Baxter Academy seeks head of school with passion for STEM

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PORTLAND — Baxter Academy for Technology and Science is seeking a new head of school who first and foremost shows “a demonstrated passion for STEM education,” according to Kelli Pryor, the charter school’s executive director.

In addition, Pryor said, the school wants someone “who believes STEM can be a driver of good in our community, our workforce, our state and our world.”

Baxter Academy, which operates under a project-based science, technology, engineering and math curriculum, is losing its original head of school, Michele LaForge, who was recently hired as the new principal at South Portland High School.

“We will miss Michele, but Baxter Academy is (about more than one person),” Pryor said. “Baxter’s students, parents, teachers and leaders all remain dedicated (and) passionate about our school and are excited to see what we can accomplish next.”

LaForge was Baxter’s original head of school when it opened its doors in 2013 and has helped facilitate its growth from an initial enrollment of 130 students to about 400 now.

LaForge provided “a sense of belonging and helped foster a culture of responsiveness” to individual student needs, Pryor said. “She’s (also) a very warm and engaging leader, and this was especially important in the years when the school hadn’t yet proven that it deserved a place in Maine’s educational infrastructure.”

Pryor said what Baxter Academy’s administration will most miss about LaForge is her “calm, creative and deliberative decision-making (as well as) her wisdom, but also her wit, and (of course) her baklava.”

In hiring a replacement for LaForge, Baxter “will seek a strong, inspiring educator who is ready to support our faculty in meeting their personal goals and who will take the lead in … meeting students where they are and maximizing their potential to succeed,” Pryor said.

She said there’s no particular urgency in finding a new head of school because “from the beginning Michele distributed responsibility (and) … every administrator is well-positioned to have a strong working knowledge of all aspects of school management and to fully support one another and the school.”

Overall, Pryor said, “We are a student-centered school, (so) student-related decision-making will be prioritized by the new team as it has been by the current one.”

She said some of the unique challenges facing the academic head of a school like Baxter Academy is that “students arrive at our school with many different backgrounds and levels of preparedness.”

“The academic team at Baxter has to meet the students where they are and then acclimate each one to the rigorous, college prep program,” Pryor said.

“It requires leadership that recognizes many different teaching styles matter. It (also) requires flexible thinking and problem-solving. Most of all it requires keeping the school’s unique mission at the center of every decision.”

“Baxter has grown rapidly over the past five years and is now positioned to fully realize the potential of its real-world STEM programming,” Pryor added, especially since moving into a new “32,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility” this past winter.

At Baxter Academy, “We are continuously designing ways to be a regional resource for STEM opportunity through programming that runs beyond the school day and serves a diversity of learners,” she said. “Demand is strong for STEM education and the need for STEM-prepared graduates is great. (Long term) we want to be part of what moves Maine forward.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Michele LaForge was the first head of school at the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, which opened in 2013. She’s moving to South Portland High School, which means the charter school is seeking a new academic leader.

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