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Panel to introduce new school chief next week

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Panel to introduce new school chief next week

PORTLAND — A nearly year-long search will come to an end next week when the School Committee announces the hiring of a new superintendent of schools.
A special meeting will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall to confirm the new superintendent. A press conference will be held after the meeting on the first floor and a reception in the State of Maine room will follow.
School Committee member Sarah Thompson, who led the search, said she is confident the community will support the choice, since the search included input from teachers, administrators, and community and business groups.
"It's been great gathering the feedback from the community," she said. "Once we introduce the candidate to the community, I think they'll soon realize and see what we saw as well."
Ten people applied for the job following a nationwide search. The two finalists are men who are currently superintendents; one from Maine, the other from out of state.
Although school budgets are facing increased pressures, Deering High School Principal Ken Kunin said hiring a new superintendent is great opportunity to generate excitement in the community and in the public school system.
"The School Committee did a commendable job of including significant input while properly making it clear that making the hire is what they were elected to do," he said. "I have a lot of confidence that the result will be positive for our students."
The School Committee met twice in closed sessions last week to negotiate the new superintendent's contract, which has been finalized. Thompson declined to disclose the salary ahead of next week's School Committee vote.
Interim Superintendent Jeanne Whynot-Vickers makes an annual salary of $115,000 to run the state's largest, most diverse school district. Last summer, Thompson said Whynot-Vickers's salary is low compared to other school districts.
The School Committee recently updated the superintendent's job description, placing a more explicit emphasis on managing the district's diversity. About 26 percent of the district's 6,900 students are English language learners, speaking 52 different native languages.
Neither of the finalists comes from a district as diverse as Portland, but Thompson said that has nothing to do with the added emphasis on diversity.
"Even though we follow equal opportunity employment laws and hiring practices for diverse representation," Thompson said, "(the interview panel) thought it was very important to have that as part of the job description."
Whynot-Vickers has been filling in as school chief since 2007, when a $2 million budget deficit led to Mary Jo O'Connor's resignation. Whynot-Vickers originally expressed interest in the position, but chose not to apply when the School Committee signaled it wouldn't hire an assistant superintendent to oversee the high schools.
In addition to naming a new superintendent, the committee next week is expected to honor Portland teachers who have been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and Maine's Special Education Director of the Year. No additional information was available at press time.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.