, a place where there's peace."

Stratton has taught first grade all the way up to eighth grade. She feels she has met her goals.

"It's like seeing your kid grow up, " she said. "They're all special, and they are all different."

Her husband, Barney, who retired a couple of years ago, helped her decide it was time to depart. Stratton said Barney completely remodeled the house. Now he wants to hit the road in an RV.

The couple have a daughter and son, and grandchildren, in California and Indiana, as well as friends in New York.

Stratton said they plan to head north when school is over and then play it by ear.