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Thank you, Mary Mackbee

Posted on 14 June 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Central High School principal retires after 26 years of service

Mary Mackbee has retired as the principal of Central High School at age 75. She said, “I always thought I would be a teacher, but over the years — I realized I could be even more effective as an administrator.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The sixth period bell rang at Central High School on Friday, May 24, 2019, and the auditorium doors opened for an afternoon program. The guest of honor, retiring principal Mary Mackbee, was ushered in.
Past and present students took to the stage singing songs, sharing stories, and saying thank you to the woman who had worked tirelessly on their behalf since 1993.

As a child growing up in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, Mackbee attended segregated public schools. She said, “Neither of my parents had more than a sixth grade education. I was the first of my siblings to go to college; that just wasn’t something you took for granted back then. My brothers joined the military, and eventually went to college on the GI Bill.
“It was a typical story of black kids in the South. Our teachers really pushed us to succeed against the odds.”
The desire to push herself (and her students ) toward excellence defined Mackbee’s long career as an educator. It could be said that the secret to her success was convincing students they could be successful, too.
Principal Mackbee’s connection with St. Paul Public Schools started when she graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 1966, a historically black college in New Orleans. With her teaching degree in hand, she was quickly recruited by SPPS in an effort to bring more African American teachers to the district. Her first job was at the now closed Mounds Park Junior High School on St. Paul’s East Side, where she taught for 11 years.
The next 20 years brought teaching jobs at the junior high and high school levels in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, a brief stint as a stay-at-home mom with her first two children, and an appointment as director of secondary education with SPPS.

Christina Anderson (Class of 2009), at left, stopped in to say goodbye. Mackbee said, “If I had to guess, I’d say that I’ve probably interacted with more than 10,000 students during my time here.”(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

When Mackbee took the job of principal of Central High School, she said, “The school didn’t have the best reputation. The International Baccalaureate and Quest Programs were just getting started and, while those enriched programs were excellent, they were offered on a separate floor of the school. We reorganized the building so that teachers were grouped by departments – not programs. Contracts were also restructured so that every teacher taught a range of classes, and interacted with students across all ability levels.”
Central has a dedicated fan base, and its own foundation established almost two decades ago by a group of alumni. The goal of the St. Paul Central High School Foundation is to give back and to give forward. The Foundation established an annual scholarship of $3,000 in Mackbee’s name: the Mary Mackbee Legacy Scholarship is awarded each year to a student exhibiting strong qualities of leadership, academic excellence, and service.
Altogether, the St. Paul Central High School Foundation awarded $96,500 in various scholarships to 21 students this year.

When asked about her proudest accomplishments, Mackbee said, “I’m proud that our community is so invested in our school. I’m proud that nearly all of the teachers currently working here were hired by me, and that together we’ve created a strong academic culture for our students. Over the years, there have been groups of parents who have been tremendously helpful maintaining landscaping, helping with school events, and spearheading major projects like the stormwater capture system we finished two years ago.
“We’ve found a lot of ways to work together.”
As Mackbee reflected on Central High School, she said, “Our graduation rate this year is 87%, and we’ve been able to hire some outstanding teachers. But when the district-wide attendance boundaries were redrawn four years ago, we effectively re-segregated our schools. Central used to have an open enrollment policy. Students could come here from anywhere in the city, and busing was provided. This is no longer the case, and we need to remember that one of the core values of everyone involved at Central High School is diversity.”

Regarding her plans for retirement, Mackbee said, “It’s hard to know how I’ll feel when I don’t have this place to come to every day. It’s been my life for more than a quarter of a century, and I’ve loved it. I bought a book the other day called, ‘The Art of Doing Nothing.’ It’s going to take some practice for me, but I think there could be a sweetness to doing nothing – at least for a little while.”
The hiring process to find a new principal for Central High School is still underway.