The couple has a list of household projects, as well as a bucket list, to tackle after their joint retirement next month.
Mike and Sandi Armbruster have a hard time going out in public without one of them being recognized by a former student. That’s what happens when you and your spouse each have worked more than 30 years for Orange County Public Schools.
The Armbrusters have had long and successful careers with OCPS — a total of 68 years — and both are finishing these careers at Orange Technical College when they retire in June. They just took different career paths to get there.
Sandi Armbruster has been with OTC-Westside Campus for 35 years. She taught business education programs in the same classroom at the Story Road campus for 30 years and her last five years have been spent onsite at West Orange High School as a career specialist.
She introduces students to Westside’s dual-enrollment program, which allows students to attend high school for half a day and Westside for the other half for college credit.
Mike Armbruster is leaving his 33-year OCPS career as associate superintendent for career and technical education, a role he assumed seven years ago after many years as a high school principal at three schools.
He has worked out of the Ronald Blocker Educational Leadership Center in downtown Orlando for five years and is responsible for all of Orange County’s post-secondary and secondary career programs for middle-schoolers through adults.
Both educators said they feel they have made a difference in the lives of students.
Sandi Armbruster said it’s fulfilling “when I see a kid gain confidence in something that they were scared to even try (and they) explain and get excited … about something they’ve learned. At that moment, when they’ve mastered something.”
“Sometimes it’s as simple as a thank-you card,” Mike Armbruster said. “It’s the way that people respond when they see you. They go out of their way to say hello instead of ducking their head, they introduce you to their parents.”
Mike Armbruster recalled one student who contacted him years later to say thank you.
“I had one young man when I was a teacher at Westside,” he said. “It was one of the kids from the neighborhood, and he was a really nice kid. I got him a job at Cypress Creek Country Club. … I said, you can’t mess up this job. … No other kid will get a chance if you mess this up.”
Years later, Mike Armbruster received a phone call from him.
“I want you to know I never messed up that job,” the now-grown man told him. “I want you to know that I’m a big super(intendant) at a golf course in Atlanta. … I want to thank you.”
PATH TO TEACHING
Sandi Armbruster had wanted to be a teacher since she was little and lived across the street from a business education teacher. She thought that sounded like an interesting career choice, so she worked hard to achieve it.
She taught various business education courses for 30 years, all in the same classroom. Since 2015, she has been in an office at WOHS.
“Mike had come into CTE (Career Technical Education) and was changing the face of it,” she said. “There weren’t these opportunities when he came in for dual-enrollment. … Now every school has a person like me, and we have students waiting to apply for our programs. … Now they have the opportunities to gain skills or have careers or go to college. It’s not an either or anymore.”
“It’s not your granddaddy’s vocational school,” Mike Armbruster said.
His path to education was different. After he had been the general manager of West Orange Country Club for more than three years, one of the members, Walt Cobb, said he was starting a new program at Westside for golf course maintenance and asked if he knew of anyone interested in teaching it.
“I ended up going to talk to him myself and left the country club to get into education,” Mike Armbruster said. “I had wanted to get into education. I originally was going to college to be an English teacher.”
Mike Armbruster, who played soccer as a senior at WOHS, returned to the school in 1988 as the team’s coach. This sparked his desire to lead at the high school level.
He became the assistant principal at WOHS in 1994 and the principal in 2000. Four years later, he opened Ocoee High School as principal, and six years later he became principal of University High.
His career took a turn in 2013 when he accepted his current position.
“And now he’s my boss,” Sandi Armbruster said.
“Now, for eight hours a day, I’m her boss,” he said with a laugh.
“I do think more so than any other profession, you can’t always see what someone’s going to become or what effect you have on someone,” Sandi Armbruster said of teachers. “They might be able to have that career because you got them in that post-secondary course. … You don’t know what influence you have.”
“You can be a nudge in their journey,” Mike Armbruster said. “You’re hoping to change their life for the better. … Teachers touch the future,” Mike Armbruster said. “You get to inspire kids to explore the world they didn’t even know existed.”
He said it’s his hope that all of his former students felt like they were the most important person on campus. Sandi Armbruster said she hopes she encouraged her students to try something they otherwise wouldn’t have tried.
Both have made deep and lasting friendships with educators through the years.
“You never forget those times,” Mike Armbruster said. “You’re in the trenches with them. … Educators are a unique fraternity because they are, for the vast majority, people people. You can’t stand in front of kids every day and teach if you don’t like people.”
Keeping in touch with former students and building adult relationships also has been important to him. He has served as marriage officiant for close to 20 couples who once were his students. He gets together annually with a group from 2007. And he has hired several to teach at his schools.
Last week, he received a text from a former student now living in Hawaii who wanted to share a photo of her baby. That’s the kind of lasting impression he makes on them.
Sandi Armbruster’s role is different, and when she sees former students, they usually are at their place of employment. All are eager to reach out and say hello.
“Neither one of us honestly in all of years have had a bad experience with a former student,” Mike Armbruster said. “It’s always been positive. I think that’s a testament to us.”
THE NEXT PHASE
Once their retirements are official — hers is June 12 and his is June 30 — they have two lists they want to tackle: household projects and a bucket list. Since COVID-19 is restricting their travel plans for now, they have the time to devote to working on projects at their home in Winter Garden. One of them is to build a raised-bed garden.
Their daughter, Jennifer Armbruster, is getting married next May to her fiancée, Sarah Shulbank-Smith, so the Armbrusters are excited to travel frequently to Philadelphia and get involved in the wedding planning.
“We spent a lot of years, we spent a lot of time with other people’s kids,” Sandi Armbruster said, “and now we want to spend as much time as we can with our child and family and friends.”