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After 29 years as North Branford High School’s nurse, Joanne Palmieri, NBHS Class of ‘67, retires at the end of this school year. Joanne has also served as North Branford Public Schools’ nurse supervisor for the past five years. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
On National School Nurses' Day, NBHS principal Todd Stoeffler joined the school community in thanking Joanne Palmieri for 29 years of service and wishing her well on her retirement in June. (Photo courtesy Todd Stoeffler )
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Even before Joanne Palmieri (née McNamara) graduated from North Branford High School (NBHS) in 1967, she knew she wanted to be a nurse.
“I even put ‘going to be a nurse’ in my yearbook,” says Joanne. “I enjoy helping people and making a difference. I’m a caretaker, always have been, so it just fit in with that perfectly. And there were a lot of medical people in my family. My closest aunt was a private duty nurse. She was a big inspiration to me—and she still is!”
What Joanne couldn’t have imagined, as a newly minted NBHS grad, is that 29 years of her nursing career would take place at NBHS, where she’s served as the school’s only nurse since 1989. Now, Joanne is entering her last few weeks of nursing, with plans to retire at the end of this school year.
“It’s such a rewarding job. With my retirement, it’s kind of bittersweet, because I love my job; I have always loved my job, and I’m happy to come to work every day,” says Joanne. “I’m happy to see the kids—they keep you young! It’s fun to see the new styles, new music, what they’re talking about. And they’re very appreciative of the nurse, because I don’t give them grades!”
Joanne’s ties to this building and her support of the town’s school system go back much deeper than her own alumnae status.
“My dad’s name is on the plaque in front of the high school: James T. McNamara. He was on the building committee and the Board of Education when this building was built. I’m very proud of him,” says Joanne. “When I came here, it was brand-new building, built in 1963. I graduated from NBHS, and so did my brother, who’s a teacher, and my sister, who’s a doctor. And both of my children graduated from NBHS, and they both have their master’s degrees. So I am very confident in the North Branford school system—it’s an excellent school system.”
For the past five years, Joanne has also served North Branford Public Schools (NBPS) as the district’s nurse supervisor, overseeing the town’s other school nurses, one at each school building.
“I have such excellent nurses in the school system, it’s not a difficult thing to do,” says Joanne, who chooses to start her day at 6:30 a.m. each morning to get in that extra hour for supervisor responsibilities.
Joanne takes care of the district’s nurse evaluations as well as managing their training and notifications of state and federal health updates, new policies, and legislative changes. She also interviews and maintains the districts’ substitute nurse roster.
Her work for NPS and NBHS makes for a busy day, but one she loves. She even delayed her retirement by several years because of her love for the job.
“I could have retired in 2015, but I didn’t. Even when I was making the decision this year, I was wavering. But I’m looking forward to the new part in my life. My husband and I are going to travel and do things together, so it will be nice,” says Joanne, who’s also a grandmother to two.
Joanne and her husband, Arnold, moved back to North Branford to raise their son, Tony (now an executive with Anthem, Inc.) and daughter, Maria (now an instrumental music teacher), in the home where Joanne grew up. Before Joanne began her career here as a school nurse, she was involved in nursing at hospitals including her work in Wallingford.
“When I first graduated, I worked in pediatrics and emergency room labor and delivery, then I did public health nursing, which was a good backdrop for coming into school nursing. Most of my case load then was maternal and child health and mental health,” says Joanne.
The work was at times intense and led to Joanne taking some time away from the profession. During that period, she became successful in an entirely different arena.
“Before coming to school nursing, I probably changed [nursing] positions every four to five years, because you can get burnt out in hospitals,” says Joanne. “I even took a hiatus from nursing for a while. I wrote and produced television commercials.”
Joanne also nurtured her love of community theater, which continues to this day. She’s a past president of a Cheshire community theater group and has directed several plays, including, about two years ago, the group’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.
In retirement, “I’m going to do some more of that,” says Joanne. “That’s a passion of mine.”
Joanne comes from a family of musically gifted people and shares her love of singing as a member of the North Branford Congregational Church choir. She’s very involved with the church and plans to become even more involved with projects and programs once she retires. Joanne also credits her church connections with helping her find her dream job at NBHS.
“It was Community Day at the high school, and I was working in the church booth. One of the ladies from church told me about it. She was the [NBHS] school nurse before me. She said, ‘You’re a nurse, Joanne, you should put in an application.’ So I did, and I got the job!”
The job has its fun—this time of year, girls will be stopping in to show her pictures of their prom gowns. Joanne also loves being a part of the school “family” and going to games and concerts, because, “I like to see the kids when they’re having fun, not just when they’re sick!” she says.
But it’s also a big responsibility, especially in a school system that has just one nurse per building.
“You never know what’s going to happen in this office, and when it’s going to happen,” says Joanne. “As far as the health care in building, I’m it, and that’s a big responsibility and I take it very seriously.”
In nearly three decades on the job, Joanne’s seen a lot of changes and helped students and staff through some challenging times. One of the more trying school years took place during 2009’s H1N1 flu outbreak, which hit the East Coast hard.
“I had to keep a tally of confirmed cases and send in reports to the state, but that’s the same as with any alerts we get from the state and from [Centers for Disease Control, CDC],” says Joanne. “The CDC and the state Department of Health keeps in contact with any changes and anything we should be looking for.”
Joanne also credits the state for its nurse supervisors and school health conferences and state programs that keep school nurses on top of the latest information concerning health issues such as allergies and new legislation affecting schools and students. One recent change now allows volunteer, trained staff to administer EpiPens to students involved in severe allergic reactions when the nurse is not present.
Among her 29 years at NBHS, Joanne is grateful to acknowledge that she has been able to assist students in need in some dire situations.
“There have been no critical situations yet—knock on wood—but have I called 911? Absolutely,” says Joanne. “But everything has been handled and has had a good outcome, and I want to keep it that way!”
Last week, Principal Todd Stoeffler and the NBHS community honored Joanne on May 9, National School Nurses’ Appreciation Day, by thanking her for her many years of excellent service and wishing her well upon her retirement.
Joanne, in turn, says she is very appreciative of the hundreds of students as well as all of the staff, faculty, and administration she’s worked with at NBHS since 1989, and is honored to have served them.
“I have students of my students; my kids that have graduated; I had their parents—and now, they’re graduating,” says Joanne. “From our Superintendent Scott [Schoonmaker] right through administrators and staff, I feel really proud to say that I worked for this school system, and that I graduated from here, and that my family all went to school here. This school system does a lot for the kids.”
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