Friday, May 27, 2022

McAfee’s positive leadership a significant legacy lost for Windham

Former Windham High School Principal and
community champion Deb McAfee passed
away from cancer on May 18. She will be
remembered as a tireless advocate for
students and a reliable volunteer for
charitable causes in Windham.
By Ed Pierce and Andrew Wing

Former Windham High School Principal Deb McAfee would often tell students that “The only thing you take with you when you’re gone is what you leave behind” and that quote seems to best sum up her life and 38-year career as an educator before she passed away from cancer on May 18.

Devoted to her community and always encouraging the best from her students, McAfee leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership that will not be forgotten by those who knew her and generations to come.

She grew up in Portland and earned degrees from the University of Maine Farmington and the University of Southern Maine. Her first teaching job was at the Maine Youth Center, now called the Long Creek Youth Development Center. She later taught at Mahoney Middle School and became an assistant principal at Mountain Valley, Medomak Valley and Waterville High School.

In 1990, McAfee was named as the principal at Medomak Valley High and joined Windham High School as principal for the 1996-1997 school year. She served as Windham principal for 14 years, stepping down in 2010 to undergo treatment for cancer before returning in the fall of 2011 as the school’s assistant principal and held that position for seven years before retiring in 2018.

RSU 14 Superintendent Chris Howell said McAfee played a significant role in the development and construction of Windham High as principal.

“Completing a renovation/addition of a school while it is in session is a very difficult task to complete. In addition to the organizational skills that are required to keep classes going during construction, there is also a need to coordinate the safety needs of a school in the middle of a construction site,” he said. “I doubt that the public is aware of the number of hours that it took for Deb to coordinate all of the moving pieces during the construction of Windham High School.”

Of all the things Howell says he learned from McAfee, showing up and being present for student activities and games means the most to him.

“Deb was always in attendance at Windham High School games and activities. She loved bragging about the achievements of her students, and you could frequently find the latest Portland Press Herald, or The Windham Eagle article taped to her door. Beyond students, Deb had a love for taking care of the individuals that she worked with. Her appreciation might appear as a small gift in your mailbox or a kind email or note. Deb will ultimately be remembered for her generosity of time and resources to the people that she worked with and the students that she served.”

Windham High Assistant Principal Phil Rossetti remains in awe of McAfee’s ability to connect with everyone.

“Deb was present for everything, and she knew every student, parent, community member. She knew that our school was the center of the community and she wanted it to serve that purpose,” he said. When the school went through renovations, she made the auditorium a major focus of the project.”

According to Rossetti, McAfee pushed her colleagues at WHS to all be the best persons and educators possible.

“I personally learned the value of community in the work we do. Education takes a community partnership which was evidenced in Deb’s work,” he said. “I hope that we can all take a minute and reflect on how we can give back to our community in honor of Deb.”

Marge Govoni, who served with McAfee on Windham’s Human Services Advisory Committee, said Deb’s drive to help others was enormous.

“She cared for and about everyone, no matter the age, or gender,” Govoni said. “She wanted to help everyone, and she was the kindest individual I ever met. If you needed anyone to step up to help, Deb was your person. There is no one story that speaks to her commitment when she decided to help, whether it was her continued support to her students and there were many, all the work she did with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, her guidance and commitment to the Human Services Advisory Committee and lastly her work with the Age Friendly endeavor that she was helping to lead until now. I don’t think she ever had an unkind word about anyone, and our community has lost a champion that you felt proud to call your friend and she will be missed by many.”

Through the years she worked closely with hundreds of teachers, but she had history with one teacher that dates back almost 30 years. Patricia Soucy, a Spanish teacher at Windham for the past 25 years, first taught at Medomak Valley High where Deb was principal. But when McAfee got the job in Windham, she needed a Spanish teacher and offered it to Soucy.

“She was such a powerful mentor to me,” said Soucy. “Deb’s support and encouragement for the 28 years she has been my friend, boss and mentor have made me the teacher I am today.”

Kim Dubay, the current WHS Administrative Assistant to the Director of Student Services, says she’s grateful for all McAfee taught her during their many years working together.

“Deb was loyal, kind, supportive, generous and humble,” said Dubay. “She was always quick to acknowledge that every employee of Windham High School had an important role to play in order for the school to run successfully.”

WHS Social Studies teacher Susan Hapenney said McAfee was exactly what the school needed, and she made it her goal to bring the town together and build a new and improved school.

“It’s due to her tireless work that we have the beautiful building and grounds that we have today,” said Hapenney. “We will all miss her constant presence and her infectious laugh.”

Kelly Dubay, a WHS 2009 graduate, said her mother had worked with McAfee and got to know her before she attended high school.

“I feel privileged to have known her for so long, and with me growing up in the sports world, I remember she attended every sporting event that she was able to throughout the years to support all of her students,” said Dubay. “She constantly had a smile on her face, and it truly made such an impact on me to walk by her in the halls and see her smiling, no matter how my day was going.”

2017 WHS graduate Ally Stephen said her best memory of McAfee took place at a school pep rally. McAfee was going through chemotherapy at the time and then-principal Howell asked students to give her a round of applause.

"I remember seeing her so happy in that moment,” said Stephen. “She was a genuine light in that school, always greeting everyone with a smile no matter what she was going through, and she will be incredibly missed.” <

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your Comments Help Improve Your Community.