BOSTON -- His first day as principal of South Boston High School, Jerome Winegar received a poetic greeting from white residents opposed to desegregating their neighborhood's school. Signs placed in the windows of every frame row house across the street read, "Go home, Jerome." It took 13 years for him to go. The strong-willed white educator from Minnesota, hired at the insistence of a federal judge who had just put South Boston High in receivership, endured threats and insults long enough that when he left before Thanksgiving he was Boston's senior "headmaster," as high school principals are called here. Winegar's departure to take another administrative job in the school system marked the end of an era at South Boston High and in the long, bitter struggle to desegregate Boston schools. The school's name still conjures up televised images of white residents threatening black students arriving on yellow buses. When Winegar took over in April 1976, he found a place in such turmoil that there were metal detectors at the doors, 100 state troopers inside the yellow-brick building and about half that many local police officers outside. Armed with unusual authority by U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., who had ordered the busing and picked Winegar for the South Boston job, the new headmaster transferred white staff members who would not say they shared his commitment to desegregation. He hired more black faculty. He traded business teachers for math and science instructors. And he installed alternative programs to rescue at-risk students from the city's poorest neighborhoods. South Boston High benefited from extra resources from the school system and federal funding, as much as $400,000 in 1977, to aid desegregation. The extraordinary judicial attention to one school has resulted, in the opinion of almost everyone except anti-busing activists, in measurable improvements in racial balance and quality of education. "It's quite a success story," said John D. O'Bryant, a black college administrator elected to the Boston School Committee in 1977 and now its longest-serving member. In a rare interview, Garrity, who has taken senior judicial status and withdrawn from active oversight of the schools, said Winegar "fulfilled every expectation I had when I asked him to come to Boston. He took over a school that was a failure in many, many ways and converted it into . . .probably the most desegregated high school in the city, and it has been for several years." Today, the metal detectors and police officers are gone. The last racial disturbance occurred nine years ago. The yellow buses come and go, one at a time, instead of assembling into a convoy escorted by motorcycle police officers. About 60 percent of the school's 1,000 students are bused, and the riders are black, Hispanic, Cambodian and Vietnamese. All-white before the buses first arrived in September 1975, the school now enrolls almost equal numbers of black and white students. The student body is 38 percent black, 36 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian. Citywide, enrollment is 48 percent black and 23 percent white. Educationally, South Boston High has gone from abysmal to mediocre. Standardized test scores are comparable to those at other big-city schools where students face the social consequences of poverty, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy. The proportion of South Boston graduates who enter colleges or trade schools has risen from 8 percent in 1974 to 39 percent. Many represented the first generation from poor families -- black and white -- to attend college. A 1985 graduate went to Brown and entered Harvard Law School this fall, unusual schools for a South Boston High graduate. Last year, ninth graders scored slightly above the national average on a standardized reading test, probably the first time any grade at the school has done that, according to Winegar. "The school improved academically and took on a new life socially, including different relations between ethnic groups. People befriended each other," said Robert Dentler, Garrity's education adviser. The experiences of Catherine McLaughlin, the Harvard Law student, reflect both changes in the school. McLaughlin, who is white, lived in a segregated housing project in South Boston. Her best friend, Cynthia Cropper, is black and lived in a segregated project in nearby Dorchester. Cropper went on to Fisk University in Tennessee and then the Air Force. "She could never go to my house, and I never could go to hers. Both of our neighborhoods are very, very segregated, and it would cause a lot of tension," McLaughlin said. "So we would go down to Boston Common, get ice cream, walk around, talk." Helping to heal race relations was Winegar. Garrity said he picked him after a nationwide search not so much because Winegar had worked in recently desegregated schools in St. Paul, Minn., and Kansas City, Mo., but because "he seemed to be filled with energy, interested in young people." Winegar, 52, built such a strong rapport with his students that some cried when he announced his departure. Others, he said, got upset two years ago when he trimmed the shoulder-length hair, now silver, that was a reminder of his involvement in civil rights and anti-war protests during the 1960s. "Everybody looked up to him in this school. He shouldn't have left," said Jimmy Green, a black senior. "You could see it in his face that he didn't want to leave because he was attached to the kids. It's not Southie High without Mr. Winegar here," said Sandie Witas, a white senior. Driving his aging van through decaying black neighborhoods one recent afternoon, Winegar pointed out former students on the streets, beeping his horn and waving at them. He remembered their names and progress as students. Officially, Winegar and Superintendent Laval S. Wilson have said Winegar made the move so he could pursue his interests. Winegar will help establish citywide programs to prepare graduates for college by sending them to prep schools for an extra year or a to new academy for the summer. He also will devise programs to prepare seniors to meet new graduation requirements. "I had to leave sometime. It could have been two years or 10 years. He {Wilson} made me an offer I couldn't refuse," Winegar said. But Winegar hints of pressure from people who saw him as an unwelcome symbol of Garrity's intervention: "I'm Judge Garrity's man. I'm the last vestiges of Judge Garrity's order. So when I'm out, it's bye-bye." And there were new problems at the school this fall with black gangs and a deteriorating physical plant, problems some people believe a weary Winegar could no longer handle. "He's no less courageous. He has just been worn out," said one longtime observer of Boston's schools. White students and parents began agitating for better security, saying the black gangs made the school unsafe. Witas led a walkout over the gangs and maintenance problems. White parents -- including some longtime anti-busing activists -- complained that the school was unsafe for their children. Winegar had to appreciate the ironies. In his first year at the school, it was black community leaders who wanted black students to walk out because hostile white residents made the school unsafe. Winegar maintains the latter-day black gangs fight only each other. Several white students interviewed at random said the same thing. Garrity blamed adult hard-liners in South Boston, upset at recent moves by a small number of black families into the neighborhood's housing projects, for orchestrating the protests. "The same group, or their successors you might say, who were opposed to the admission of black students to South Boston High, are opposed again to the partial desegregation of the public housing," Garrity said. "They have included South Boston High School as a target of their protests. . . .These are protesters who have invaded the high school, causing commotion there." John Ciccone, spokesman for the South Boston Information Center, a surviving anti-busing group, took partial credit for Winegar's departure and said white parents came looking for help. "We've been opposed to Mr. Winegar from the start. Nothing he did in the entire 13 years he was there changed our minds," Ciccone said. "Jerome Winegar was a thorn in the side of our community. We're sorry we couldn't get rid of him earlier. It took a long time." Winegar said Garrity advised him through intermediaries that he did not have to accept the transfer. But he did. His domain now is a small, isolated office in another high school built as a magnet school to promote desegregation. "Someday I'll go back to {running} a school. I like school. But it won't be South Boston. Maybe in the suburbs . . .," Winegar said, wistfully.