South Portland board to vote on new principal for high school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A search committee is recommending the principal of Livermore Falls High School be hired as the next principal of South Portland High School.

If approved by the School Board in a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 1, James Holland will replace Jeanne Crocker, who announced her retirement in May. 

Holland, 51, who lives in Temple, has been the Livermore Falls principal for one year. Before that, he was assistant principal at Cony High School in Augusta for six years, where in 2009 he was nominated for Assistant Principal of the Year by the Maine Principals Association. He previously taught science at Cony for 18 years.

In an interview, Holland said that while his administrative experience may seem sparse, he is confident in his ability to lead. He said that he was hired in Livermore Falls as a “transformational principal,” in charge of turning around the school, which in spring 2010 was listed as “chronically under-performing.” 

Holland said Cony juniors’ SAT scores have gone up and the school’s failure rate has declined by 50 percent. He chalked that up to his work as both a teacher and assistant principal at Cony, where he said he concentrated on curriculum, accreditation and leadership. 

On the prospect of moving south, Holland said he is excited to move to a place like South Portland.

“It’s such a similar school to Cony,” he said. “My wife and I have spent a lot of time in the Portland area and have talked about moving there for years. This just seems like a great time and way to do it.”

Holland said he is also excited about the “progressive” approach at South Portland High School. When asked for examples of that philosophy, he noted the collaborative methods used in the teaming structure for teachers and the emphasis on hands-on learning for students.

“They have a lot of team meetings built into their schedules, and department meetings,” he said. “Teachers there can talk about their profession, teaching and student work. That collaborative nature that exists down there is really inviting. … The days of kids sitting in rows doing independent work are pretty much done. Kids need to be engaged.”

With the voter-approved renovation and expansion of SPHS slated for completion by the 2015-2016 school year, Holland would preside over a school in transition. That suits him, he said, because he’s been through it before. 

“When I was in Augusta, I had taught at the old Cony High School for years,” he said. “The new building was built four years ago, and I was there for the building process and on several committees. One of the steps in planning a building is considering the educational approach used. A new building is a great stimulus or catalyst to start thinking about how you’re doing things, and how to do them better.

“I’d feel very comfortable going in,” he said. “I’m looking forward to a challenge.”

Monday’s special School Board meeting is at 6 p.m. in the superintendent’s conference room at 120 Wescott Road.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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