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BREWER, Maine — Lester Young, who did his student teaching at Brewer Middle School 47 years ago, said this week it’s only fitting that he end his long career in education in the same community.
Over the last five decades he has been a teacher, principal, superintendent, business manager, and is now the owner’s rep for the nearly complete Brewer Community School and director of finance for Brewer School Department. He’s set to retire at the end of the month.
“You go round and round and I’ve always ended up back in Brewer,” he said Tuesday while standing inside the new pre-K-through-eighth-grade school on Parkway South. “It’s a great city.”
The west Old Town native graduated from Old Town High School in 1960 and took his first teaching job in Vanceboro in 1964, the same year he graduated from the University of Maine.
“I had about 40 kids and there were three teachers,” he recalled of his years on the Canadian border teaching high school math and social studies, and coaching baseball and basketball. “It was a great job. I left there because the high school closed.”
Young went straight to Glenburn to work as a seventh-grade teacher and became a teaching principal during his second year there, he said. “The year after that, I became the full-time principal.”
Young earned his master’s degree from UMaine in 1975 and went on to earn his superintendent’s certification in 1982. He spent a dozen years in Glenburn before the Brewer School Department lured him away to serve as principal of Pendleton Street School and State Street School. He also served as principal at Capri Street School and Washington Street School over the next decade before becoming the full-time principal at State Street School in 1989, a job that required he work part time as the school department’s business manager.
For the 1995-96 school year, Young was the SAD 63 superintendent serving the communities of Holden, Eddington and Clifton.
“I was having some vision problems at the time and I couldn’t really drive, and in SAD 63 you had to drive a lot,” he said.
“I came back to Brewer for my final year before I retired,” Young recalled, a smile spreading across his face as he said the word “retired.” He was retired for about a year and a half and lived in Florida.
He returned from the Sunshine State in November 1999 and took a part-time job working two days a week for Brewer as the school department’s business manager.
“It evolved into a full-time part-time job,” Young said. “The most I worked was 4½ days a week.”
“These are my retirement years,” he said. “I’ve been retired since 1999.”
Young has worked under six superintendents over the last 47 years and said education has changed tremendously, especially in the areas of school and teacher accountability.
“It’s much more public, in terms of school performance, and I think it’s put a lot more pressure on people,” he said. “It’s become much more political, [with] politicians having a lot more say in what happens in school.”
On the other hand, a number of specialized programs have emerged for students with special needs, and “that’s a big improvement. I think education is better now.”
Students also have changed, he said. When Young started teaching, kindergarten was playtime and “now kindergarten students learn to read and do math. They do academics,” he said, adding that pre-kindergarten programs were unheard of in the past.
“As far as I am concerned, the earlier you get kids into school, the better off they are,” Young said. “Early intervention is the key to how they do later on.”
Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee said he could not say enough about Young’s contributions to education.
“He has given his life to this school department,” he said Wednesday. “If you talk to anyone who works here, they will tell you he’s so kind, dedicated, hard working and bright. He has a memory like a steel trap.”
Lee said Young will be missed greatly by school department staff.
For the last two years, Young has been handing over his school finance duties to business manager Gretchen Gardner, and has spent much of his time making daily decisions about change orders and other construction details with the new school.
He said Tuesday that he wasn’t about to retire — again — until it was complete.
The keys to the school were turned over to Young last week and his last official day on the job is June 30. In November, Young married Elementary Principal Janet McIntosh, who also is retiring at the end of the school year.
When asked what kept him working in education for so long, Young easily answered, “I love working with the kids and I like being around people.
“It’s kind of emotional when you think back” over the last 47 years, he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of great people. It’s the people who make the job, and if you’re successful, it’s because of the people you work with.”