South Portland’s new school chief eyes combined, ‘world-class’ middle school

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SOUTH PORTLAND — New Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin, who has been on the job for less than a month, already has big plans for the upcoming school year.

Kunin was hired in April to succeed former Superintendent Suzanne Godin, who held the post for nearly 10 years before announcing her resignation last November. He signed a two-year contract, through June 30, 2017.

Since 2011, Kunin was secondary school principal at the American Overseas School of Rome. He and his wife and daughter moved back to their home in Portland at the end of July.

Kunin was principal at Deering High School in Portland from 2005-2010. He was principal at Reiche Community School in Portland from 1998-2005.

In South Portland, in addition to furthering proficiency-based education at all learning levels, Kunin on Monday said he wants to continue integrating the use of technology as a learning tool, and ensuring that the district maintains its “tradition of high-performing schools.”

He said he’s also looking to the future – specifically, the kind of education and learning resources the district wants to provide and how to provide them.

At the middle school level, the answer may be in combined schools.

Memorial Middle School and Mahoney Middle School are the oldest in the city, Kunin said, while other buildings are newer or have had recent renovations, like South Portland High School.

“I think we need to think about how we can provide that same resource to our middle school level,” he said, and ask “what does a world-class middle school program look like and how can students access that?”

A Middle School Building Committee was formed earlier this summer and will meet monthly, starting Aug. 20.

Another middle school combination – greeted with opposition by many parents – was a decision during this year’s budget process to combine the seventh- and eighth-grade soccer teams and basketball teams at both schools.

Kunin said he will announce at the Monday, Aug. 24, School Board meeting that, per his recommendation, basketball teams at Memorial and Mahoney middle schools will remain separate for the 2015-2016 school year, and only the soccer teams at each school will be combined.

“We were able to find savings in our athletic budget this year,” Kunin said. It will cost $16,500 to keep the basketball teams separate.

The soccer teams will combine because there isn’t enough time before the season starts to organize two teams at each school. Extra games will be added to the season, however, to give everyone playing time.

“We want as many kids as possible involved in extracurricular activities,” Kunin said.

On the academic side, Kunin said he wants to work to maintain the district’s “level of excellence.”

He noted South Portland’s growing diversity, with “at least two to three dozen different languages,” as a strong suit in the classroom.

“More and more of South Portland schools represent the real world,” Kunin said. It’s imperative, culturally speaking, to “create a learning environment that really looks like the rest of world. That’s really an advantage for our students.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

New Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin is preparing for his first year in South Portland.

Back to school

The first day of the 2015-2016 school year in South Portland is Tuesday, Sept. 8, for middle school students, high school ninth-graders, and all elementary school students except kindergarteners.

Wednesday, Sept. 9, is the first day of school for kindergarten, and 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.