BAR HARBOR — It’s back to square one in the search for a new superintendent for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS).
The school system board decided Monday night not to offer the job to either of the candidates that the superintendent search committee had selected as finalists: Mike Hammer of Ellsworth and Jose Maldonado-Rivera, currently of the Dominican Republic.
Following a closed-door meeting that lasted nearly 90 minutes, the school board voted 15-2 to reopen the search.
Charlie Wray, chairman of both the school board and the superintendent search committee, said he plans to convene a meeting of the chairmen of the school committees in the eight MDIRSS towns to talk about how to proceed. Wray said he sees two possibilities: Try to hire a new superintendent prior to current superintendent Howard Colter’s retirement on June 30 or look to hire an interim superintendent to serve until a permanent successor to Colter can be brought on board.
The Islander asked Colter on Tuesday if he would be willing to stay on longer, if the school board asked him to, until a new superintendent could be hired.
“It is time for me to move on and time for our great school system to benefit from new leadership,” he replied in an email.
He said he does not think it is in the best interest of the school system for him to continue as superintendent, but he would be “willing to consider” staying on through the summer months if the school board wanted him to.
“Let’s count on the continuation of the search producing great results,” Colter said.
“I am picturing an exciting and engaging new superintendent standing here on opening day next fall, introducing herself/himself and welcoming back students, teachers and staff. It is a nice picture!”
Before the school board went into executive session Monday evening, Wray commented on the search process and the qualities the search committee wanted in a new superintendent.
“We were looking for honest, straightforward individuals who were adept and flexible communicators, who would be out in the community [and] able to talk to many stakeholders,” Wray said. “I think what we’ve learned as a committee is that we need a visionary education leader, but we also need a manager.”
For example, Wray said, the superintendent is responsible for such varied activities as “managing health insurance increases, dealing with HR (human resources), facilities, transportation, strategic planning, budgeting, communicating with and being an evaluator of his or her staff, a negotiator, a head of technology. It is a multifaceted job.”
The 15-member search committee, which the school board formed last October, included school board members, principals, teachers and community members. Wray said the committee decided early on that candidates for the superintendent’s job must have had experience as classroom teachers and as principals and must be certified or eligible for certification as superintendents in Maine.
He said that of the six applicants, all of whom met those criteria, “several” are currently principals in Maine, another is a principal on the west coast and one has been head of a statewide education department.
“That individual withdrew from the process to lead a school district that has in excess of 150,000 students and a budget of over $2 billion,” Wray said.
The MDI-area school system currently has about 1,500 students.
“We interviewed four individuals in the first round, three in the second round and brought two in as finalists,” Wray said.
He said the committee received “significant feedback” from community members on both finalists.
Hammer, who was one of those finalists, has served as principal at Hancock Grammar School and Winter Harbor Grammar School. From 2011-2015, he was superintendent of the school district that includes Houlton, Hammond, Littleton and Monticello. He currently has a one-year appointment as interim superintendent of the school district that includes the southern Aroostook County towns of Dyer Brook and Stacyville.
The other finalist, Maldonado-Rivera, is founder and head of a magnet school in the Dominican Republic that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. He also is a consultant to the Puerto Rican Department of Education and the Dominican Republic’s Ministries of Education and Environment.
He was the founding principal and associate scientist at the Columbia School for Math, Science & Engineering, a public high school in New York City, from 2006 to 2010.
Following the school board’s vote to reopen the search process, several board members commended the search committee for their efforts.
“I know it was a lot of work, and I am very appreciative for everything that you did,” said Heather Jones.
Board member Kristi Losquadro of Bar Harbor, who also served on the search committee, said she was pleased that members of that committee had worked so cooperatively.
“We had plenty of conversations where we were not in agreement or people had different ideas, but everybody was very respectful,” she said. “I think all of our communities came together in that little group and worked extremely well together.”