2012-09-28 / Community


Kaler secretary right where she belongs
By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Fran Peterson Fran Peterson “I really feel I was put on earth to do the job that I’m doing now,” said Fran Peterson, educational secretary at the James Otis Kaler School in South Portland.

Peterson has been a constant presence for kids in the South Portland schools for close to three decades. She has seen elementary school students grow up and put kids of their own through the South Portland schools.

Peterson took her first job in education in January of 1983 as executive assistant to the superintendent of schools.

“I thought I’d try it, kind of on a whim. The diversity of what I’ve done makes me interested in pretty much anything, so I thought I’ll try and see if I like it,” Peterson said.

Previously, she had worked in Kodiak, Alaska on Liberty Ships, at the University of Alaska in Juneau and the Hilton hotel chain in her home state of Connecticut. After her stint in Alaska, Peterson moved to Maine with her husband, a South Portland native. When she took her first job in the schools, Peterson found her calling.

“I learned more about the city and the area than my husband knew growing up there,” said Peterson.

“You work with the city council, board of education and people throughout the whole city. It was really quite an education.”

After a few years in the superintendent’s office, Peterson took a job as a lunch aide at the Small School (“I thought if I could survive that I could survive anything,” she said), and then as a teacher’s aide at the Brown School.

Peterson said she loved being in the cafeteria during the most active part of the students’ day, but when two secretaries retired at Brown, she moved back into an office role, although she said that description is really a misnomer.

“Secretary is actually the wrong word. There is no word to describe what we do,” Peterson said.

Peterson said at any point, she could be giving medical attention when the nurse is out of the office or helping the principal if she is down the hall. Peterson is always in touch with teachers and staff through a walkie-talkie in the halls. When asked how she would accurately describe it, Peterson uses the phrase “mission control.”

She has been running mission control in Kaler Elementary School’s central office ever since the school opened 10 years ago. Her constant presence has had a positive effect on the students.

“Anybody that works in education has a huge impact on kids. Some days are hard because you don’t reach the point you want to, maybe they’re having trouble or something, but you’re a real stability in the kids lives,” Peterson said. “You’re always there. They always know what to expect and who to come to.”

Peterson is 69 years old, but has no plans to retire. She said most people in her parents’ generation would look forward to retiring and doing nothing, but she doesn’t think that way. Peterson said she “still gets up in the morning really excited to go to school and see what’s going to happen.”

“I wouldn’t trade this for anything. Every day is a challenge. Every day there’s some kids you fall in love with all over again, even when they’ve had a rough day and they take it out on you, you just love them to death and hope you can give them what they need,” she said.

In her free time, Peterson sings in the Portland Community Chorus and the Magic of Christmas Chorus with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. For 14 years, she sold beer at Hadlock Field during Portland Sea Dogs games. She said when she does retire, she will need to stay active and involved in some activities to balance out her life.

“I have to learn something every day, and I do. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t,” she said.

For almost 30 years, she’s been helping South Portland elementary school students learn something new every day as well.

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