Students, parents and teachers in three towns are grieving for a school band teacher who died Wednesday after a crash on her way to work at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School.

Police say Elizabeth Polletto, 26, of Portland lost control of her 1999 Ford Escort on slushy Route 100 in Gray and skidded into an oncoming pickup truck shortly before 7 a.m. She was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she died.

The driver of the 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup, 57-year-old John Hanley of Raymond, also was taken to Maine Medical Center, said Capt. Don Goulet of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. His injuries were believed to be non-life-threatening.

Both drivers were wearing seat belts.

Polletto worked three days a week at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School and two days a week at Georgetown Central School in Sagadahoc County.

Students at both schools met with counselors Wednesday as they tried to come to grips with the death of a teacher so close to them in age.

“She was very well-liked, no doubt about it,” said Bruce Beasley, superintendent of School Administrative District 15 in Gray. “It has been pretty gut-wrenching to watch her (former) students come in from the high school.”

Beasley said Polletto, who was single, taught band at the middle school for three years.

The school’s principal, Sherry Levesque, said, “She was a wonderful teacher, adored both by her colleagues and her students.”

One of her former students, Gray-New Gloucester High School sophomore Casey Myhaver of Gray, described Polletto as “fun-loving and energetic. She really cared about her students.”

Myhaver, who now plays trumpet for the high school band, said Polletto’s students related well to her because she was close to their age and could understand their needs.

Her dedication to music students went beyond the classroom. She offered private lessons to students who were interested.

Many of Polletto’s students, current and former, posted messages on newspaper websites as news of her death spread quickly Wednesday night.

Jody Fein’s daughter, Luisa Hetzler of Gray, was a student of Polletto’s. Hetzler, who plays clarinet, is in the seventh grade at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School.

Fein described Polletto as poised and confident, able to inspire students to practice hard and hone their musical skills.

“Because she was so young, the kids had an affinity for her,” Fein said. “She was just a joyous spirit who fanned the (creative) spark in all her students.”

Hetzler said, “She was really inspirational. She was one of my favorite teachers.”

She said the middle school band plays two concerts a year, with this year’s second concert set for April 9. Hetzler said she is uncertain whether the concert will be held.

Polletto’s death hit just as hard in Georgetown.

“The entire school community is saddened by her loss,” said Matthew Carlson, principal of the Georgetown Central School, where Polletto taught for three years. “She was a dedicated, caring and dynamic teacher.”

Polletto taught general music theory to Georgetown students in pre-kindergarten through grade 6. She also taught band to students in grades 4-6.

Polletto wrote a blog on the Georgetown school department’s website. “Music Makes the World Go Round” kept parents and students informed about the “musical happenings” in her class.

Her last post was dated Feb. 13.

“We’ve done it,” Polletto said. “We’ve raised enough money for hand chimes! Thank you to each and every one of you who made this possible. I look forward to debuting them at our spring concert in May.”

 

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at [email protected]