South Portland school chief resigns after 8 years

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PORTLAND — Citing a desire to return to more classroom-oriented work, Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Godin will resign effective June 30, 2015.

“I want to get back to the things that bring me passion and energy,” Godin said Monday.

School Board member Rick Carter, who has worked with Godin for a decade, said Wednesday her decision was not a surprise.

“A lot of us were saddened, but not necessarily shocked,” Carter said. “Her passion has always been with the educational side, not the day-to-day operational side. It is an incredibly difficult job for anybody.”

After eight years as superintendent, following three as assistant superintendent, Godin in her Nov. 10 resignation letter said the last three years in particular have taken her focus away from what she truly enjoys.

“The majority of my time is spent dealing with personnel issues, in budget discussions, and playing political games,” she said. “It is time for me to move back toward working directly to make a difference in our classrooms.”

The School Board on Monday, Nov. 24, accepted her letter of resignation at a special meeting and authorized Board Chairman Tappan Fitzgerald Jr. to hire the Maine School Management Association to conduct a search for Godin’s replacement.

Carter said a Dec. 1 meeting with the MSMA will help provide details and a time-line for the search.

“We want to get the opening out there as soon as possible,” he said.

Godin said she has been considering stepping down for some time, especially because the renovation and expansion of South Portland High School will culminate next month.

“What is gratifying is seeing the building actually come to fruition,” she said. “It is more beautiful than anyone has imagined.”

Godin was appointed superintendent in 2007, just as city residents, by a 4,726 to 1,564 vote, rejected a $56 million bond to renovate and expand the high school.

In 2010, the School Department, City Council and a political action committee joined together to promote passage of a $41.5 million bond to fund a $47 million renovation and expansion plan that included demolishing and rebuilding the high school “annex” along Mountain View Road, and enclosing the school courtyard as part of a 100,000-square-foot expansion.

Voters approved the bond, 6,680 to 4,298.

“Everything we supposed would happen has,” Godin said about the school renovation and expansion.

She said milestones in her tenure go beyond the high school: a pre-kindergarten program was implemented in two locations, first in 2011 at the Opportunity Alliance Center in Brick Hill, and then at Kaler Elementary School in 2012.

Her initial goal of offering pre-k throughout the city by 2015 may not be met, but Godin said the program has provided a tangible benefit to students.

“The data is pretty clear that by having pre-k, we are reducing the level of intervention in the second and third grades,” Godin said.

Her tenure was also marked by difficult fiscal conditions, with city councilors and School Board members conducting joint workshops to review financial conditions and potential budget issues.

Godin and the School Board began setting up reserve accounts, largely derived from annual budget surpluses, to pay for larger expenses, including the iPads supplied to high school students as part of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative.

A June 3, 2013, City Council vote temporarily halted the iPad purchase by blocking the use of $785,000 of reserve funds. Councilors reversed course two weeks later, and unanimously approved the funding.

Colchester Road resident Albert DiMillo Jr., a frequent critic of municipal and School Department accounting and budgeting practices, threatened to sue the city over the use of annual surpluses as reserve funds.

Reserve funds have also paid for new buses.

“I think the board has been extremely fiscally responsible in setting those up,” Godin said. “Any of those initiatives are budget-breakers, and through the reserves and surplus, we were able to move the district forward.” 

Carter said Godin’s success also stemmed from her ability to recognize talent.

“She has been the face and the voice of the leader of the South Portland schools for a decade and has surrounded herself with a exceptional staff,” he said.

Godin said the future of Memorial and Mahoney middle schools is the biggest question facing the School Board and School Department. On Monday, the School Board began discussing forming a facilities committee and reviewing data needs for middle school students.

An enduring question is how to pay for maintenance without relying as much on reserve funds or capital improvements bonding, Godin said.

Before becoming assistant superintendent in South Portland, Godin was an elementary school principal and teacher in School Administrative District 51, which includes Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

She said she is confident her successor will be well supported by School Department staff.

“The administrative team assembled currently is the most professional, hard-working, committed group I’ve encountered in my career,” Godin said. “They put children first in every decision and are dedicated to ensuring all students excel. Any superintendent would be privileged to work with this group.”

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Suzanne Godin

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.