2014-11-28 / Front Page

Top school leader resigns

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After 32 years in education, including eight as head of the South Portland School Department, Superintendent Suzanne Godin is calling it a career.

Godin’s resignation letter, submitted to the school board Nov. 10, became public late last week when the board scheduled a special meeting to deal with the unexpected departure.

The vote Monday to accept Godin’s resignation was unanimous, if unenthusiastic.

“If we don’t accept this, that will make the rest of the meeting go a lot easier,” joked School Board Chairman Tappan Fitzgerald, when putting Godin’s resignation on the table for discussion.

“Has there been any reconsideration on your part,” asked school board member James Gilboy, addressing Godin.

“No,” she said, adding with a laugh, “Not unless you’re going to pay me the $750,000 that the governor has said superintendents make in the state of Maine.”

“So, there is room for some reconsideration?” proffered Chairman-elect Richard Matthews.

But Godin remained firm in her decision. In her resignation letter, she said that “after much soul-searching,” she had decided to move on to something that would give her a greater voice in how teachers interact with students.

“As I review how my time has been prioritized over the past three years, I see less and less of my time directed to the good work that occurs in the classroom,” she wrote. “The majority of my time is spent dealing with personnel issues, in budget discussions and playing political games. It is time for me to move back toward working directly to make a difference in our classrooms.”

On Monday, Godin declined to elaborate on what “political games” have monopolized her attention, saying only, “Any superintendent deals with politics, from local to state.

“I’m just tired of that,” she said. “I get my energy from working with teachers, working with administrators, around their craft. That’s what I’d like to focus on.”

Godin will remain on the job until her contract expires June 30. That contract was last renegotiated in November 2011, when she was given a raise to $125,000.

Godin said Monday she’s not sure yet what she’ll do come July.

“I will probably consult, or do something along that line, probably in Maine, for the time being,” she said. “I just need to do something different in my life and felt this is the right time to do that.”

On Monday, the school board agreed to a tentative process for finding Godin’s replacement. With Gorham, Kennebunk and Freeport, at least, also on the hunt for top administrators, South Portland school directors are anxious to get started as soon as possible, for fear of losing the best candidates to nearby districts.

“We don’t have a great deal of time and the pool’s being fished already,” Fitzgerald said.

On Monday, Dec. 8, the board will meet with Connie Brown of the Maine School Management Association to discuss hiring her group to conduct a nationwide search. That meeting will be free, but if the board does hire the organization, its work will be billed at $150 per hour.

Whether or not Maine School Management Association is hired to lead the search, advertisements for the opening are expected to go out by mid-December.

In late January, applications will be vetted by a fiveperson committee, to include three school board members, Assistant Superintendent Kathryn Germani and one school staffer, most likely high school Principal Ryan Caron.

That group will whittle the resumes down to between five and seven leading candidates.

“That can be a tricky job,” said school board member Mary House. “Screening is hard because someone can look great on paper but then, in reality, maybe they aren’t.”

Those top contenders will go before a 17-member interview panel sometime in mid-February. That group is slated to include Germani and Caron, along with three board members, two parents, two students, a high school teacher, an elementary school teacher and two union representatives, including leaders of the South Portland Teachers Association and South Portland Administrators Association.

Following that round of interviews, Germani and the full school board will conduct second-round meetings with up to three applicants selected by the larger group. Those sessions are expected to take place between the first and third week in March.

One thing became clear — at no point in the process will Germani have to worry about interviewing herself.

“I am not applying for the position,” she said Monday.

According to Fitzgerald, if all goes well, a new superintendent will be selected and ready for a site visit and final board vote, sometime in early April.

Still, change will not come easy, he said.

“I think this is a big loss for South Portland,” Fitzgerald said. “I think Suzanne has done a great job establishing a strong vision and a strong direction for South Portland, to get us into that next era of education in the state of Maine.”

Godin, who was named Maine’s top superintendent in 2011, said in her resignation letter that her top accomplishments in South Portland included development of the adult education program, creation of two preschool classes, the “amazing changes” wrought from a change to “proficiencybased learning,” and the $47 million renovation of South Portland High School, due to be completed in January.

“To anyone who’s walked through this building, it’s evident that it’s the jewel of the city and she’s had a big thumbprint on that,” said Fitzgerald, adding that, in his view, Godin will be difficult to replace.

“Her vision that she’s brought to the city of South Portland, as far as where we’re going with common core and the new grading system that’s come from the state, as a school district, we’re pretty far ahead in that a lot of the systems that we’ve come up with are being modeled in the rest of the state and on the department of education’s website. She’s had a lot to do with that. I’m going to miss her.”

As for her replacement, Fitzgerald said his primary concern is, “the search is broad enough and deep enough that we absolutely get the best candidate for the job.”

“I think that our strategic plan is very, very solid,” Fitzgerald said. “What I will be looking for personally is that whoever the candidate is that we bring in, they’ll be able to support that, and that they believe in the same visions we as a board have around common core and that kind of thing. That’s going to be big for me.”

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