Add search for new superintendent to Regional School Unit 5 to-do list

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FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 Superintendent Shannon Welsh will step down when her contract expires on June 30.

It remains to be seen how Freeport’s potential withdrawal from the RSU, which also includes Durham and Pownal, will impact the search for a new superintendent.

“When you’re creating a brand new organization, it takes a long time for it to develop a good foundation with systems in place,” Welsh said last week. “I knew it would take at least five years to grow and become strong, so when I accepted the superintendency for RSU 5, in my mind, I made a five-year commitment.

“I also made a commitment to myself to give myself the gift of a year to travel, enjoy family and friends, live a healthier schedule,” she continued. “And when Freeport in November voted to withdraw, I debated (whether to stay on), but I really wanted to honor the commitment to myself to have a year to just enjoy life and then decide what I want to do next.”

Welsh was hired as superintendent of the former Maine School Unit 30 (Lisbon and Durham) in 2000. She held that position until 2009, when she became the first superintendent of RSU 5.

The RSU board will now be tasked with finding her replacement. The board is expected to hire an interim superintendent, given the unsettled future of the RSU.

“There’s no doubt the withdrawal process affects a superintendent search pretty dramatically,” said Board Chairman Nelson Larkins, who announced Welsh’s decision last week on the RSU website. “It could affect the types of candidates that you get, because whoever is looking at the job has to understand that there’s a great deal of uncertainty.”

Schools often use headhunter firms, or enlist the Maine School Management Association to help fill a superintendent vacancy.

Larkins said the board has not talked about how it will move to fill the position, having only learned of Welsh’s decision at the end of an executive session that followed the board’s Jan. 8 meeting. At its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 22, he said, the board likely will accept her retirement letter and begin discussing plans for a successor.

People in the community have already begun floating names for a potential interim superintendent, including Tom Edwards, who served as superintendent of Portland public schools from 1990-1995 and as principal of Freeport High School from 1996-2006; Lisa Demick, the principal of Pownal Elementary School, and Michael Wilhelm, the superintendent of RSU 16, who served as principal of Freeport High School from 1984-1989.

“There’s nothing to any of it,” Larkins said. “Once this process opens up, anybody can apply.”

Welsh will spend much of her final five months as superintendent facilitating the work of the withdrawal committee, and a School board subcommittee comprised of members of Durham and Pownal that will negotiate with the withdrawal committee on behalf of those communities.

Reflecting on the past five years, Welsh said she is proud of the professional development opportunities afforded to RSU teachers. She said the state of the economy made the early days of the RSU especially challenging.

A native of North Dakota, Welsh, 57, has lived in Maine for more than 30 years and said she plans to remain here. After stepping down, she hopes to spend time with family and travel.

“A large part of the process will be to live a healthy lifestyle and give thought to what I want to do when I grow up,” she said.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.