C.A. Snow School principal retiring after 33 years

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Principal Jeanette Almy beamed her signature bright smile, as she looked around at all of the memory-evoking pictures and the varied collection of toys she has amassed in her office at the C.A. Snow School.

She recalled many of the events and activities that have taken place during her tenure here, first as Special Education director and then as principal of Snow

JEANETTE ALMY — is retiring, as principal of the C.A. Snow School in Fryeburg, effective July 1, 2011. (Ackley Photo)

School.

Mrs. Almy’s letter of resignation to Superintendent of Schools Gary MacDonald and the School Administrative District 72 Board of Directors began, “I am retiring effective July 1, 2011.”

“Boy — I don’t think I’ve ever typed more difficult words than those few,” she said. “Those words carry with them 33 years of pride for being part of our fine school system. I would like to believe that I have offered in no small way meaningful and sustaining contributions. I think back with joy to the boys and girls that I’ve nurtured and mentored through our system — many of them now adults — with children and grandchildren of their own.”

“This district has also nurtured and mentored me through my career,” Mrs. Almy stated. “I am grateful for the opportunity and privilege to have touched so many lives.”

Her own grandchildren, ages four-and-a-half and two years old, are two of the main reasons Mrs. Almy decided to retire now. She said she also wants to be able to enjoy spending time with her husband, Bill Almy, and her 85-year-old mother, Esther Morger, who is moving to Maine from Detroit, where Almy grew up.

“This is my 38th year in public education,” Mrs. Almy said, during an interview at her office April 11. “I’m 60 now, and I’ve got grandbabies.”

Almy’s daughter, Rebecca Infinger, is a speech pathologist at SAD 72’s New Suncook School in Lovell. Her son, Matt, is married to Kylie Card Almy.

Mrs. Almy taught middle school here in 1978, then she served as SAD 72’s Special Education Director from 1979 through 1994. During the 1994-95 school year, she was half-time principal at Snow School, while still performing her duties as Special Education Director as she mentored the next full-time director for that position.

“Earl Cooper was superintendent, when I came here,” Mrs. Almy said. He preceded Dick Card (who is her son Matt’s father-in-law).

“I have ‘gone back to school’ every September, since 1955,” said Mrs. Almy, in her resignation letter. “My ‘school career’ has taken me from inner city Detroit where I attended elementary, middle and high school and was ‘coached’ by my high school guidance counselor who told me that I’d never really amount to much. Those words have had a far-reaching and long-lasting impact on me and my chosen profession. Leaving high school I floundered for a couple of years and took some classes at the city college, Wayne State University. I transferred to the University of Michigan and completed my undergraduate work and received a teaching certificate to teach special education and elementary education. Thus my career/journey began.”

Mrs. Almy said her husband interviewed for her, when they moved to Maine.

“I was hired ‘sight unseen’ in 1978 to teach middle school (it was called junior high back then) special education,” she said. “After complaining about ‘how things were done’ here in Maine, I was offered the opportunity to ‘do it my way’ as the special education director. I loved the challenges, new learning, colleagues I met, and most of all the opportunity to shape the path of special education in MSAD 72.”

During those years, Mrs. Almy said, “I advocated for the needs and rights of youngsters with disabilities. I completed my master’s degree. I supported teachers in both the regular education classrooms and in special education programs as we all struggled to implement the law and ‘do the right thing’…and as I learned, those two characteristics of special education were often in opposition to each other.”

Then, in the summer of 1994, Mrs. Almy said she “craved a change and requested a transfer to an open principal position at the Snow School.”

“Special education had spread me very thin — covering grades K–12 and all the elementary schools,” stated Mrs. Almy. “At that time there were seven schools K–8 plus the Academy and I traveled to all of them! I wanted the opportunity to get closer and have meaningful relationships with a smaller population of children, staff and families than special education allowed me.”

Leaving a workplace that has been a second home to you and people you care about who are like your own family is extremely difficult, Mrs. Almy said.

“I have loved my tenure as principal of the Snow School,” Mrs. Almy stated. “I feel like a fixture there. However, new blood, new ideas and new energy are a good thing. I leave behind a strong, talented and committed staff to carry on the good work. My greatest wish was to be part of building a much-needed new Snow School. When we achieved a #5 State ranking for new school construction, I felt as if I had met that goal. I have complete confidence in this school board, the school administration and our communities to move forward to the plan’s fruition. I would like to believe that I have, in no small way, been a part of making this dream happen.”

Things were a lot different, Mrs. Almy said, when she came here in 1978.

“I have been witness to so much growth and development within our system,” she said. “When I began here in 1978…there were no computers, calculators, photocopy machines or cell phones. We had typewriters (electric if we were lucky), fuzzy purple duplicator copies (carbon paper if we were unlucky), we copied our math problems from the book to the paper in order to solve the problem, no white boards — we used chalk boards, with real chalk and coughed on chalk dust, and we used clunky, black rotary dial phones with no caller I.D., call waiting or messaging devices — either your party answered or they didn’t. Children read from primers (the old see Dick and Jane, under the cherry tree — or maybe it was an apple tree — with their dog Flip). There were very few support staff — I was one of three special education teachers for the entire district school population. Girls still wore dresses to school and had patent leather shoes. The boys wore Nehru jackets and many sported the British invasion hairstyle of the 60s.”

Mrs. Almy said that writing her letter of resignation was “cathartic for me to capture some of the feelings I have regarding this huge step. I will wake up on the first day of school in September, 2011 and say to myself, ‘Who am I if I’m not the Snow School principal? How will I reshape my life and how will I fill the void? Wow, what’s next?’”

Again, Mrs. Almy praised her colleagues, students and their parents for making her time at SAD 72 so very special and memorable.

What will she miss the most?

“Obviously, the kids — they’re very energizing,” Mrs. Almy replied. “And, I’ll miss the camaraderie and collegiality of the people in this building — from the kitchen personnel, to the custodial staff, ed techs, teachers — everybody. This place is like a family. I think we bring out the best in each other.”

“This is the perfect time to step out and let someone else take it to the next level,” Mrs. Almy said. “I think we are poised for great things here, and we need somebody new to come in and take it to that next level. We have strong parent commitment here and a huge amount of generosity from the community when it comes to student needs.”

What will Mrs. Almy miss the least?

“Meetings — I hate meetings,” she said. “I’m a very fidgety person, and I dislike sitting still for very long.”

“As I’ve gotten older — I still have a lot of energy for 60 — but I find I have to choose how I spend my energy more wisely — and I want to spend it with my grandchildren, and taking my dogs for a walk. I have a stack of books I want to read. I love to cook. I can cook again.”

Mrs. Almy said she is also looking forward to writing a children’s book about a horse named Rico who runs away to join the Fryeburg Fair entitled, Rico Runs Away.

Yes, it is difficult to leave a place and the people there for whom you have great affection.

“In my conversations with (Superintendent) Gary MacDonald, I said, ‘What would be different, to wait one more year? What would make it more easy, next year?’”

She truly appreciates the warmth and affection people show her, when they meet outside of school.

“It warms my heart,” Mrs. Almy said. “Everywhere I go, little kids want to hug me, and adults say, ‘Do you remember me?’”

“One of the best pieces of advice I can give others,” said Mrs. Almy, “is to keep a drawer of special letters — create yourself a letter file with warm memories, because you’re going to have some lousy days. I think it’s important to question ourselves. I go back and look at them, like one from a mother of a special ed student of mine at Fryeburg Academy from 1979. I’ll look at different ones and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that was really awesome.’”

Mrs. Almy also remembers special programs, activities and events, all through her 33 years at SAD 72.

“I’ll remember the Pequawket Kids Association, the school construction plans, Veterans’ Day and Grandparents’ Day at Snow School, and one of our teachers, Darcy Gulvin, being named Physical Education Teacher of the Year in Maine,” stated Mrs. Almy. “We’re all part of that. We’re all a team. No one’s alone — we’re all part of a team. All of the good that comes is from a team effort.”

Addressing the school board, Mrs. Almy stated, “I have loved my career and the life I’ve built here in Fryeburg. I have enjoyed and appreciated the support that this school district has given me for 33 years. You have encouraged, challenged, and supported both my career and me. You are the people our towns vote for to provide meaningful educational programs for all of our children. I pray each of you continue to let wisdom, common sense and your moral compass guide you as you make decisions that greatly impact the future of our children and our school district.”

What will be difficult, said Mrs. Almy, is her last Grandparents’ Day as principal of the Snow School.

“It’s my last Grandparents’ Day, on May 27,” Mrs. Almy said, “and when I tell them it’s my last one — that’s going to be tough for me.”

And, how would Mrs. Almy most like to be remembered?

“As I prepare to leave I hope to be remembered as someone who truly cares about our towns’ children and their families,” Mrs. Almy said. “Thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to be part of the fabric of the lives of so many children.”

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