GROTON — Although it was sheer coincidence that closing the Prescott Elementary School came at the same time that its principal of a dozen years decided to retire, it was nevertheless a fitting conclusion for both, as the two had become so closely identified with one other.
“My greatest satisfaction has been that, together with parents and staff, we were able to create an exciting and fun learning environment for our students,” principal Betty Lavin said. “We became a true learning community. That’s a combination of factors that can’t be beat.”
After 27 with the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District — the last 12 spent as the principal of the Prescott School — Lavin’s final day on the job was to be June 27. Her departure coincides with the closure of the historic school building and the scattering of its students to the district’s other elementary schools.
“It was a sad last day with the kids but I know that they’re going to be great,” Lavin said. “They know that they’re going to be reallocated but are excited about their new school and new teachers. Knowing that they will be OK made it a little easier.”
Lavin began her career in education as a seventh-grade geography teacher before becoming a guidance counselor.
“I loved doing that until I took over as principal of the Prescott School,” she said.
Her arrival at the school was not greeted with joy from all corners, however, as many parents and faculty resented the district for forcing Lavin’s predecessor out of his job.
“When I took over as principal, the building was in turmoil,” said Lavin. “The previous principal had been relieved of his duties by the superintendent and about half of the staff cheered while the other half was very angry about his removal. I wasn’t sure whether to wear an armored vest or not on that first day!”
After getting to know the staff and the kids and building a sense of community in the school, Lavin was able to bring harmony back to the Prescott.
Pulling the staff together was a crucial factor in meeting another new challenge, this time from the state, as education reform was adopted and its most visible intrusion in the daily life of the school became the MCAS testing system.
“What with all of the demands involved with MCAS, I think the challenge for us as a team, parents and staff, was to really prepare the kids for the tests and to make sure they did well,” Lavin said. “It’s such a high-stakes test that I think we all felt the pressure when MCAS time came around. But our students performed extremely well.
“Prescott had a truly phenomenal staff that was committed to excellence,” Lavin continued. “They did such a great job with the kids. They just did their best every single day and tried not to focus too much on MCAS, which is the way it should be; instruction should be seamless and not just teaching to the test. Our job was to provide a quality education.”
Lavin said the decision to retire this year was one that was partially forced upon her by the rules governing a new Massachusetts retirement matrix, whose retirement-plus option she had been contributing to matured. Those participating in the option pay in extra money in order to be able to move up the date of their eventual retirement.
“When I made the decision to participate in the plan I didn’t think that I would necessarily go out then; I just thought that it would give me some options,” said Lavin. “But after talking to other people about the plan, it was pointed out to me that if I didn’t retire at a certain point, then the additional contribution I made to the plan would be for nothing. So once I began looking into it, I thought it over and guessed that I might be ready to retire after all.”
Thus it appeared that the stars were aligned, allowing Lavin to bow out the same year the doors to her beloved Prescott School would close for the last time.
“I’m very thankful to the communities of Gorton and Dunstable for their support and trust in me and their belief in me to get the job done,” Lavin said. “But what I will miss most about being the principal is the kids. I’ll miss their smiles, their laughter, and their excitement about learning. They love school and it showed.”