Eras end with closing of Wentworth school in Scarborough
SCARBOROUGH — Students and faculty at Wentworth Intermediate School weren't only saying goodbye to their 53-year-old building at their final assembly June 13.
As contractors put the finishing touches on a new two-story intermediate school, a community was also saying goodbye to the school's principal, Anne-Mayre Dexter, who recently announced her retirement after 27 years in the Scarborough School Department.
Dexter was one of the new school's most tenacious advocates.
"I really feel that my career path brought me to that point, where preparing staff for a new type of instruction and preparing a building were partners, and that was my job. And now, I look at it as my job has ended," Dexter said in a recent interview.
Superintendent of Schools George Entwistle announced Tuesday that Wentworth's assistant principal, Kelli Crosby, will be acting principal for the 2014-2015 school year. He said the department was unsuccessful in its search for a new principal who would be up to the challenge of a new school.
As school ended Tuesday, students and staff took time to pay tribute to their old school and retiring principal.
From rough beginnings
Although the new Wentworth building project began for many in late 2011, when a $39 million construction bond was approved, Dexter's colleagues attest that she has been a tireless advocate for the new school throughout her 18-year tenure as principal.
Since 1996, she has spearheaded building committees dedicated initially to renovating, then eventually to building an entirely new school to serve a growing population of students.
Problems with deteriorating conditions and overcrowded classrooms were far from new when Dexter began her quest to improve the aging school in the late 1990s. But a new middle school and an expansion of the high school took precedence in the decade to follow, when a bond for a new intermediate school was shot down in 2006.
But Dexter didn't give up.
"Those of us who know Anne-Mayre know that she will not be defeated," Entwistle said at a recent School Board meeting.
The project's impetus came on a scorching hot day in early September 2010, when asbestos problems prohibited anyone from opening the school's windows, and temperatures inside the building reached the high 90s.
Building Committee Chairman Paul Koziell said his fourth-grade asthmatic daughter became sick. Parents' anger and concern led them to the School Board, where Koziell and 40 others, along with Dexter, came together to form what he called "a stellar building committee."
The group gave the School Department the boost from the community that it needed to move forward, and the bond passed easily the following year.
Goodbye to Dexter
Dexter's colleagues agree that her dedication to the new Wentworth school was second only to her dedication to better serving all student needs throughout her 27 years in the department.
They sung her praises, first as a grant-funded kindergarten instructor, then as an administrator.
"For me, Anne-Mayre has been a terrific colleague, I think of her as being a great leader, and most important she's just a great person," Entwistle said.
Dexter said she was never short on energizing professional challenges.
"I’ve never felt there wasn’t something to grow toward," she said. "I’m constantly learning. Constantly."
As she has grown and developed professionally, so did her plans for the new school, with this month marking her fifth year of dedication to the building project.
Koziell said Dexter's leadership on the needs of the Wentworth community made her input "invaluable."
"She focused on the children, on the staff and what was in the best interest of the kids," he said. "She did a stellar job on this project as far as I’m concerned."
Several of Dexter's colleagues were surprised by her decision to leave just as the project comes to fruition.
"This is her baby, so to speak," School Board and longtime Building Committee member Jackie Perry said.
But perhaps now that the new school is nearly complete, so is Dexter's work.
"The staff are well prepared to move forward, the community is embracing the movement forward, and it's time for a new leader to move the school forward into the next decade," Dexter said.
Joining Crosby as part of the staff shuffle to accommodate the loss of Dexter is John Thurlow, current principal of Blue Point Elementary School, who will become interim assistant principal. Principal Kelly Mullen-Martin of Pleasant Hill Elementary School will oversee both elementary schools in partnership with current administration.
Dexter said she looks forward to spending more quality time with her family, and plans to periodically dip her toes into education.
Her colleagues agreed she will be missed.
"For Wentworth, and for oh-so-many reasons, we will always be indebted to Anne-Mayre," Entwistle said.
New school almost ready
The new 170,000-square-foot facility, which is more than half the size of the high school, is on track to open in time for school this August. Koziell estimated that the project will be several million dollars under budget, assuming no problems in the final construction stages.
As for the old Wentworth, Perry said it will be town down "as quickly as we can get everything out of it," or sometime in early July.
The space will soon be a parking lot with a new road connecting to the middle school and library via Quentin Drive. Playground equipment will be added to the new playground that will soon be built to the right of the new school's entrance.
Part of the building committee's goal was to plan a structure to meet the demands of a growing population, especially since it was already too small when the mostly state-funded middle school opened 17 years ago, Koziell recalled.
"We spent a lot of time planning and saying, let's not just build a school for the sake of building a school, let's build a school that can grow with the community," he said.
The 40 large classrooms at the new school accommodate a few additional students per class, and the school was positioned on the property with room for an expansion, if necessary.
The school also includes classroom and storage space for community services, a partnership that will absorb much of the school's utility costs.
"This is now the cornerstone of the school facilities here in Scarborough," Koziell said.
Several hundred students, faculty and community members gathered in the wood-floor gym at the old Wentworth building for the school's final assembly on June 13, where they got a first look at the school in a slideshow of photos.
Students gasped excitedly at images of the new cafeteria, with a stage and shiny elm benches.
In comparison, the school they sat in looked skeletal; most salvageable materials had already been moved over to the new building.
But colorful words of tribute written in marker from students and teachers covered the walls of the otherwise bleak hallways, giving the school a last colorful breath of life.
Performances from the fifth-grade band and chorus, and slideshows of the school's final year punctuated the assembly. But the highlights were routines by the school's Gym Dandies, and an appearance by the group's directer, former Wentworth gym teacher John Cahill.
As his group left the stage one final time, Cahill said, "I really feel strongly about all of the wonderful things that happened at this school.”