No more back to school: Wiscasset's Steve Whitfield calls it a career after 42 years

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 11:15am

Wiscasset’s Steve Whitfield has worn a tie to work nearly every day of his 42 years in education, first in Wiscasset, then Lewiston.

Last school year, the Martel School principal never wore the same one twice. He has over 200. Ties start conversations with students, including ones who might not speak to him otherwise, Whitfield said Aug. 3 in the kitchen of his and wife Jan’s Water Street home. One day earlier, he spent his last day at the office. He expected to return to drop off paperwork he determined the school should save.

It was the last school year, for the last Lewiston school administrator to still work under a contract that ends mid-August instead of June 30.

Whitfield retired. He still expects to wear ties some, including Sundays at First Congregational Church of Wiscasset and on plane trips. He and Jan, a retired school psychologist, like to dress well, he explained. A flight attendant once told them they'd been voted best dressed.

The couple married 42 years ago, during an eventful series of weeks in 1976. A week after his birthday, he graduated from Colby College in Waterville with a bachelor of arts in history. He got married the next week and, the next day, Wiscasset hired him to teach. In Wiscasset, he worked with and learned from fellow teachers Linda Bleile, now retired as Wiscasset Middle School principal, and Gary Woodcock, Bob Sommers, Bob Stone and Bill Carr.

Whitfield enjoyed a retirement party across the street at daughter Sarah Whitfield's on June 10. "It was quite meaningful, seeing everyone."

As retirees, he and Jan won't travel more, but they will travel differently, he said. No longer will they plan their trips in summer due to school vacation. "Why would you want to leave this beautiful state?" He could see going away in mud season, he said.

Born in Newport, Rhode Island where his father William “Bill” Whitfield was stationed in the Navy, Whitfield moved to Wiscasset at 9, in 1963, when his father bought Marston's Drug Store, later renamed to Whitfield, he added.

Asked for his advice to Wiscasset on education, as a taxpayer and educator, Whitfield said: "I think they need to be very deliberate, and not make any rash decisions, which I'm sure they know, and take into account unintended consequences." For example, he said, "If there was no high school, what would that do in terms of the community's perception of itself?" And when towns combine their school sports teams, each student's chances of playing varsity or getting to be co-captain goes down, Whitfield said.

The Maine Yankee era with large funding for field trips and enrichment has passed, but it doesn't take huge amounts of money to provide a quality education, it takes quality leaders and quality teachers, he said.

Several years ago, a University of Southern Maine study found Martel was an efficient school, Whitfield said. “We were quite proud of that.” USM looked at schools with needy populations, nearly average Maine Education Assessment scores and below average local funding, and could find no other urban elementary school doing well with those parameters, he said.

When the new school year starts, it will be the first one since first grade where he wasn’t going back, as a student, teacher, or administrator, he said. "I think it will be a bittersweet kind of thing." Last school year, he made a list of the things he will and will not miss. "Fortunately, the things I'm going to miss was a longer list."

He'll miss the staff, Martel's excellent discipline – once going 18 months without an out-of-school suspension – and he'll miss the kids' hugs.

The Whitfields plan a retirement trip to Australia in November. They've been before, in the continent's wintertime. This fall’s visit will be warmer, he said.