2013-05-03 / Front Page

Brown School, way back when

Staff Writer
By Jack Flagler


Jim Minott worked as the principal of Brown School from 1988 to 2005. Fifthgrader Morgan Anderson interviewed the former principal on Thursday, April 25. Her written piece will be displayed at Brown School’s annual fair next month as part of the school’s 75th anniversary celebration. (Courtesy photo) Jim Minott worked as the principal of Brown School from 1988 to 2005. Fifthgrader Morgan Anderson interviewed the former principal on Thursday, April 25. Her written piece will be displayed at Brown School’s annual fair next month as part of the school’s 75th anniversary celebration. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND – More than 40 years ago, Catherine Swiger’s fifth-grade class at Brown Elementary School in South Portland started a project to understand just how big 1 million really is. The students started collecting bottle caps, hoping they could bring in 1 million with the help of the local media.

Doug Caldwell, then both the principal and a teacher at Brown School, said the story was initially covered by a local newspaper and TV station, but the collection really took off when the Associated Press ran a brief story on the students’ goal. Then, a reporter from Time magazine called. Bottle caps started coming in from across the country after the article was published.

A custodian at the school worried that the collection, which had to be counted by weight, was too heavy to be kept inside the building, so employees of Maietta Construction took the bottle caps to a nearby farm. Caldwell said the students achieved their goal as sixth-graders.

Now, those bottle caps are long gone. Caldwell, the principal of Brown School from 1975 to 1988, said they were recycled, and students decided to donate the money to charity. Now, library clerk Betsey Cummings is working to collect other items from the school’s history as it celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Cummings said she has received a yearbook from an 83-year-old resident who attended the first third-grade class at Brown School when it was built in 1937, as well as photos through the decades that provided students with “a lot of giggles.”

However, Cummings said she is short on items from the 1980s and 1990s. She hopes to have more representation from that time period before the items are displayed at Brown School’s annual fair, to be held 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, May 18 at the school gymnasium.

As part of the 75th anniversary celebration, Caldwell and former Brown School principal Jim Minott were able to share stories from their career in one-on-one interviews with fifth-graders Caitlin McDonough and Morgan Anderson. Anderson and McDonough will both write brief descriptions of their interviews, which will be displayed along with the community-submitted items at the fair.

Caldwell worked in the South Portland school system for 38 years as a principal and teacher before retiring in 2010. Minott was the principal of Brown School from 1988 until 2005, when he retired and current Principal Margaret Hawkins took over.

Anderson and McDonough were nominated by their respective classroom teachers to interview the former principals during the week of April 22. Both Minott and Caldwell praised the students’ interviewing technique. Minott said Anderson asked him a question he hadn’t considered in years, “Why did you want to be a principal?”

“I had to pause and think for a few minutes,” Minott said, before he responded, “I really love teaching and loved working with kids and teachers. This was a perfect opportunity.”

Minott and Caldwell said the fifth-grade interviewers were amazed by the changes in the average school day from the former principals’ tenures to today. Caldwell said laptops have provided students a “broader view of the world,” but he joked it added some challenges for teachers. In his time, Caldwell said, he could walk next door to the children’s section of the South Portland Public Library to make sure students were researching in the place they were supposed to be.

Interactive whiteboards known as Smart Boards are also a normal part of the classroom today, but Minott said their popularity has ended a favorite classroom tradition.

“At the end of the day, we’d let the students take the erasers outside and clap them together,” Minott said. “Everybody wanted to be lucky enough to sneak out and do that.”

Not only technology has changed. Teachers have either moved on or switched classrooms, and the building has been updated (an expansion in 2003 and 2004 doubled the area of the school).

But overall, Minott said not much has changed at Brown School.

“The kids are the same, walking through the hall they still have the smiles,” Minott said.

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