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Durham school chief tapped by RSU 5

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Durham school chief tapped by RSU 5

FREEPORT — Shannon Welsh, superintendent of School Union 30 in Durham, was named chief of Regional School Unit 5 last week.

She was narrowly selected over Freeport and Pownal Superintendent Elaine Tomaszewski after a 2 1/2-hour closed-door meeting of the RSU board.

The 6-5 public vote did not fall along town lines. Freeport residents Kristen Dorsey and Betsy Peters and Pownal resident Eric Dube joined all three Durham representatives –  Chairwoman Laurie Poissonnier, Melinda McKechnie and Cori Holt – in voting for Welsh.

RSU Vice Chairman John Morang, Beth Parker, Nelson Larkins and Brenda Kielty of Freeport, and Pownal resident Jen Kaplan, voted against Welsh's appointment.

Morang, a current member of the Freeport School Committee, former head of the math department at Mt. Ararat High School and selectmen in Durham, said it was one of the more difficult decisions he's ever made.

"I've let people go before and I've been on a superintendent search committee before, but never like this," he said.

Morang said both candidates were excellent choices, but he felt strongly that Tomaszewski was more familiar with the system.

"We have a way to go before we are all working together as a board," Morang said. "I know whatever happens, we are all committed to the education of our children."

Tomaszewski will continue to work in the district until her contract expires in 2010, but her role hasn't been defined.

"The board has voted and made their decision, " Tomaszewski said. "I will continue to work to support the creation of RSU 5."

Welsh said the vote came as a surprise to her.

"I realize the challenge the board faced in making this decision, and I am honored to be the superintendent of RSU 5," she said. "There is enormous potential for growth in our systems and I see many benefits to our students and staff and taxpayers as a result of our coming together."

Welsh has been superintendent of the Lisbon and Durham school district since 2000. She also held administrative positions at School Administrative District 51 (Cumberland-North Yarmouth) and was an elementary school teacher for 14 years. She holds a doctorate in educational administration from Boston College, a master's degree from the University of Southern Maine, and a bachelor's degree in Special Education from St. Joseph's College in Connecticut.

Nelson Larkins, a Freeport resident, supported Tomaszewski, but said Welsh will bring great qualifications to the new school system. He said she was very helpful and prepared during the consolidation process.

"It has been a pleasure dealing with her for the past year and a half," he said.

Chris Leighton, chairman of the Freeport School Committee, said while he would have voted for Tomaszewski, it would not have been a vote against Welsh.

"The goal here is to have a terrific district and move toward becoming one of the best districts around," he said. "Shannon is a competent and accomplished administrator."

Poissonnier said it was unfortunate only one superintendent could be chosen, and said she hopes both candidates continue to work together until their contracts expire in July of 2010.

"Personally, it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," she said. "To tell one yes, and the other no was extremely difficult. And even to say it was difficult is an understatement."

Poissonnier said Tomaszewski's role in the school district will be decided by Welsh and the RSU board at an upcoming meeting. She said it is the RSU board's hope to "find a role worthy of Ms. Tomaszewski's substantial skills."

Tomaszewski declined to discuss Welsh's selection, other than to say she wishes Welsh well in her role as superintendent.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.