GOULDSBORO — Peninsula School Principal Sally Leighton has often had the pleasure of hearing three affirming words.
“You were right.”
Over the course of her 45-year career as an educator, Leighton has had to explain to students why rules exist, telling them they will understand when they’re grown and have their own children.
Sure enough, adult former students have approached her out in the community to say they now understand what she had been trying to tell them.
Although they are adults, they still address her the same way they always did.
“Some of them cannot say, ‘Sally.’ They have to say, ‘Mrs. Leighton,’” she said.
Leighton, who retires June 30, began her career in 1974 as a teacher at the former Gouldsboro Grammar School.
“The kids that I had then are now, in some cases, grandparents of the kids I have here,” she said. “I still call them ‘kids’ even though they’re parents or grandparents.”
After six years at Gouldsboro, she went on to teach English at Sumner Memorial High School. During the approximately 30 years there, she served as a teacher, guidance counselor and principal. She left Sumner to become principal at Mount Desert Island High School, a position she held for five years.
Next she became a teacher at the Peninsula School. Five years later, when former Principal Michael Eastman became superintendent of Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24), Leighton moved into the principal’s spot there.
The longtime Milbridge resident said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to work both as a teacher and an administrator because it has helped her to see how the varied roles work together to create the whole.
“When you’re in that [administrative] position, you understand the limitations they’re under,” she said. “It’s been very interesting to see the different jobs and different perspectives.”
What she has loved is watching all the students grow up and sharing the joy of their achievements.
“It’s just wonderful to be able to have felt like you’re a little teeny part of their lives,” she said. “I have just been very lucky that I’ve been in schools that have this sense of community.”
Leighton said she considered retiring nine years ago, before taking the teaching job at the Peninsula School.
“But then I guess you could say I chickened out,” she said. “I thought, ‘What was I going to do if I didn’t go to school every day?’”
Even though she’s not chickening out now, she said she is still “nervous” about the upcoming change.
“Everybody tells me that they get busy,” she said. “But I’m just not sure I can believe it.”
Still, it will be nice to have more free time, especially in the summer, said Leighton, adding that school administrators work full time year-round.
“I’ve spent many summer days here,” she said, sitting in her office at her desk.
Although she has no specific long-term plans, she and her husband, Bruce, a retired Sumner math teacher, are taking a trip to Alaska in August. She also plans to stay involved as a school substitute and spend time gardening, reading and taking walks.
“I’ve just enjoyed [my work] so much,” she said. “I’m really going to miss it. But it’s time. I’m 71 and it’s time.”