County Faces: Fern Desjardins of St. Agatha
As a lifelong learner, Fern Desjardins took her thirst for education straight to the classroom and later to the state of Maine to become a representative for the St. John Valley community.
“I always took great pride in my community,” Desjardins said.
Desjardins, nee Ayotte, is the fourth generation of the Ayotte family to have spent their entire lives in St. Agatha. She graduated from Wisdom High School in SAD 33, later serving as a teacher, principal and superintendent in the same school district.
“I dedicated 43 years to education in [MSAD 33] and loved every minute of my working years,” she said. “My work defined me throughout my life. I have always been passionate about working in education and consider myself truly fortunate and blessed to have worked in the
field of education all my life and to do it so close to home throughout my career.”
Desjardins said she knew she wanted to work in education as early as first grade, when she told her teacher, Mrs. Imelda Boucher, that she was going to be a schoolteacher.
“I’ve known my whole life that that is what I wanted to do,” she said. “I am really blessed.”
When she began teaching, Desjardins said she would ask herself how she could be so lucky as to teach the students.
“I knew in my heart there was not going to be anything else I wanted to do than teach,” she said.
Desjardins said if she could go back and tell her first-grade self anything, it would be that it’s not about the money. There will be long hours to work, and you have to give a lot of yourself to the job, but mostly, “It’s about the impact that you will have on children’s lives.”
She received her bachelor of science degree in education from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, her master’s in education from the University of Maine and a certificate in advanced study in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine. She earned her doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Maine.
When Desjardins was 65, she retired as SAD 33 superintendent; however, retirement wasn’t quite for her. She said it was a very sad time in her life. “It felt like an immeasurable loss, and that a great void would enter my life,” she said.
However, the last 17 months have been busier and more fulfilling than she could have imagined.
“As difficult as it was to leave employment in MSAD 33, it has made it possible for me to undertake many wonderful positions and rewarding activities,” she said.
Desjardins went to work as a facilitator for regionalization efforts in northern Penobscot County and western Washington County. It was right around that time that Governor LePage nominated her to the Maine State Board of Education. After her public confirmation hearing with the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, the Maine Senate confirmed her appointment.
That appointment, she said, “opened the door to many great opportunities at the state level.” The work has been interesting and something that she thoroughly enjoys.
The chairman of the State Board of Education, Wilson Hess, recently presented a second Blue Ribbon Status honor to the elementary school in Frenchville alongside Desjardins, who helped the school win their first Blue Ribbon Status in 1999.
“I don’t know who whispered your name in the right ear,” he told her after the ceremony, “but I’m glad they did.”
Desjardins spends her down time gardening with her husband, Francis, but also enjoys all the traveling associated with her new position.
“Retirement has turned out to be a very beautiful and rewarding time in my life,” she said. “I am thankful to God for my good fortune and the many blessings that He has bestowed on me.”