By FRED KRONER
Before Carol Shallenberger became a principal in the Mahomet-Seymour school district 10 years ago, she was a principal figure in the reading development of students in the district.
When Shallenberger started her tenure at Sangamon School, in 1996, it was as a reading specialist.
She will retire at the end of this month after a decade as principal at Middletown, though she split her time this year between there and Sangamon School.
“The overriding memory I have is her dedication to ensure that every child she worked with would leave as a confident and successful reader,” said former M-S assistant superintendent Linda Sloat, who worked with Shallenberger on some of her initiatives.
Lori Henson was a colleague of Shallenberger’s for six years at Sangamon School. Henson, who is currently finishing her 30th year as an educator, is now a reading specialist in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“She is, by far, the best educator I’ve ever worked with,” Henson said. “She is super bright and her expertise is unbelievable.
“She not only mentored me, but also other teachers. She was on the cutting edge of the best practices and brought resources to the school.”
Angie Pagel, who is currently a reading specialist at Sangamon, said those occurrences happened on a routine basis.
“She is so knowledgeable with the current research and what is working and gets it in the hands of the classroom teachers.” Pagel said.
Prior to the summer of 2003, Shallenberger worked with Henson, now-retired reading specialist Shirley Casey and then-Sangamon principal Mark Cabutti to get a grant for a summer reading program.
“No (public) library has the early readers that lower-performing students needed to practice on,” Sloat said. “They worked out an exchange program with the (public) library for books that might not be carried. It was a cooperative effort between the library and Sangamon.”
The bottom line, Sloat said, is that the young students had access to books to read during the summer months.
“It’s important for kids to read in the summer or we would be starting back (to school) three to four months from where we were (when the previous school year ended),” Sloat said.
Cabutti was familiar with Shallenberger prior to each of them gaining employment at Sangamon School.
“She was a reading specialist at Yankee Ridge School (in Urbana) in 1993-94 when I was a brand new principal,” Cabutti said. “She did a really nice job, is extremely knowledgeable about the reading process and has a terrific work ethic.”
Two years later, Cabutti relocated to Mahomet as the Sangamon School principal.
Shortly thereafter, he said, “We had a reading opening and I was thrilled she was interested,” Cabutti said. “She brought the same skills to Sangamon, good leadership.
“Her instructional leadership I’d rank up at the top of her skillset.”
Pagel can vouch for Shallenberger’s mentoring skills.
“She had a wealth of knowledge and I relied on her expertise with some of my readers,” Pagel said. “She was constantly giving me ideas.
“I relied on her for my professional development.”
Sloat said Shallenberger was instrumental, whether working with other teachers or with students.
“She is a literacy expert and her passion is staff and teacher development,” said Sloat, who was on the committee to hire Shallenberger as principal. “She was one of our reading recovery-trained teachers. She spearheaded the movement and helped work with teachers to further their knowledge,”
Henson said Shallenberger’s commitment never wavered.
“If we were adopting a new writing program, she’d help teach the teachers,” Henson said. “She helped the teachers learn to be better.”
Shallenberger’s efforts weren’t based on the possibility of receiving plaudits or recognition.
“She didn’t want or need credit,” Henson said. “She quietly did her work.”
Henson, who has worked in Las Cruces for seven years, has fond memories of her time in the M-S district.
“Carol inspired me,” Henson said. “I use a lot of what I learned in Mahomet from Carol, and through the UI (training program).”
Henson wasn’t originally a reading specialist. She was a kindergarten teacher for three years at Middletown and taught second grade at M-S for one year.
“I didn’t know her before I came to Sangamon,” Henson said, “but I knew she was highly regarded.
“It was a dream for me to work and learn from someone like her.
“She was an incredible leader and expected a lot, but nothing that she wouldn’t put into it herself.”
Shallenberger had a special knack, according to Sloat, for following through and showing tenacity.
“It’s very easy to start something,” Sloat said, “but very hard to keep it moving.
“Carol’s strength is never giving up on a child. She knew how far she could challenge a child and still have the child feel successful. She had great success helping some of our lowest readers become successful readers. I appreciated the work she did.”
Cabutti believes Shallenberger’s attitude contributed to her success.
“She is a good teammate, with a very calm personality,” he said. “She is a reflective thinker and a very good listener.
“She made decisions in the interests of the students.”
Education has been a way of life for Shallenberger and her husband, Tom.
He is a former teacher and coach in the M-S district and retired last June after nine years as principal at Fisher High School and 33 years overall as an educator.
Pagel enjoyed her association with Carol Shallenberger.
“She’s a lifelong learner who absolutely knows her stuff and wants to help as many as she can become lifelong readers,” Pagel said.