BIDDEFORD — At age 5, Biddeford native Sarah-Jane Poli began her school career in the Biddeford school district by entering kindergarten. Since that day, other than when she attended college, Poli has been part of the fabric of city’s school district.

The Biddeford High School graduate spent 48 years in the Biddeford School Department, either as a student, teacher, curriculum director, assistant superintendent and finally as superintendent for the past eight years.

But on Friday, an era will end.

Poli, 70, will officially retire from her position at the helm of the school district at the end of June. She will be replaced by a new superintendent, Jeremy Ray, on July 1.

In January, Poli formally gave notice to the school committee of her plan to retire in June.

“They always say you know when you’re ready (to retire),” said Poli in her office in City Hall on Tuesday. “I knew.”

Although she has no specific plans about what she’ll do after her last day with the schools, the superintendent said she plans to spend more time with family and friends, take some day trips, catch up on a lot of lunch dates and get more involved with some of the clubs to which she belongs.

Poli said she’s looking forward to “waking up that first day and wondering what I want to do.”

But until then, she has little time to think about future plans, because she is still focused on the work before her, such as: Renovations at the high school, dealing with a reduction in the school’s Title I funds, union contract negotiations and awaiting the results of Tuesday’s public vote on the school budget.

“I guess they just want my going out being busy,” said Poli.

As superintendent, she said, she’s attained many of the goals she set when she accepted the position.

One of her main goals was to maintain and improve the school buildings.

Under her leadership, maintenance work has been completed on all the schools, she said, as well as the construction of a new middle school and the renovation of Biddeford High School, which will be completed in August.

In addition, said Poli, a number of new programs have been started at the schools, particularly around student intervention and retention. She said she’s given administrators the freedom to create these programs.

One accomplishment of which she’s proud, she said, is the collaboration that’s taken place between Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach; something that she hopes will continue and grow in the future.

The way she’s handled challenges within the school district, by listening and not rushing to respond until she knows all the facts, is another achievement of which Poli said she’s proud.

Several of those who have worked closely with Poli during her tenure as superintendent speak of her with admiration.

“She really is the foundation of the school system,” said Assistant Superintendent Jeff Porter. “She’s been in the district a long time and has a handle on everything, and historical knowledge.

“She’s kind of like an archive system,” said Porter. Her historical perspective “will be a huge loss.”

He also said he respects Poli’s ability to meet challenges, and there have been many.

“She never gets flustered or rattled.”

Poli is extremely dedicated to her job, said Porter.

Being superintendent is a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year job, he said.

“She’s the kind of superintendent that you call her on weekends and she always answers the phone,” he said.

As superintendent, “she gives taxpayers way more than they pay her,” said Porter.

Business Manager Terry Gauvin agreed that Poli is a dedicated individual who works many hours at her job.

Not only that but “she’s wonderful to work for,” said Gauvin. “She’s fair, she treats everyone equally, and you know where you stand with her.”

Gauvin, who works closely with Poli on school budgets, said the superintendent is very “frugal” when creating budgets. While she tries to provide what is needed for the education of Biddeford students, said the business manager, “she treats the money as if she were spending her own money.”

“She truly cares about the kids and the staff,” said Gauvin and noted Biddeford schools “have been her life for a lot of years.”

Poli’s a “dying breed,” said Gauvin.

Like the others, Biddeford High School Principal Britton Wolfe had nothing but positive things to say about Poli.

“I’ve learned so much from Superintendent Poli,” he said. “She has really helped me develop as an administrator.

“Superintendent Poli has been a dynamo in advocating for the school department and the children of Biddeford,” said Wolfe. “Her values are what’s in the best interest of all students of Biddeford. And her value system has percolated through the whole district.”

“Her retirement is a tremendous loss for the city,” he said.

“Even though she’s a petite lady,” said Wolfe, “she leaves very big shoes to fill.”

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 324 or [email protected].

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