LEWISTON — As school was being dismissed Wednesday, Longley Elementary School Principal Linda St. Andre conducted a meeting while glancing at students outside her front window.

One student with fists up caught her eye, and her concern.

St. Andre stopped the meeting, looked out, then relaxed, saying, “Somebody’s taking care of it.”

Multi-tasking for her is a constant.

“I leave the shades open; they know I’m looking,” St. Andre said with a laugh. “I’ve been known to pop my head out and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ Things quiet down.”

St. Andre, 56, who’s not much taller than 5 feet and seems to have boundless energy and enthusiasm, is retiring.

Four years ago, she was appointed principal of Longley. Superintendent Bill Webster called it the toughest job in the district.

Longley is historically a low-performing school in a neighborhood that’s among the poorest in Maine.

More than 95 percent of the 370 students qualify for free or reduced lunches. Nearly 65 percent are from immigrant or refugee families and are learning to speak English. Most students show up academically behind.

In 2010, the Lewiston School Department accepted a $2 million, three-year federal school improvement grant to make changes at Longley. To get that money, the school had to hire a new principal and half of the faculty had to be changed.

“That was the hand she was dealt,” Webster said. In addition to taking on the most needy students around, “she had to recreate the school from scratch,” he said.

Longley’s test scores today are still far below state averages.

But the bright spots include student growth in math, said Bill Hurwitch, director of the Maine Department of Education’s statewide longitudinal data system. And the attendance average last year was 95.3 percent, higher than the state average of 94.4 percent. “Kids are showing up,” Hurwitch said.

St. Andre has overseen a host of changes at Longley, including more meaningful ways of teaching math and reading, and a new program that teaches students how to behave in school.

“Eighty percent of our kids do just fine,” she said. “Some need intervention and respond. A smaller percentage need intense help.” The numbers are similar to other schools, she said.

Longley also provides students with more after-school tutoring. Two years ago, it was the first school in the district to offer intense, five-week summer school. Last year, two-thirds of Longley students enrolled. “Parents are hugely supportive of the program,” St. Andre said. “Our goal is to stop the regression that happens over the summer.”

Also, more parents are involved in classrooms. At assemblies, students wear shirts indicating the year they’ll graduate from high school and college. On Thursday, kindergarten students’ shirts showed their graduation years of 2026 and 2030.

Students proudly belt out the Longley chant, and end each assembly by yelling together, “Knowledge is power!”

For her work, St. Andre was nominated by the Maine Department of Education in 2012 as a “Champion of Change,” and was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House.

“She’s done an excellent job,” Webster said. The next principal will be “given a solid ship that will sail wonderfully. Linda deserves credit for creating that foundation.”

Reflecting on the past four years, St. Andre said the school “has come a long way when I think back to what we started as a new staff, working with the state on practices considered progressive, learning how to move a school forward with the challenges we have here. I’m proud of the accomplishments.”

During a surprise retirement party teachers gave St. Andre on Wednesday, she was praised as a principal who works long hours and who gives much attention and love to students.

“We love working with you,” school nurse Carol Moitozo said. “We hope your new journey will be filled with grandchildren and memorable moments.”

St. Andre began to cry. “My time at Longley has been the most challenging piece of my career, but the most rewarding,” she said.

She plans to spend more time with her husband, David, and her children and grandchildren. She said she will miss the Longley staff and students.

St. Andre has advice for Kristy Clark, who on July 1 will become the new Longley principal: “Wear flat shoes.”

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Others retiring this month from the Lewiston School Department:

Geiger Elementary School: Special education coordinator Sandra Bixby; kindergarten teacher Joanne Blais; grade three teacher Mike Parker; Title 1 coordinator at Geiger and Martel Pat Kordalski.

Lewiston Middle School: English Language Learner teacher Elizabeth Dulac; special education teacher Judy Howard; librarian Marcia Potter.

Lewiston High School: Special education teacher Jean McPhail; Spanish teacher Jean Roy; French teacher Helene St. Hilaire; ELL teacher Caroline Sample.

McMahon Elementary School: Grade three teacher Louise Henault and Grade one teacher Teri Latlippe.

Montello Elementary School: Grade four teacher Zanada Maleki.


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