This year has turned out to be a year of major changes for Andover, not the least of which was the announcement of a number of retirements of long-serving employees of the Andover Elementary/Middle School. Principal Jane Slayton, Administrative Assistant Gail Parenteau, and classroom teachers Holly Gagne, Lynn Tiede, and Michelle Stanhope are all leaving as of June. Victor Stewart, who passed away recently, was also planning to retire this year. Another long-term employee who is scheduled to retire in June is Robin Heins, Business Administrator for the Superintendent’s Office.
Interviews were conducted by e-mail, due to the in-person restrictions necessitated by the pandemic. None of the prospective retirees could have imagined under what circumstances they would end their final year of service in the Andover School District. As with graduating eighth graders, these professionals were cheated out of all the final interpersonal interactions and special events that would have normally marked the end of their time at the school.
The following narratives are based on answers to questions posed to each retiree. Jane Slayton also wrote a special tribute to Vic Stewart.
Jane Slayton, Principal, 23 years
Jane describes herself as having been the “proud principal” at AE/MS, as in proud to have been trusted with the very big job of running the school. She feels she was there to “support, nurture, cultivate, guide, teach, laugh, push, encourage, evaluate, share, and a million other tasks. It is the best job in the world!”
Additionally, she said she enjoyed being at the school every day “because of the people. I am lucky to work with the very best teachers, students, and families. We are one team working together. I will miss my AE/MS family more than anything. We are truly a community of learners. AE/MS has been my life for 23 years.”
Jane’s vision for the future of AE/MS is that it continues to be “a welcoming and safe place for students. I see AE/MS students thriving, learning, and giving back to their community into the future.
“AE/MS is not about the building or the materials. AE/MS is all about the people, the relationships, and the community-building. Keeping that as a focus will always make AE/MS a special place. Andover is a special place and will continue to do the right things for their school system.”
Asked what she would like to say to the students, past, present, and future, Principal Slayton offered this statement: “I would say thank you to the students of the past and present. Thank you for letting me share your school days, and thank you for all you taught me over the years. I will leave AE/MS with the best memories ever!
“Students of the future are following in the footsteps of the students before them. Learn from them and follow their examples. Be true to yourself and never forget AE/MS is your home. I love following the successes of our students long after they leave AE/MS. I also love that our students return to AE/MS and give back to their communities. I love seeing AE/MS students on the School Board, working as firefighters and police, volunteering in the school, coaching in the community, and being wonderful parents for the next generation.”
Principal Slayton’s long-time Administrative Assistant Gail Parenteau is also retiring. When asked about their time working together, she called her “Saint Gail of the Office,” “amazing,” “a friend and partner,” and said that not only is Gail dedicated to the school, but she is the “heart and soul of AE/MS.” Gail was on the hiring committee that chose her as the new principal years ago.
Jane lauded Gail’s other qualities in describing her activities outside of work. “I admire Gail as I watch her give back to her community. After a long day at school, she can be found cooking and serving at a local soup kitchen. During the holidays, she works between donors and families in need and helps make holidays happy for all. Gail has a heart of gold and is one of the best parts of AE/MS!”
They used to joke about how they should write a book, but admitted they never had time. “Maybe we do have time to write a book now. It would definitely be a bestseller!”
Jane does not have any set plans for retirement outside of some work and making time for outdoor activities such as running, hiking, kayaking, and traveling, and enjoying family and friends. In closing, she states that she has “been a school administrator since 1980 and I am looking forward to having less responsibility, working part-time, and spending more time exploring life.”
Gail Parenteau, Administrative Assistant, 35 years
Gail has been responsible for the daily front office operations, which included assisting the principal and other school staff, communications with students, parents, visitors, and community members, among numerous other duties. She said that “the office was a busy place all day long!”
When asked what she loved most about her time at AE/MS, she said “I love meeting the new groups of kindergarten students in the fall, and in a blink of an eye they are graduating from eighth grade. It is wonderful to see them grow up and to see what they accomplish at AE/MS. It is even more heartening to see them become adults and watch their own children become part of the AE/MS family.
“Over the past 35 years, getting to know all the students and their families has brought me such joy. There have been so many memorable moments with all the people I have worked with, all of whom hold a very special place in my heart and have given me many long-lasting memories.”
About Jane Slayton, Gail reminisced that she was on the committee that hired her as a new principal 23 years ago. They knew as soon as they interviewed her that “she was the one we wanted to lead the way, and AE/MS has never looked back.”
She said that Jane is “kind to the children,” and that “she truly has the students’ best interest at heart, and it shows. The students love Jane and all she has done for the school. We all owe Jane a debt of gratitude for all the hours she has put in to AE/MS and how wonderful our school is. Jane is a wonderful leader, but then again AE/MS has the best staff and one I am so glad to have been part of.”
When asked about her vision for the future of AE/MS, she said that the Andover School District is made up of a “wonderful group of hardworking people who all have the same goal: to keep AE/MS the best it can be.” She said their one-time motto says it all: “Soaring To Be the Best We Can Be.”
To the students of the past she says, “I am so thankful to have known you and to have watched you grow up and become the wonderful people you are today.” To the students she is leaving behind, she says “study hard, and I will be back to visit you in the fall, I hope.” To all students she expressed that “you have all brought me great joy, and I thank you for this.”
Gail’s retirement plans are simple. She plans to enjoy her family, traveling, good books, biking, walking, gardening, volunteering, and most of all to “get up when I want to.”
Holly Gagne, Special Education Teacher, 27 years
Currently, Holly has been working with students from kindergarten through the fourth grade, but at one point she worked with all grades. She described her work as having “the honor of working with students requiring specialized instruction,” as well as their therapists, other classroom teachers, and para-educators. About AE/MS and the Andover community in general, she feels that they “have created an atmosphere where students can learn and flourish. There is much shared in a very supportive environment. I hope this is able to continue and grow.”
For all the students she is leaving behind, her wishes are for them to “have fun. Be open to new adventures and learning experiences. Show kindness whenever you can. And always, always, have a good book close at hand.”
Holly had many words of praise for Principal Slayton. She said that she “has been a constant, steady presence these past 20-plus years. She has done so much for AE/MS, but I think her shining star is the way she has blended the school and town together into a wonderful learning community. Jane has created many opportunities over the years for the two to blend together, sharing skills and teaching each other. There is a strong sense of acceptance felt by each group.”
About Gail Parenteau, she also referred to her as “Saint Gail.” Their school “motto” is to ask Gail when in doubt. “She can rattle off needed addresses and phone numbers from memory, tell us where to look for specific supplies, and organize breakfast for 400 in 30 minutes.”
For retirement, Holly said she isn’t sure what she will do. These are “uncertain times.” Working part-time in a small shop is a possibility, but mostly she has “two beautiful granddaughters who are looking forward to spending more time with their Grandma.”
Lynn Tiede, Special Education Teacher, 23 years
In her role as a middle school special education teacher, Lynn said what she most loved was “working with students who are struggling and helping them become stronger learners; and the staff — they are the greatest!” Her wish for AE/MS is for it to continue its strong partnership with the community “because without that community support, we would not have seen the success we have experienced over the years.”
When asked about what she would say to her students, she said her goal has “always been to teach students a good work ethic that would prepare them to be successful community members throughout their lives. I know I could be tough and had high expectations for them, but I wanted them always to be happy and to feel good about themselves in school so that they could become anything they set their minds to.”
She would also like to thank the Andover community for being so supportive of her as a teacher and “for giving me the chance to work with your children over the past 23 years. The friendships and memories that have been made while at AE/MS will always be cherished memories for me.”
Lynn’s memories about working with Jane Slayton as the Principal of AE/MS are very complimentary. She said that they “have shared some wonderful experiences over the years” and that Jane always gave her good advice and support. “Her friendship is one that I will cherish for years to come.”
About Gail Parenteau, she said that “Gail is one in a million. Her giving to others through support and encouragement have always been something I could rely on to get me through my school day. Oh! the laughs we have had over the years, of which many still bring tears to my eyes. She has helped me over the years become a better person, parent, and teacher just by always giving me support and guidance.”
Some of the other memories include a “cruise to Nova Scotia, fairy dust in bathrooms, very early morning Parent Breakfasts, Grandparents Thanksgiving, Saturday Night Live Christmas video, and the conversations that have always brought me back to reality.”
Her retirement plans include lots of relaxation. She will work part-time closer to home, “do some traveling, and I will hopefully be taking my photography to the next level. My goal is to sell my photos in a unique way through craft fairs and online.”
Michelle Stanhope, Math Teacher, 15 years
Michelle has taught middle school math at AE/MS for 15 years, and prior to that she taught math for seven years at Newfound Memorial Middle School. When she retires, she will have been teaching math for 22 years.
During her time at AE/MS she not only taught math, but organized the annual Math Night, tutored students, helped to organize many dances at which she was a chaperone and DJ, coached the Andover One Wheelers and basketball, mentored prospective teachers, and served on many committees aimed at helping AE/MS “grow as a community.”
For Michelle, AE/MS is a “special little school.” She enjoyed and will miss many aspects of what she experienced there, from the “caring, loving, and family-oriented staff members and students,” to the collaborative nature of the teachers in coming up with “fun activities that will get our school and community together (parents breakfast, Veteran’s Day Assembly, Grandparent’s Thanksgiving, Math Night, Art Shows, band/chorus recitals, SHARE Day).” She said she “truly loves the people who make this place a great place to work” and will “miss everything about AE/MS.” Return visits are definitely in her plans.
Growing as a community and keeping traditions is her vision for AE/MS. To her past students she said that she cherishes the memories of students returning to share their lives and stay connected. For her current students: “This sure has been an interesting year! I feel like my time with you has been cut short due to the pandemic. We are all in this together, and I will make sure that at some point, I will visit AE/MS next year to say good-bye in person. I really hope that you stay in touch with me, and always remember to work hard and never give up!
“Always remember to set your goals high. You can make a difference if you try. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.” For the future students of AE/MS, words of encouragement include to “strive for the best and always remember that the only obstacle you see is when you take your eyes off the goal. Reach for the stars!”
Michelle has many fond memories of her time working with Principal Slayton, including the times they chaperoned dances and field trips, Zumba in the gym, student activities, Secret Santa gifts, challenging physical plant problems, working weekends, and birthday celebrations. But most importantly, she “loved working for Jane. She always allowed me to be the teacher I wanted to be. She was always supportive and open-minded and always pushed me to be the best educator I could be. I could always count on her to help out whenever needed. She will be missed in our AE/MS community.”
Gail Parenteau will be remembered as being “so kind, happy, easy to talk with. Honestly, she runs that school.” The list of everything she does is very long. Michelle loved being able to sit in her office talking about their kids, Maine, the school kids, and many other topics. Like her, Gail has roots in Maine and is hoping she will come to visit her.
For retirement, Michelle plans to move back to her home in Downeast Maine. Her son Riley will be starting college in the fall, so she will help him prepare. While she doesn’t have a “set plan” for retirement, she is “glad to be moving back home to Maine to enjoy the sights and smells of the ocean that I have so greatly missed,” and helping her husband on his lobster boat. She may even do some substitute teaching because she loves the classroom.
Vic Stewart, Head Custodian, 8 years
AE/MS Principal Jane Slayton wrote the following tribute:
Vic Stewart was a key figure at Andover Elementary/Middle School for the past eight years. Vic could be counted on to be at school by 5:30 AM and have the building ready for students and staff members. In the winter, he would have the classrooms warm and the walkways shoveled. He would be outside by 7:30 AM to welcome parents driving their children to school, and he’d wave to the buses.
Students knew they could go to Mr. Stewart and he would retrieve balls on the roof without complaining. He’d re-adjust swings on the playground and fix the gaga pit. He was there at lunchtime to help with clean-up. He was just always there!
Our school community was devastated when Vic passed away during the first weekend that schools in New Hampshire were closed for remote learning. It was very difficult for us to not be together as a school community to mourn Vic’s passing. Vic was very much looking forward to his retirement next month. He had lots of plans for hunting and family. We are so sad he never got to enjoy his well-deserved retirement.
Vic was a friend to all at AE/MS. He is missed.
Robin Heins, SAU Business Administrator, 19 years
By her own account, Robin started as a receptionist and worked her way up to her current position. She will miss everyone she has worked with, many for more than 30 years. “Wonderful folks.”
She believes that “nothing is impossible if you work hard, can laugh at yourself, and care about other people.”
About Jane Slayton, she said that she “is an outstanding person and principal.” They have shared many memories. Her take on Gail Parenteau is that she is “the face of AE/MS.” When she leaves she’ll be taking her “historical knowledge with her.”
Her retirement plans include spending time with her grandchildren, reading books that she has been waiting for time to read, and not setting the alarm at night.