When Jo Gronley retires this year, she’ll end a long career that has created a following of adoring parents and former students who range from first-graders to college students.
The grandmotherly kindergarten teacher’s legacy in Scottsdale goes back to the late 1970s, but she started as an educator in 1951.
"She doesn’t just put an emphasis on academics in kindergarten. She wants it to be a loving environment where children learn to love school," said Candi Chamberlin, whose son Alex was in Gronley’s class at Cheyenne Traditional School. "It’s their first experience in school and she is just like having your grandmother there."
At 75, Gronley is pulling herself away from full-time teaching, but will continue to substitute in Scottsdale, as she’s never been able to stay out of a classroom.
"I love what I do," she said. "I have such mixed emotions about leaving."
Parents organized an open house last week to say goodbye to Gronley, who will leave after school ends May 28.
Gronley’s age doesn’t show in the classroom, as she holds a strong command over her quiet, uniformed students. Her style of teaching fits Cheyenne’s traditional philosophy, as she focuses on direct instruction, leading all student activities.
She’s especially interested in developmental readiness, and tries to tailor her teaching to each student’s needs.
"I love working with children and watching them grow," Gronley said. "I love watching them develop and seeing how they blossom."
Parents had overwhelmingly positive things to say about her.
Karen and Glen Gianiorio had four children attend her class, and a fifth would have next year.
"Every time there’s a teachers’ day or a mothers’ day or something, all four of our kids will insist we get flowers and want to buy her a gift," Glen Gianiorio said.
Chamberlin said her son had a great year with Gronley, and while he’s in third grade now, he still visits his former teacher.
"She takes each child and just gently nudges them and makes them do their very best, and at the end of the year, out of all the kindergarten classes, hers is most advanced," Chamberlin said.
During her many years of teaching, one of Gronley’s concerns has been parents pushing young children too hard. It’s important to let them develop at their own pace, she said.
Principal Mario Ventura said that in his two years at Cheyenne, he’s noticed Gronley’s strong following and dedication to teaching that will not disappear with her retirement.
"We’re going to miss her, and I know that somehow or another she’ll still be involved in education even if she’s not part of our teacher force," he said.
"I can’t say enough about her," she said. "Every child should have a Mrs. Gronley to start school."