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Carol Gilbert retires; "Reading was always job one"

Carol Gilbert, reading specialist, is among her friends, books. She is retiring after 29 1/2 years of teaching in Hudson. Photo by Margaret A. Ontl

Carol Gilbert knew from childhood she wanted to be in education.

"I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl," said Gilbert. "I was one of those little girls who held school in the back yard. We put on plays including Goldilocks in our garage and I taught Sunday school."

It was the interest in drama that sent Gilbert from her hometown of Beloit to Lawrence College in Appleton.

"I wanted to try it," said Gilbert, who discovered it was education she needed to pursue, so after two years she transferred to UW-Madison.

While at Madison, Gilbert earned a rare internship as a teacher in the Fox Point School District.

After graduation Gilbert taught second grade in Beloit before, landing a job in Monona Grove, (Madison area), where for three years she was part of a team teaching effort in a middle school, teaching fifth grade for a year and sixth grade for two years.

"I had a really great experience," said Gilbert. "It was a wonderful mentorship. I got on a teaching team. We had team planning time, a secretary and secured social studies and science programs. This was practically unheard of in 1968, '69 and '70."

"It was really the beginning of what we do now," continued Gilbert. "I didn't realize at the time how revolutionary it was."

After, her husband Bill, who Carol met in college, graduated from law school, the couple moved to Hudson in 1971 when Bill joined the law firm then of Gwin and Betzler.

"Back then the interview process was much more casual," said Gilbert, who chatted with Maynard Olson, then the principal at E.P. Rock Elementary and Al Oglund, the superintendent. After that, Gilbert took a position at Fourth Street Elementary School teaching third grade.

"I thought it would be fun to go down to a younger grade," said Gilbert. It was the start of a career with the district that would span nearly three decades and have her work under six different principals. After working at Fourth Street for two years, Gilbert took eight years off to raise the couple's four children, Tiffany, Collin, Derek and Megan.

When she returned to the district it was as ½ time Chapter One reading teacher. This set the course for Gilbert to become a reading specialist and to complete her master's degree in that area of education.

"I wanted to do more about curriculum and development," said Gilbert, who after a couple of years at Houlton Elementary School, was moved to the middle school with principal Bill Hickox.

"I had always like middle school students," said Gilbert. "That was a big motivation and it was a good fit for me." Gilbert continued as a reading specialist until 2007 when she was took medical leave of absence.

One of the biggest accomplishments was when Gilbert brought the CRISS program to the middle school and subsequently became a certified CRISS trainer. CRISS stands for Creating Independence through Student owned Strategies. Jerry Dynaski, principal at the time sent Gilbert right to the source -- Kalispell, Mont.-- to learn about the new program. In time, Gilbert's reputation grew and she found herself conducting seminars for area districts.

"The goal is the teach students to become independent learners," said Gilbert. "This is a skill they can use for a lifetime. It is now used in every discipline. When we started it was just used in reading to help students sort out the important information."

"If I had to give parents advice it would be to read, read, read to your children," said Gilbert. "Hold the young ones in your lap and have a family reading time. Turn off your cell phones and your television. Technology is great but we use it as a babysitter. A balanced dose is wonderful."

"When you read you are using your imagination and making a personal connection," said Gilbert. "The more senses you can bring into education the better. Not every child learns the same way. A gift parents can give their children to the let them see them reading.

As the years went by, Gilbert was instrumental in book fairs and teaming up with parent clubs to bring many authors to the middle school as lyceum programs.

"In middle school sometimes the motivation is difficult but it is their last chance to get small group help," said Gilbert.

In October of 2002, Gilbert was diagnosed with a rare disease, Amyloidosis, while it is not cancer, it is treated like one and survival is also rare.

"They couldn't figure out what was wrong," said Gilbert, who was finally diagnosed at Mayo Clinic but was sent to Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Milwaukee for a stem cell transplant in February of 2003. "At the time they told me I had 13 months to live and the transplant was my only chance." By then the disease had attacked her kidneys and her heart.

"I have been extremely lucky," said Gilbert. "My husband has a lot to do with my being here. He did all the research and when we arrived in Milwaukee he had a full notebook completely tabbed and color coded with information and questions."

Gilbert was in Milwaukee for six weeks. She returned to teaching in 2004.

"The first year was difficult," said Gilbert. "I was able to keep teaching, which was a good thing for me. You need distractions." Gilbert continued to teach until 2007, when she underwent chemotherapy which is now available for treatment for her condition.

"I feel extremely fortunate," said Gilbert. "I know the odds were against me." Since her original diagnosis Gilbert has had the chance to travel to Hawaii, Korea and China. Today she has four grandchildren and is busy planning her daughter Megan's wedding.

"I really enjoyed teaching," said Gilbert, who can still recall the little classroom she set up in her parents' yard, gathering all the neighborhood kids for her school. "I miss it."