New leader of Portland School Board

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PORTLAND — The School Board elected a new chairperson during an inauguration ceremony on Monday at City Hall.

Familiar faces were also welcomed back, as three incumbents were each sworn in to serve another term.

Board member Marnie Morionne, who represents District 5 and has been on the board since 2008, was appointed as the new chairwoman. She was elected unanimously by the rest of the board Monday.

Sarah Thompson, who had chaired the School Board since 2013, was sworn in for her fourth term to an at-large seat on the board. Jenna Vendil, who represents District 1, was sworn in for her third term. District 2 representative Holly Seeliger was sworn in for a second term.

All three will serve for three years. Thompson and Vendil defeated brother-and-sister challengers Paul and Josephine Okot, respectively, in the November election. Seeliger ran unopposed.

In her remarks, Morionne said she was “both humbled and grateful” for the opportunity to lead the board. She commended Thompson for her leadership, then outlined why she will also be an effective leader. Morionne said she is a consensus builder, an overseer, a seeker of information, a collaborator and someone who will lead by example.

“Our collective work is to create a better future for Portland Public Schools and its students,” Morrione said.

Thompson, the former chairwoman of the board, thanked members for the opportunity to lead, and recognized accomplishments and challenges her colleagues had taken on this past year.

Thompson said some of the board’s biggest accomplishments included adding 20 minutes of educational time to the school day by altering the start and end times at city schools; creating a “successful partnership” with METRO which allows high school students to take city buses to and from school, and improved policies for board governance.

Thompson also cited challenges facing the district, including the need to improve the city’s educational facilities across the district. She cited, but did not limit her concerns to, redevelopment of the aging Fred P. Hall Elementary School on 23 Orono Road, which is a $28 million state-funded project. A referendum on replacing the school is expected in the spring.

“We must maintain appropriate facilities,” she said.

Thompson also said the district is working to provide steady leadership while a search is conducted for a new superintendent of schools. Emmanuel Caulk, who held the post from 2012 until July, resigned his position to become the next school chief of the 40,000-student Fayette County Public Schools system in Lexington, Kentucky. Jeanne Crocker was named interim superintendent while a search is underway.

The board recognized its four outgoing high school student representatives during the ceremony, including Sarah Ahmed from Deering High School, John Phan from Portland High School, Sophie VanDerburgh from Casco Bay High School and Maria Fontaine from Portland Arts and Technology High School.

Student representatives Ludiya Abdalla of Portland High School, Blaize Vail of Deering High School, Matthew Suslovic of Casco Bay High School and Kevin Segal of PATHS were all sworn in. They are nonvoting members serving one-year terms, and were elected by their student peers.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

From left, School Board members Jenna Vendil and Holly Seeliger; student representatives Matthew Suslovic and Kevn Sega; board member Sarah Thompson; and student representatives Blaize Vail and Ludiya Abdalla are all sworn in by City Clerk Katherine Jones at City Hall Monday.

Portland School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione, left, next to interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Crocker.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or