2015-03-06 / Community

South Portland board names superintendent

By Duke Harrington
Staff writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland School Board of Education did not receive quite the flood of applications it anticipated when Superintendent Suzanne Godin announced in November that she would retire at the end of the school year.

Just 25 resumes were submitted, but from that the school board has found its man in the form of a local educator now living nearly half a world away.

On Monday, school board Chairman Richard Matthews issued a press release naming Ken Kunin as the finalist to replace Godin July 1.

Kunin is a secondary principal at the American Overseas School of Rome, which serves 375 students from 50 countries. However, he is a former principal at schools in Portland, including Deering High School and the Reiche Community School.

A school board search committee led by Assistant Superintendent Kathryn Germani whittled the initial 25 applicants for the city’s top education job to seven semi-finalists. Those seven hopefuls were interviewed by a larger search committee, which included staff, parents and teachers, on Feb. 5. Kunin, the lone applicant to advance from that round, sat with the full school board in executive session on Feb. 23.

“He’s definitely the right man for the job,” said Matthews, on Tuesday. “I was definitely impressed. He’s definitely well educated and very knowledgeable. And he has a great personality.

“He has some big shoes to fill in Suzanne (Godin), but he’s definitely eager to learn, I can tell you that,” Matthews said.

Kunin will spend a full day touring South Portland schools on March 12. The itinerary includes visits to Skillin Elementary School, Mahoney Middle School and South Portland High School, along with a meet-andgreet with parent groups and appointed and elected city officials.

According to Matthews’ press release, Kunin is a graduate of Brown University with a degree in English literature. He also has a master’s degree in special education from Lesley University and a certificate of advanced study in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine. Prior to taking the position in Italy, Kunin was a senior research consultant for the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.

Before serving in the Portland positions, Kunin was principal of the Walker Home and School, a special education day and residential school in Needham, Massachusetts. He was promoted there to associate executive director and then to senior associate.

Kunin is a member of the National Association of Secondary Schools Principals, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the American Association of School Administrators and the European Council of International Schools.

The South Portland School Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. on March 12 in executive session to discuss the search process and establish the next steps. A public vote to hire Kunin is expected at the school board’s April 6 meeting, Matthews said.

Q&A with Ken Kunin

On Tuesday, South Portland’s prospective superintendent of schools, Ken Kunin, answered a series of questions posed via email from the Sentry, writing from his current post in Italy.

Q: What attracted you to this position in South Portland?

A: The South Portland schools have a long and proud history of success, combined with the vision for meeting today’s challenges of educating all students for an everevolving world. Given my skills and experience, I felt that I could be of service as the journey continued.

Q: What goals, in general, do you have for the South Portland School Department?

A: My first goal is to be a learner and develop a thorough and thoughtful entry plan using the South Portland Comprehensive Education Plan as the guiding framework. While I have come to know much about the South Portland schools in the past two months, there is much that I still want to know about the schools and the community to gain the knowledge and build the relationships so that I can best be of service.

Q: Do you have any particular thoughts on how the

school department should address “common core,” proficiency-based diplomas, or STEM project-based learning?

A: There is excellent work going on in the schools regarding project-based learning and an active district steering committee focusing upon proficiency-based learning. Both are critical to provide approaches to instruction, assessment and reporting that enable students to meet important learning targets. Much remains to be done, but South Portland schools have made great strides with tremendous efforts from teachers, principals, district staff and community partners to work and learn together on behalf of our students.

Q: What skills do you bring to the table in helping the school department adapt to an increasingly diverse student population?

A: As an educational leader I have directed schools with students and families from every continent except for Antarctica and who speak many different languages at home. In an ever more globalized world, cultural and linguistic diversity is an asset for our schools and our district, enriching the educational experience for all students.

Q: What would you say to local taxpayers concerned about the spiraling cost of public education?

A: A strong school system is at the heart of every strong community. I was attracted to South Portland because of its long history of support for excellence in education, both delivering the best to students today and planning for the students of tomorrow. As we aim to live up to our mission of enriching lives through quality learning for all, we must also always demonstrate that we are being effective and as efficient as possible with the resources provided.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like South Portland parents, students and residents to know about yourself?

A: Before I was a special education teacher and then principal, I was a traveling juggler for a short time. While I have lost a few of my skills, I have been known to perform during school assemblies, pep rallies and other school events.

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