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SCARBOROUGH — Come November, the town will welcome five new School Board members.
But residents will also say goodbye to one familiar public servant.
Jacquelyn Perry has served on the board for the better part of the past 40 years. She’s termed out again at the end of this year, but said in an Oct. 22 interview that, after 32 years, she’s ready to pass the baton for the last time.
“It’s time for some younger people to take over,” said Perry, who turned 81 in August.
When she was first elected in 1976, Perry, then 40, was motivated to run for a seat to create a contest on what used to only be a five-person board.
“There was only one candidate … (and) I have always felt better with a contested race,” she said. “It gives the people choices.”
At the time, she was teaching in Portland, finishing up her master’s degree at the University of Southern Maine and officiating basketball.
“It was a busy year,” Perry said with a laugh while chatting over a cup of black coffee at one of her favorite local breakfast spots.
While she sipped, Perry flipped through a small, black day planner, reading aloud. At noon, she had a Communications Committee meeting. Then she’ll be busy for three days with meetings for the Maine School Board Association, where she serves on the board of directors.
But a packed schedule, which Perry noted took much more time and commitment than one night every two weeks, was not enough to deter her from running again.
And again, and again, and again.
What kept her coming back, Perry said, was “inspiration.”
“Things over the years have happened and made moments where I’ve felt I could either be inspired myself or inspire others,” she said.
Although she’s watched the town and School Department change over the years, specifically “their infrastructure,” Perry said her priorities have generally remained the same: negotiating competitive salaries for the teachers and “putting the kids first.”
But Perry said she also attributes a great deal of her success and long tenure on the board to her ability to “listen to everyone,” regardless of whether their opinions aligned with hers.
Board Chairwoman Mary Starr said Oct. 22 that Perry is “not afraid to share her opinion, and will always listen when anyone disagrees with her.”
“In fact, if someone disagrees with her positions, she will invite them to coffee to meet and discuss things face to face,” Starr said.
“I don’t think I ever went into a meeting with my mind made up about anything,” Perry said. “I like a good discussion. Nothing ever gets done if everybody agrees.”
That’s the advice she said she’d like to give to the 15 candidates running for seats on the board following the recall of three members in a special election last May. The last year, Perry said, was the most challenging of her 32 years on the panel.
“I’ve never in all of my years seen or experienced the animosity that has gone on in our town in the last year,” she said. “… You’ve got to listen. .. Just because you disagree doesn’t make you enemies.”
That’s not the reason Perry decided this would be her last year. Rather, she made the decision last summer.
“I find that my energy level is not what it used to be. If the meeting goes beyond 9:30 I’m yawning,” she said with a laugh. “… It was just time.”
Just two weeks before the Nov. 6 election, Perry said she encourages voters to elect candidates who are speaking about education and those who want to “look forward and move forward.”
Friends and colleagues held a celebration to honor Perry’s service to the town and schools Oct. 21.
Kelly Murphy served for several years with Perry on the Wentworth Building Committee and for six years on the School Board from 2011-2017, but she’s known her much longer.
“I also graduated from Scarborough schools, so she was on the board for most of my K-12 education,” Murphy said Oct. 22. “She’s the epitome of a public servant and deserves to be recognized for her dedication to the children of Scarborough.”
Town Councilor Shawn Babine during an Oct. 17 meeting said there aren’t a lot of people who have done what Perry’s done, calling her years of service to the town “incredible.”
Starr, who called Perry a “friend and mentor,” said the town is planning to dedicate a plaque to the longtime public servant at Town Hall. The local Kiwanis Club has also named a scholarship after her.
“(Perry) cares so deeply for our students and our staff,” Starr said. “I learned so much from her vast experience. … We are so fortunate to have had her knowledge and wisdom on this board for four decades.”
Perry said she was “overwhelmed” by the love and appreciation she received at the party in her honor.
“(The past 41 years) have all been really rewarding,” she said. “I’ve had a good run.”
Longtime School Board member Jackie Perry with former and present board members at an Oct. 21 celebration of her 32 years on the board. Back row from left are Leanne Kazilionis, Kelly Murphy, Donna Beeley, Jodi Shea, Bob Mitchell, Mary Starr, Dave Benneman, Cari Lyford, Chris Brownsey and Hillory Durgin. In the front row are Camy Barrantes, Terri Messer, Perry, Annalee Rosenblatt and Shawn Babine.
Assistant Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore, at left, was in her first year teaching in Scarborough in 1967 when Jackie Perry was first elected to the School Board.