Martel Elementary School Principal Stephen Whitfield wears his Martel School tie. After 42 years in education, mostly in Lewiston, Whitfield is retiring. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — The tie Principal Steve Whitfield wore to Martel Elementary School on June 19 was more than a fashion statement.

Martel Elementary School Principal Stephen Whitfield shows details of a favorite tie with images of the school building. After 42 years in education, mostly in Lewiston, he is retiring but he’s keeping his 200-plus ties. “I like my ties,” he said. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

It was one of his favorites, with pictures of the school.

Whitfield saved it all year for the sixth-grade graduation. The promotion ceremony is one of the rewards of his job.

Whitfield, who has worked as a Lewiston principal or assistant principal for 34 years, is retiring. He’s keeping his more than 200 neckties.

“I like my ties,” he said.

Whitfield knows every student and always greets them by name, said Dawn Hartill, the parent of three who went to Martel. Hartill was also on the school’s Parent Teacher Organization for 12 years.

It was her family who gave Whitfield his Martel tie.

Whitfield, 64, grew up in Wiscasset, graduated from Colby College and began teaching seventh and eighth grade at Wiscasset Junior High School.

After becoming an assistant principal while still a Wiscasset teacher, Whitfield started working on his degree in administration, then looked for a principal post.

He was hired as assistant principal at Lewiston Junior High School in 1983.

“We had over 1,000 students and I was the only assistant principal,” Whitfield said. He spent a good amount of time dealing with student discipline issues.

In 1992, he was named Martel’s principal.

“I’ve always believed administrators have to remember where the important work is being done,” Whitfield said.

It is not in the principal’s office, “it’s in the classroom.”

The worst part of being a school principal is seeing children who are hurting, who come from families where there’s abuse, poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, and not having a solution to those problems, other than contacting the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

“That’s tough,” he said.

The rewarding part of the job is being able to help.

Years ago he and the school nurse helped an eighth-grader who was pregnant get support to stay in school. “She was 14 years old,” Whitfield said. Without the help she would have dropped out, he said.

Another perk he’ll miss is birthdays.

Every student gets a card from the principal. During the school year students are called into the principal’s office to get a card and personal greeting. Students with weekend birthdays get called to the office on Fridays.

“Sometimes kids don’t realize why they’re being called up. They think they’re in trouble,” he said. When he asks them what day is Sunday, and they answer it’s their birthday, “you can see the relief on their face,” he said.

In retirement he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 42 years, Jan, and more travel.

But he’ll miss the daily interactions of staff and students.

On his computer screen were pictures of a recent June day when former Martel students graduating from Lewiston High School returned to Martel to meet with students and staff.

He pointed to the picture of one boy who used to be in his office for bad behavior. The boy did well, is graduating and has a bright future. “He came back and wanted to shake my hand,” Whitfield said.

He pointed to a girl in a cap and gown remembering how she used to challenge him to sock contests, the winner was the one with the most outlandish socks. She usually won.

Getting to know students makes a better principal, he said. “You have to make relationships with kids. I got to know them. They got to know me.”

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