BAR HARBOR — One of Marc Gousse’s goals as the new superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) is to find ways for the schools to operate more efficiently so that more resources can be devoted to services and programs for students.
But he knows that the pursuit of greater efficiency cannot be allowed to weaken what he said are excellent schools that enjoy strong community support.
“To a person, people love their schools here, and they have very high standards,” he said in an interview with the Islander. “They are very proud of the accomplishments.”
At the same time, Gousse said, he has learned in his six weeks on the job that a lot of people in the community recognize the need to make the school system structure less cumbersome.
Both of his predecessors, Howard Colter and Rob Liebow, bemoaned the inefficiencies and redundancies in a system in which each school is largely independent, with its own governing board and annual budget. As recently as this spring, Colter and the MDIRSS board discussed the pros and cons of switching to a system with more centralized functions.
Gousse has not addressed any specific restructuring option, but he said some type of reform initiatives should be seriously considered.
“I believe people want those to move forward, but they want to proceed cautiously, making sure that they don’t derail or take away from the good things that are happening now, which is achievement. Kids do very well here,” he said.
“I’m very conscious of the fact that people are proud of their schools and that the schools in the individual towns are the centers of the community. But one of the things that that keeps emerging [in conversations] is whether there is a better way to do business. Can we function more efficiently and do more for kids without taking away individual communities’ identities, schools or local control?
“I think that over the next few years, that question needs to be called. It needs to be discussed in each community by a wide variety of people.”
Gousse said one of his priorities will be building on collaborations with organizations such as The Jackson Laboratory, MDI Biological Laboratory, College of the Atlantic and Acadia National Park, as well as with local businesses, to create more experiential learning opportunities for students. He said that will help keep students in school – students who otherwise might drop out – and prepare them for success after high school.
“You can teach kids about the Pythagorean theorem and the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, but those [real world] experiences are the defining things they will really remember and that will carry them forward,” he said.
Asked about his goals for the coming school year, his first as superintendent, Gousse said, “This is a system that is well run and is doing good work. I want to be conscious of how I can facilitate and continue that good work.”
A native of Lewiston and graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, Gousse was principal at Westbrook High School for 10 years before being named superintendent there in 2011.
“Even though I’m from Maine and have connections to this area, I’m still ‘from away,’” he said. “So, I want to be careful about [pushing] any new initiatives or new ideas. If there are any, I want those to be embraced by a wide array of people.”
Gousse said that in addition to working with veteran administrators, he is particularly looking forward to working with and mentoring the new elementary school principals: Gloria Delsandro at Mount Desert, Crystal DeGraca at Swans Island, Lindsay Eysnogle at Longfellow School on Great Cranberry Island and Jandrea True, who will start her first full year as principal at Tremont Consolidated School.
“They are great people; they’re going to do a great job,” Gousse said. “And my hope is that my experience will help them grow.”