News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 18, 2017
Sedgwick principal retires after 28 years

Don Buckingham to retire June 30

Teaching principal Don Buckingham gives an impromptu reading to students waiting for pick-up at the end of the school day. He is retiring after 28 years at Sedgwick Elementary School and well over 30 years in education.

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by Anne Berleant

Known as “Dr. B.” in the hallways of Sedgwick Elementary School, Principal Don Buckingham will end a decades-long career in education on June 30.

A former teacher at Brewer High School, an Education Director at what is now Kid’s Peace in Ellsworth, and a teaching principal for two years at Cave Hill and for three in Penobscot, Buckingham spent the last 28 years in his hometown of Sedgwick.

“This has been a great job,” he said. “It’s a good community and a good school.”

But now he is ready to place his eraser on the chalk board for the last time.

“I need to turn the page and do something else,” he said.

While education has changed in some ways over the years, with chalk boards giving way to white boards and the advent of technology in and out of the classrooms, for Buckingham students are still, well, students.

“[They] haven’t changed a lot,” he said.

What has changed are things like the introduction of satellite TV 20 years ago, after which Buckingham said there was a “noticeable drop” in attendance at after-school events, and the “widespread use” of social media, which has changed the sense of community.

“The digital community is not a community,” he said. “A community is a give-and-take, a look-someone-in-the-eye” and requires “a measure of honesty.”

A concerted effort over the last five to seven years to draw families back in after school has worked, he said, noting 100-percent attendance at a recent celebrity story night.

The school works with the families, not just students, Buckingham said. “We have some great families with kids here.” But there are also families with a lot of stress, who are worse off than 30 years ago, mostly from the presence of drugs, alcohol and “the black market economy that goes along with it.”

As principal, “you have to be everything to everybody,” he said. “It can be exhausting.”

Hired in 1989, Buckingham helped develop the present school, built in 1991, and its curriculum. “As the first principal, I take a lot of satisfaction on where we were to where we are,” he said.

He also looks back at the first pre-school, operated by Child and Family Opportunities, as a particular accomplishment.

“Getting the CFO program here was huge. I had some but not a lot of support from my staff, [and was] fighting the school committee on it.”

However, when the program was closed in 2015, support for a Sedgwick pre-K class, which began this year, was widespread, he noted.

Buckingham didn’t always want to be a teacher, but “I always wanted to live in Maine,” he said. Attending Hobart and Williams College with a major in English and a minor in Education, and spending summers as a counselor at Robinhood Camp in Sedgwick, he said he wondered how he was going to make a living. He turned to teaching, and found he “was reasonably good at it.” Buckingham received a master’s degree in middle level education and a PhD in education leadership from University of Maine at Orono during his education career.

“I’m really grateful for my staffs over the years,” he said. “I’ve just worked with the most wonderful people.”

He concluded: “When you send your kids off to school, you take a deep breath…I’m really grateful for the faith the community has put in me.”