Back to school: New superintendent in RSU 5 plans to stay around

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FREEPORT — Becky Foley, who started as Regional School Unit 5 superintendent July 1, said she plans to stay for a while. 

“I don’t think a district can reach its full potential unless there’s stable leadership at the top,” Foley said. “I plan on being that stability for the district.”

Foley, who was hired in May to lead the Freeport-Pownal-Durham district, is the fifth person to take the helm since 2014. Former RSU 5 Superintendent Ed McDonough left the district in June after one year. He announced his resignation in March, for personal reasons.

McDonough replaced co-interim superintendents William Michaud and Michael LaFortune, who filled in after the RSU’s first superintendent, Shannon Welsh, retired in 2014.

Foley, a Texas native who has been living in Maine for 30 years, said she plans to break the cycle of rapid turnover and fix the “issue of not having consistent leadership in the central office.”

“I plan on staying and bringing some stability to what I would call district leadership,” she said. “We have strong administrative leadership in each building and they’re doing a great job, but I think they want stability.”

Prior to becoming RSU 5 superintendent, Foley, a Portland resident, was the chief academics officer for the Portland Public Schools for one year. Before that she was the assistant superintendent in School Administrative District 52 in Turner for four years and also taught and served as principal and assistant principal in the district. Foley was also principal of North Yarmouth Memorial School for 10 years.

She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Maine at Farmington, along with a master’s degree in education administration and a doctorate in public policy from the University of Southern Maine.

Being a superintendent is something Foley has wanted to do for a long time, she said, and RSU 5 seemed like a good fit. 

“I do believe that RSU 5 has a strong reputation for its school system, and I’ve aspired to be a superintendent for a few years, but I was picky about where I was applying,” she said.

The RSU 5 Board of Directors received 19 applications for the job and interviewed four candidates before narrowing the field to two finalists.

Working in Portland, which has an enrollment of over 7,000 compared to RSU 5’s 2,000, gave Foley great experience working with a diverse range of students, she said, particularly with the needs of low-income and immigrant students.

“You really see the evidence in Portland that all students can learn, no matter what barriers they’re faced with,” she said. “It was reaffirming to see what those students can achieve.”

Foley said there’s “no reason our students shouldn’t leave Freeport High School ready for college or a career,” and she wants to make sure it is possible.

“I really think the proficiency-based learning helps us achieve that goal,” she said. “Not every pathway will work for every student, so you have to be open to finding different ways for students to succeed.”

Foley said the transition has been going well; since starting the job she has been working on an entry plan and meeting with numerous stakeholders in the district. She said she’s met one-on-one with administrators in each school and with the town managers of each town.

She’s now working on meeting individually with each member of the RSU 5 board. When school begins on Sept. 6, Foley plans to begin meeting with teachers and parents. 

Also, on Aug. 24, Foley will be meeting with the RSU 5 board to review last year’s goals and create new ones for this school year.

“I really think goals have to be formed as a team,” she said.

Being part of a team, especially a united one, is important, Foley said, especially for a school district with towns that have explored withdrawing from the RSU. Freeport in 2014 went through the process of withdrawal, but the issue failed at referendum. In April of this year, Durham residents voted on whether to explore withdrawing, but it was voted down.

Foley said she plans to play a role in uniting the district. 

“I think there’s already been an acknowledgement at the board level that this is a need,” she said. “We need to highlight our successes to show that the three towns can come together to be a strong district.”

Getting people on board with this idea may be difficult, Foley said, but the challenge excites her.

“I think our biggest challenge – but maybe it’s the biggest opportunity – is getting all stakeholders to see the strength of the RSU instead of just individual towns,” she said. “I’m looking forward to that because I really believe we’re stronger as a RSU.”

Foley said she’s looking forward to what the school year will bring as she continues to learn more about the district and what it will take to make it stronger.

“It really is my first year as a superintendent, so I’m excited about helping lead RSU 5 forward,” she said. “The nice thing is that so far I’ve gotten the feeling that it’s already a very strong organization.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Becky Foley is the new superintendent of Regional School Unit 5 in Freeport.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.