Cape Elizabeth hires interim school chief from Mount Desert Island

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Howard Colter, longtime superintendent in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, has been chosen as interim superintendent of schools.

The School Board approved Colter’s contract Tuesday. He will earn $125,000 and will start on July 1. His appointment runs through June 30, 2017.

Elizabeth Scifres, chairwoman of the School Board, said this week that Colter was chosen for his “sharp communication skills” and “the breadth and depth of his experience” in leading school districts throughout New England and in California.

“I think we’re in good hands and I hope everyone will welcome Howard and that we will all work together for a positive school year,” she said.

The board began its search for a new superintendent last winter after Meredith Nadeau announced she would be resigning to become superintendent in Newmarket, N.H., at the end of this school year.

The board decided to seek an interim superintendent after both of its finalists for the permanent post withdrew from consideration in late April. At that time, in a letter to the community, Scifres said it was not unusual for a school district to go through more than one search for a new superintendent.

In a prior interview, Scifres said “the superintendent of schools is incredibly important, not only to the school district, but to the community. Hiring a superintendent is arguably the most critical job of a school board.”

Scifres also said the board “takes its charge of finding the right match for our district very seriously and is committed to hiring the best person it can to lead the Cape Elizabeth schools.”

This week, both Scifres and Colter were clear that his appointment as superintendent is for one year only.

“We’re taking it one step at a time at this point,” Scifres said, adding that the School Board would likely renew its search for a permanent superintendent sometime this fall.

She said the board is “very pleased” with Colter, who would be expected to create the school budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year before leaving next summer.

Colter, 70, who is leaving his Mount Desert Island job, said this week that he is transitioning toward retirement, which is one reason the interim superintendent position in Cape Elizabeth is attractive.

He said the biggest challenges in being the interim superintendent would include understanding the culture of the schools and the community, as well as making sure he keeps Cape Elizabeth moving forward.

“The school district has a strategic plan that it’s following carefully,” Colter said. “My goal is just to keep things moving forward, keeping steady ahead and helping to position the district for another full-blown (superintendent) search.”

Colter’s other goals include being “encouraging and supportive of the staff and students and listening well.” He also said he is  “excited by the opportunity to connect with the three schools and getting to see students and teachers at work.”

Overall, he said, “I’m impressed by the schools and how year in and year out they provide a top-drawer education. They have a long record of success and do really good work preparing students.”

Scifres said the School Board met with two candidates for interim superintendent and decided that Colter was the best fit.

“He brings a broader (educational) view to Cape,” she said.

Colter led the Mount Desert Island schools for a total of 16 years, with an eight-year break in between. Originally from California, he has a master’s degree in education from Tufts University in Massachusetts and his school administration credentials from the University of San Francisco.

He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and has been married for 43 years. He and his wife have three grown sons, one of whom lives in Maine. The other two live in North Carolina and Colorado.

Colter, his wife and their golden retriever plan to move into an apartment this summer, either in Cape or a nearby community. He said he wants to be “accessible, visible and a full part of the school community for the whole year.”