During her farewell service at St. Mary of the Mills, Margaret Hubbard, center, is greeted by former student Benjamin Stevick and his mother, Doris Stevick. (Jamie Anfension-Comeau/The Gazette)

For decades, Margaret Hubbard has worked to ensure that special-needs students have access to the same education as other students, both as a teacher and, later, the assistant principal at St. Mary of the Mills Catholic School in Laurel.

Two weeks ago, she left behind the halls that have echoed with her footsteps for nearly 25 years to bring her experience to Catholic special-needs students throughout the region as director of special education for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Oct. 12 was Hubbard’s last day. She spent much of the week packing. Her office, never the tidiest, she admitted, had accumulated more than a decade’s worth of items, each tied to a memory.

Leaving behind so much history is difficult, Hubbard said, but her new post, which she begins this week, will allow her to assist even more children with special needs.

“My interest has primarily been about working to make sure that all children are educated and able to access the curriculum. But there are kids who need extra help. They deserve the opportunity to have the same access their developing peers do, and I think they need strong advocates in the education field, and that’s where my heart is,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard, a native of Laurel, began her teaching career as a first-grade teacher at St. Mary in 1988, when her naval husband’s duty transfer brought the couple back to the area.

Hubbard’s passion for assisting special-needs students in learning was sparked when a boy with Down syndrome entered her class.

“It was a huge, huge challenge but quite a wonderful learning experience for me to have him in my class,” Hubbard said.

The experience led Hubbard to return to college and earn a master’s degree in special education.

In 1998, Hubbard took over the post of assistant principal.

“As an administrator, my job has been about assisting teachers to teach students who don’t learn in a typical way,” Hubbard said.

In that capacity, Hubbard came to know the former director of special education for the archdiocese. When that position became available, Hubbard applied for the job and was hired, something that comes as no surprise to those who know her.

St. Mary of the Mills Principal James Pavlacka has worked with Hubbard for the past seven years but has known her for far longer. Hubbard taught both his children, now 27 and 18, when they were in the first grade.

“It is such a wonderful opportunity for Maggie. This is her passion. She embraces all children, regardless of their learning differences,” Pavlacka said. “Here at St. Mary of the Mills, we have embraced the needs of learning-differenced children, and a lot of that has to do with Maggie and her influence on the school and the community.”

“Now what she’s been doing here at St. Mary, she’ll get to bring to all of the schools in the archdiocese. She’ll get to bring her love and her passion to everyone, not just Laurel, not just St. Mary,” he added.

In her new capacity, Hubbard said, she will oversee the special-education efforts of the 98 Catholic schools within the archdiocese. Her duties will include not just children with special needs but students for whom English is a second language.

Despite her excitement about her new role, Hubbard has a quarter of a century worth of memories at St. Mary, and it is difficult to move on.

“It’s terribly hard to leave,” Hubbard said. “There is just something special about having come to the same place for so many years; it just becomes part of who you are.”