Maine School Administrative District 75 Superintendent Steven Connolly will resign at the end of the school year. The departure of the district’s top administrator sets up the sixth transition in the role in five years.
“My decision to resign comes after much self-reflection, consideration of work-life balance, and family input,” Connolly said in his resignation letter. “While the long hours each week, the volume of evening meetings and events, and hard decisions were known parts of the role, I find I have not been effective at managing the implicit divisions that exist based on political, personal, and ideological beliefs which, in my view, are stagnating the opportunity for systemic educational progress. Upon joining the District on July 1, 2022, I believed I would be the person to bring continuity to a staff and community seeking to move forward. Unfortunately, that will not be the case.”
In the letter, Connolly thanked MSAD 75 Board of Directors Chair Frank Wright, of Harpswell, and Vice Chair Hutson Hayward, of Bowdoinham, for what he described as a supportive and collaborative relationship with board leadership.
“I also wish to express my sincere appreciation to those Board members who supported the goal of educational progress for all — not just some — MSAD No. 75 students,” he said in the letter. “Every student should have the right to thrive in the MSAD No. 75 community, regardless of any single person’s belief system.”
He praised the district’s administrators, staff and students.
“We have much good work to do in the coming months, and I will work to be as focused as possible on the important work ahead of us,” he said. “I will also endeavor to support the transition process for the next district leader as you see fit.”
“While my resignation may seem like a setback in some ways, my decision also provides an opportunity for the communities to determine what it is they really want in a leader and what it may take to keep someone in that role for the foreseeable future,” Connolly concluded. “Best of luck to you all.”
The MSAD 75 Board of Directors accepted Connolly’s resignation on Thursday, Feb. 9.
“This is really hard, as you can imagine, but we do have to move forward, so we will begin our search for a new superintendent as soon as possible,” Wright said.
The board immediately selected a superintendent search committee. In addition to the chair, the committee will have one member from each of the district’s four towns: Doug Dumont, Topsham; Hayward, Bowdoinham; Ryan Larsen, Harpswell; and Kim Totten, Bowdoin.
Wright said his next step would be to consult the district’s human resources director, Jessica Factor.
Wright told Connolly that he had done exactly what the board asked him to do during his brief tenure.
“You moved us forward and you made a huge difference in our district because you allowed us to focus on the important things … and we’re really sorry to see you go,” Wright said.
Board member Mike Timberlake, of Topsham, called the news “shocking and sad.”
“I’ve been impressed with your leadership right from the very beginning,” Timberlake told Connolly. “You’ve built bridges and trust with just a wide range of people in our community — teachers, staff, parents, community members.”
“You’ve been under a constant onslaught of problems — ranging from resignations, illnesses, leave requests, threats, complaints, natural disasters — and you’ve dealt professionally with all of them,” Timberlake added.
Timberlake praised Connolly for his creative problem-solving and his visibility at district events.
“Recently we had some problems with hate and bullying and you were very quick to act and come up with a plan that I was proud of and I heard some really great feedback about, and I think you did that in a transparent, open way, and allowed people to see that we were dealing with our problems,” Timberlake said.
Connolly started work July 1. He has more than 40 years of experience in Maine schools, many as a superintendent and principal in Southern Maine.
Near the end of the meeting, Wright delivered a warning to the board, saying it is hurting students. He did not give specifics, but said board members should not “publicly attack one another or our employees” and suggested that the board has not allowed superintendents to do their jobs and has allowed personal agendas to interfere with the board’s work.
“We have had six superintendents in as many years and, more importantly, the integrity of this board has been compromised, and because the integrity has been compromised, we are hurting our students,” Wright said. “We need to draw together. Think now of how difficult it’s going to be for us to get another superintendent.”
Board member Brandy Robertson, of Bowdoin, expressed uncertainty about Wright’s comments.
“It sounds like maybe you have some personal knowledge that others of us don’t have, so I’m not quite sure where you’re coming from with that, although I hear your words and, obviously, (I’m) willing to work together,” Robertson said. “I think that it is problematic when people join the board with a personal agenda, and I think that that has happened in the recent past.”
She said the board needs to agree on a vision and work toward that vision, as well as focus on its existing goals.
“We have a lot of goals that we’ve set in this district that we have not, as far as I’m aware, been working toward, and when you’re not working toward your goals, you fall apart,” Robertson said.
The board’s next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. March 9 in the forum at Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham.