After 35 years, Frani’s Preschool in Madison Park is retiring, along with its beloved matriarch, Frani Carlson.
Friends and neighbors are planning Carlson’s retirement party, which will take place on Sunday, June 3, at 3 p.m. at McGilvra Elementary School, 1617 38th Ave. E. The hundreds of guests they anticipate is only one testament to the impact Carlson has had on her community.
“When people heard that she was retiring, everyone wanted to do something to celebrate and honor her,” Carlson’s daughter, Christine Carlson, said. “So many people are helping out: her former students, preschool parents, her friends, family and many other people in the Madison Park community.”
Laurie Schuchart, whose three children attended Frani’s Preschool and whose grandchild now attends, said the conversation about Carlson’s retirement party began almost a year ago.
“It’s hard to catch everybody she’s touched over the years,” Schuchart explained. “There are so many people interested in doing this for her — even people whose children haven’t even attended. It’s really magical.”
The legacy continues
Schuchart’s eldest son, Casey Schuchart, was a student in 1982. He had many things to say about Carlson and how she made his preschool days special.
“I can still remember being in her class despite being 4 years old, going on 5. It was almost as if I was going to school where the instructor was more of a motherly figure,” Casey Schuchart said. His own eldest son is a student this year. “Frani’s is as warming and loving a place to be today as it was 30 years ago, when I was there.”
Frani Carlson has three children of her own: Erik, Britt and Christine. Because the school has been operated out of Carlson’s home for the last 35 years, it has always been a part of her children’s lives.
“The preschool was in our house, so I would play with the preschoolers on days I didn’t have school,” Christine Carlson said. “As I got older, I would act as a teacher’s assistant in the afternoon and during summer programs. My mom is the reason I became a teacher.”
Britt and Christine Carlson now run their own school, Little Feet Preschool, and credit their mother for their inspiration. The community also senses Carlson’s influence on, and now through, her children.
“We’re really blessed because Frani’s daughters’ school is very much like what their mother does,” Schuchart said.
Casey Schuchart echoed his mother’s thoughts, saying there is “comfort in the fact that Frani is leaving behind her legacy with her daughters.”
More than a classroom
Of the many activities Frani Carlson carries out with her students each year, Schuchart said one of the community’s favorites is holiday crafts.
“For Valentine’s Day, the kids in school will paint huge hearts and march up and down the retail section, putting the hearts on the stores,” Schuchart said. “On St. Patrick’s Day, it was big shamrocks. Everyone in the community is touched by her school.”
That “Frani tradition” is also Christine Carlson’s favorite. “My mother and her assistant teachers hang [the holiday crafts] on all the storefronts in Madison Park, all the way up to Arboretum Court [at Lake Washington Boulevard East]. Then her students visit the business where their [heart, pumpkin or shamrock] is hanging,” she said. “My sister Britt and I now do that with our Little Feet Preschool students.”
Frani Carlson said approximately 750 children have attended her preschool over the years. While most of the students come from the Madison Park and Washington Park neighborhoods, some have come from Capitol Hill, Mount Baker and surrounding areas.
Because other preschools have continued to open in the area, Carlson said her current students will attend six different pre-K programs in the fall now that she is retiring.
“There are so many wonderful preschools and wonderful teachers,” Christine Carlson agreed, while highlighting her mother as very patient in the profession. “She also has this amazing ability of making you feel special, like you are the most important person in the world.”
Added Casey Schuchart: “I think Frani’s is so special for me because I know my son is having such a similar experience to what I had. I know that those steps that the kids sit on for the annual photo are the same steps I sat on 30 years ago with my friends, taking the same picture.”
Casey Schuchart also treasures the fact that he is still close with some of the friends he made in her class.
“My teachers and I feel that developing strong social and emotional skills in our students is the most important thing we do,” Frani Carlson said. She described her preschoolers as “bright, curious and often hilarious, little people.”
Love and humility
Even in retirement, Frani Carlson plans to stay involved with the students at her daughters’ school. “I will teach specific lessons, read my favorite children’s books and act as a substitute teacher when my daughters need me,” she said.
At the same time, one thing Carlson looks forward to in retirement is “simply being lazy.
“I am retiring now because I am old!” she said. “I have decided to give ‘lazy’ a try. Some of my time will be spent having fun with my two granddaughters. It is also my plan to steal my husband, Carl, away from his busy work schedule and take him on some trips.”
Her friends are gearing up for the upcoming celebration. “It’s just going to be all about Frani,” Schuchart said. “It’s going to have the feel of a get-together at the preschool: Everybody’s bringing a snack or dish; there are going to be class pictures and toasts. The kids will be there, people from out of town will be coming and so will the merchants.”
Casey Schuchart added, “I recognize what an incredible career Fran has had, and everyone retires! It’s time for her to have time for herself and her family.”
The concept of family is one that Frani Carlson has demonstrated to her community through more than her teaching. “She raises your whole family, and she crosses all borders,” Schuchart said.
Christine Carlson further explained her mother’s “above and beyond” character, describing the constant support of her students even after they graduate. Frani Carlson sends congratulatory notes when her students graduate from high school and “is never too busy to attend a former student’s play or ballet recital,” Christine Carlson said.
Frani Carlson described the time spent with her children in the classroom as “treasured mornings,” which evidences the unconditional love she said she has for them.
What will she miss most about not having Frani’s Preschool? “This is an easy question to answer! I will miss meeting the new, absolutely wonderful parents and children that enter the classroom door each year. It has truly been an honor getting to know each and every one of them,” Frani Carlson said.
The feeling is mutual. “Frani creates a friendship that I can’t even explain,” Schuchart said. “She’s smart and very kind and projects that unto her students. She lets kids be little. She’s not trying to get them into Harvard, but she teaches them to look both ways, to be a good friend and to learn how to be caring.”
To learn more about Frani Carlson’s celebration, visit the Frani Carlson Retirement Party page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/people/Frani-Carlson-Retirement-Party/100003226421589.