ELLSWORTH — Who will lead Ellsworth schools come fall? The School Board has met with consultant Jack Turcotte — a name familiar to city schools as one-time superintendent and also lead administrator when the district transitioned out of Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) in 2014.
“I was fortunate in this role because I’m very familiar with Ellsworth,” he said. “As a result of that, I’m in the environment that I’m fairly comfortable in understanding what the needs are.”
Turcotte is fielding applications for the board and leading community involvement in the process. An initial community survey found that communication was the top quality wanted in the new superintendent, from more than 300 responses.
“We got great community response to providing us the attributes that people were looking for in a new superintendent,” Turcotte said. “We did not expect those kinds of numbers, you usually don’t get them.”
The survey allowed users to select four of 14 separate attributes. After communication, which 309 people selected, came leadership (228), involvement (191) and personnel management (172).
Curriculum (147), school improvement (145), community relations (137) and school finance/budgeting (126) followed as the next four favored attributes.
Rounding out the last six were: organizational management (97), staff development (97), supervision/evaluation (75), school board relations (68), school facility management (34) and technology (34).
Turcotte noted the shortage of qualified superintendent applicants statewide and beyond.
“Historically — I go back way, way too long — there were two or three times the number [of applications] we have for most superintendent vacancies,” he said. “Now we’re limited.”
The good news, he added, is that the 10 applications received for the position all come from qualified people.
“That says a lot, in my mind, for Ellsworth, for the city and the School Department,” Turcotte said. “At the same time, you definitely have to assess the needs and try to match that as best you can, because honestly, is everybody going to have everything you need? The answer is no.”
Of the 10 applicants, the School Board will interview four, who come from in and out of state, starting next week.
“We are very pleased with the large pool of applicants we have,” School Board Chairwoman Kelly McKenney said. “We received highly qualified educational leaders from all across the state of Maine, as well as some from out of state.”
The search began when former Superintendent Dan Higgins stepped down on Dec. 14, 2021, for personal reasons. Higgins, an Ellsworth High School graduate and former coach, teacher and administrator at city schools, had led the district since 2014. Hancock and Lamoine Superintendent Katrina Kane is currently interim superintendent for Ellsworth.
Whoever accepts the permanent superintendent position will inherit continuing challenges. Ellsworth has spent the past two years dealing with COVID-19, remote learning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines, vocal parents frustrated over those guidelines, a lawsuit (since resolved) filed over First Amendment rights at School Board meetings and ongoing public records requests by a community member convinced the district is secretly teaching critical race theory to young students.
“The ups and downs of the city, that’s going to require a different set of skills,” Turcotte said.