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BETHALTO — Debra Pitts has been principal at Civic Memorial High School for the last eight years, and as the school year comes to an end, so does her nearly 40-year career in education.
On June 13, first-year CM assistant principal Justin Newell will take over Pitts’ duties. Newell has been in the Bethalto School District for nine years, working as a social studies teacher, a dean of students, a technology leader of curriculum, as well as an assistant principal at the middle school and high school.
Pitts decided to retire in January after working in the Alton and Bethalto school districts. Before becoming principal at Civic Memorial eight years ago, she spent 31 years at Alton High School as a special education teacher, guidance counselor and dean of students.
“Ms. Pitts has been an amazing principal and we just want to build off her success,” Newell said. “I interned for her when he was getting his administrative degree, so it’s pretty neat to be taking over for my mentor.”
Upon retirement, Pitts has one thing on her mind — rest.
“I still belong to about four of five community organizations so that will keep me busy, as well as staying active with my church,” she said. “But I am not looking for employment, I’d like to just rest and be able to relax.”
However, she can rest easy knowing her hard work has helped to build a lasting legacy at CM.
“It’s not about the superintendent, the assistant superintendent or the teachers, it’s all about the kids,” Pitts said. “All of the decisions I made were what I thought was best for the kids, and I hope that remains.”
Pitts came to Bethalto during Newell’s second year, both having worked in various positions during their time as educators, something Newell believes is essential for any high school principal.
“The big challenge a principal faces is being in charge of the entire school,” Newell said. “But I’ve learned a lot from Ms. Pitts and I have worked in a lot of different positions throughout the school district, so I’d say I am as ready as I can be.”
As Pitts reflects on her time in the Bethalto School District, she recalls her first challenge when becoming principal in 2006.
“The first year I came to Civic Memorial was the first year we began to close the campus during lunch time,” she said. “But that was a challenge I had also faced in Alton.
“Kids are kids anywhere you go, rather in Alton or Bethalto,” she added. “But I’ve always believed in taking care of the students first and foremost, and Mr. Newell believes that too, which is why I think he will make a great principal.”