After 37 years, Clifford School principal retires

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PORTLAND — Nathan Clifford Elementary School’s principal for the last 27 years is retiring at the end of the school year.

Marysue Morrison said a variety of factors contributed to the timing of her retirement, including the district’s early retirement incentive, offered earlier this year to reduce salary costs.

Morrison, 59, has spent her career working in the city school system, which hired her at the age of 21 and has employed her for the last 37 years. 

“I’m one of the dinosaurs of the system,” she quipped. 

In addition to the incentive, Morrison said she’s leaving to spend more time with her 86-year-old mother, who lives in Augusta. The death of her 88-year-old father in January compelled Morrison to re-evaluate what was important in her life, she said. 

Much has changed about public education since Morrison was hired in 1972 as a fifth-grade teacher at Baxter Elementary School, which was so crowded that Morrison and another teacher taught their classes in the gymnasium for five years. 

There was no classroom storage, so Morrison used to bring old dynamite boxes that her father brought home from the Department of Transportation for the kids to decorate. 

Morrison was promoted to principal of both Baxter and Clifford in 1982 – a position she held for nine years. At one point, she was the only female principal in the city, but that has changed, too. “Now, it’s almost the opposite,” she said of the predominance of women in the position.

Her career highlight came in 2004, when Clifford School was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its academic progress and for strong test scores earned by it’s socioeconomically diverse population. The U.S. education secretary visited the school and held a round-table discussion with Morrison and others to discuss the means of their success. 

“That was a wonderful honor and remains a great source of pride,” she said. 

Today, the landscape of public education continues to change, both literally and figuratively. Classrooms increasingly rely on technology, while teachers and administrators often play the role of social workers in addition to being educators.

Meanwhile, the Nathan Clifford School is scheduled to be closed at the end of the 2010 school year. Clifford students will be redistricted for the 2011 school year to a new elementary school at 150 Ocean Ave., where the Baxter school, is scheduled to be demolished on Monday. 

“It’s kind of ironic,” she said. “Some things happen for a reason. It just seemed like the right time.”

Morrison, however, will no be sitting on her laurels when she retires. She may, in fact, be selling them. 

In 1986, she started a small business making floral arrangements and gift baskets for special occasions. That job has traditionally stopped in September when school starts.

“I have never been able to do a September wedding,” she said. “I don’t think this (retirement) will hit me until September.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or


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p-cliffordprincipal.jpgPrincipal Marysue Morrison is retiring from Nathan Clifford Elementary School after a 37-year career in Portland schools. (Billings photo)