Retiring Portland school chief accepts job in New Hampshire

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PORTLAND — The search for a new school chief continues as retiring Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. announced plans to take a job in New Hampshire.

Morse, who will retire as head of Portland schools June 30, said he will start the following day as superintendent of the Oyster River School District. The district has 2,100 students from Durham, Lee and Madbury, N.H.

Morse said he has verbally accepted the New Hampshire offer, but has not signed a contract. He said he is looking forward to a new opportunity, but also appreciates his time in Portland.

“My experience in Portland has been incredible,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education received an update Monday on the ongoing search for Morse’s replacement.

Board members are in the process of reviewing a draft position profile created by PROACT Search, the Illinois-based firm hired to assist in the search.

The profile was developed using information gathered at 16 forums and focus groups held with parents, staff and other stakeholders, as well as 20 one-on-one interviews. The firm also gave the board results from an online survey about the qualities and skills desired in a superintendent.

A total of 273 people participated in forums, focus groups and the survey.

Sarah Thompson, chairwoman of the Superintendent Search Committee, said the board could vote on the profile at its March 6 meeting. If the profile is approved, PROACT will aggressively recruiting candidates until April 2, she said.

Thompson said she was not surprised by characteristics and district strengths and weaknesses mentioned in forums and the survey.

“I’m glad there was a lot of consistency in what people had to say,” she said.

According to results from PROACT, respondents said one of the district’s top strengths is the diversity of the community. Other strengths included having  a mayor who is interested in education, different high school options, School Board and union relations, and improved relations between City Hall and the School Board.

Respondents said challenges in the district include the diversity of the community, school buildings in bad shape, the growing refugee population and meeting the needs of all students.

Characteristics desired in a new superintendent range from communication skills to a leader who is visible to students and understand their needs.

School Board members are now reviewing 18 points derived from responses to create a final position profile. The draft profile describes a superintendent who is familiar with the unique nature of Portland; is able to maneuver relationships between the city and state; has a record in an urban environment with a diverse student population, and is politically astute and able to become a voice for children throughout the state.

Other desired attributes include classroom experience, a track record of improving student performance and a strong commitment to working in a diverse and multicultural community where more than 65 languages are spoken.

Thompson said board members want to place more emphasis on strategic planning and implementation and on finding a candidate who is open to creating and accepting change.

“We want a superintendent who believes in and values and makes a commitment to staff,” she said.

Thompson said board members also asked PROACT to include information about quality of life in Portland on a website it will create to promote the search. She said PROACT has already been contacted by people from across the country who are interested in the job.

“I think the floodgates are going to open,” she said.

The search for a new superintendent began after Morse announced last fall he would retire at the end of the school year. Thompson said she was not surprised by Morse’s recent announcement that he will take a job in New Hampshire because “he’s a really smart man and he’s really good with change.”

“He certainly still has a lot to offer,” she said.

Information about the superintendent search is updated regularly on the Portland Public Schools website.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.