ELLSWORTH — Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School has found its next principal, and the name is one that will be familiar to many.
April Clifford was announced last week as the school’s newest K-4 principal. The Ellsworth School Department technology director will take over July 1 for outgoing principal Cathy Lewis, who is retiring.
A graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington, Clifford began teaching at Ellsworth’s former Bryant E. Moore School in 1995 before moving to Beech Hill School in Otis in 2002. In 2007, she accepted a job as the Ellsworth School Department’s technology director, a position she has held for the past 13 years.
The Ellsworth School Department made a job posting for the new K-4 principal position back in late February. Clifford was just months away from completing her Master of Science in educational leadership at the University of New England at the time, and the moment felt right to use her incoming degree to take a new step in the field.
“It just felt like a natural fit,” Clifford said. “I’m always looking for new ways to provide more educational and developmental experiences for our students. Being involved with students and the classroom experience really ignites a fire in me.”
Clifford was one of three job candidates in a pool Superintendent Dan Higgins called “very strong.” Although the hiring process was rather straightforward, Higgins said, it was still delayed a bit as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting school closures.
In the end, the search committee overwhelmingly recommended Clifford for the job. Her appointment was made official at the Ellsworth School Board meeting last Tuesday, just a few weeks after she completed her University of New England degree.
“She was the unanimous choice,” Higgins said. “[The process] was a little more drawn out than usual because of the circumstances we’re dealing with, but the search committee did a thorough and excellent job to identify and choose the right person to lead our K-4 program.”
With local schools now nearing the end of a school year that’s seen two and a half months worth of instruction conducted remotely, Clifford has been one of the busiest people in all of the Ellsworth School Department. Remote learning has brought with it a notable transition, and as the district’s technology director, she has been at the forefront of solving the many tech-related challenges.
Yet that, Higgins said, was far from the only reason Clifford was the top candidate for the job. In a statement on the hiring, the superintendent called Clifford “well-versed in curriculum, instruction, assessment and the systems and operations of the Ellsworth School Department” and also cited her active role in the Ellsworth community at large.
“There were so many other reasons she emerged as the top candidate for this position,” Higgins told The Ellsworth American. “She’s been a valuable ed tech and seasoned administrator, and her background and experience have prepared her well to be our next K-4 principal.”
The Clifford family name is already well known throughout Hancock County schools as April’s husband, Dan, has been principal at Ellsworth High School since he left the same position at Bucksport High School in 2015. Their youngest and middle daughters, fourth-grader Kennedy and high school freshman Morgan, are in the Ellsworth school system, and their eldest daughter, Maddie, graduated from Bucksport last year.
“The kids are familiar with my family, and they’re familiar with me individually, and I think that familiarity is something that’s going to be a positive for everybody,” Clifford said. “I know them, and I know their siblings and parents. If you say, ‘Mrs. Clifford,’ they know who that is.”
When she begins her new job in just under a month, Clifford will be preparing for a school year that is set to face more uncertainties than any other in recent memory. Depending on where the COVID-19 situation stands in the late summer and early fall, the 2020-21 curriculum could be remote-based, classroom-based or a hybridization of the two.
Whatever the next school year looks like, it will be a new experience for an Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School principal. Yet with Clifford’s diverse background and her passion for her students and her community, she believes she’s more than ready for the moment.
“My goal is to invest everything I can in these students and their futures,” Clifford said. “Whether we’re back in the classroom or still at home on our laptops, I’m going to make sure our school is as best as it can be to help them succeed and develop.”