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Grace Methodist Nursery School director to retire after 23 years

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For Valley Streamer Diane Panzarino, it’s all about the children.

Throughout her 44-year career in education, working in both public and private schools, she said, their energy and ingenuity have never failed to delight.

“It’s their smiles,” she said, “their enthusiasm, their hugs, their ability to learn and their spontaneity with everything. It’s just gratifying.”

But this summer, after 23 years serving as director of the Grace Methodist Nursery School, Panzarino, now in her 60s, is retiring.

“If I had to sum up my experience here in one word it would be: joy,” she said. “Every day there was an opportunity to experience joy, whether it was with a child, with the parent or with a staff member. I don’t regret a single minute of being here.”

Panzarino had her start in education as a teacher in the Franklin Square School District, where she taught for a decade until she left to go on maternity leave about 30 years ago.

It was around that time that then Grace Methodist Nursery School Director Harriet Cassidy offered her a position. Panzarino initially turned it down, citing the need to spend more time with her infant children, but as they got older, she decided to take a part time job as a music teacher at the school.

After about six years there, Panzarino decided to apply for the director position upon Cassidy’s retirement, and has been there ever since.

As director of a preschool that averages around 150 students per year, Panzarino serves in a variety of roles including curriculum development, training new teachers, managing budgets and working with parents.

“We’ve had some amazing parents going in and out of here for 23 years,” she said, noting that some have had to make immense sacrifices to send their children to Grace Methodist.

Although she is looking forward to traveling and spending more time with her grandchildren, sitting in her half-emptied office, Panzarino said she will miss a great deal about working at the school.

“You’re definitely going to miss me,” quipped her administrative assistant, Grace Porti, whose desk lies across from Panzarino’s and whom she described as both “my right, and my left hand.”

Michele Shipley, who has served as a member of the school’s faculty since her own children were very young, will be taking Panzarino’s place as director come July. The two have been working together for months to ensure a smooth transition.

Panzarino, she said, “has been instrumental in making Grace Methodist the amazing preschool it is, and I’m excited to continue her good work.”