Frank Wright chairs the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors. (Rebecca Norden-Bright photo/Anchor file)
The chair of the Maine School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors will finish his term after a wave of criticism and support regarding his comments about the influence of conservative activists on the district.
The chair, Harpswell resident Frank Wright, reportedly emailed the board that he intended to resign as chair at its meeting on March 9, but changed his mind before the meeting.
Wright referred a request for the email to MSAD 75 Superintendent Stephen Connolly, who did not respond to the Anchor’s request for the email and related correspondence.
Wright’s future as chair was the focus of more than an hour of public comment at the March 9 meeting. Numerous speakers offered support for Wright, while a few criticized him.
Wright did not address his future as chair in the public portion of the meeting. But in response to an email inquiry after the meeting, he said, “I will remain as the board chair of MSAD 75 for the foreseeable future until the end of June.”
Wright’s one-year term as chair will end in June. The chair’s position rotates among the district’s four towns.
Wright’s comments about activists followed February’s news that Connolly, the superintendent, would resign at the end of his first year on the job.
In his resignation letter, Connolly said that he has 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.”
Connolly expressed appreciation for board members who support “educational progress for all — not just some” students. He said that all students should have the right to thrive in the district’s schools, “regardless of any single person’s belief system.”
In an interview with WGME about Connolly’s resignation, Wright pointed to a local chapter of the national organization Parents’ Rights in Education as one source of pressure on the administration.
The state director of the organization lives in Topsham and routinely addresses the board with concerns about various subjects, such as the influence of the teachers union.
A post on the Facebook group Parents’ Rights in Education Maine urged supporters to call for new board leadership at the March 9 meeting.
Harpswell parent Kara Douglas was among Wright’s supporters at the meeting.
“If most of us, myself included, aspired to be half as committed and responsive as Frank Wright, we would be living in a very different reality than we presently are, and that would undoubtedly be one in which our children were both challenged and encouraged, seen for who they are and supported in who they’re becoming,” Douglas said. “As a parent, I expect my local school board to be as open-minded as it is conscientious. I can think of no better leadership for this board than Frank Wright’s.”
Harpswell resident Karen Tcheyan urged the board to unify in support of Wright. “We need to move forward from the recent and ongoing hostilities and accusations toward him and do the job of serving our students, our teachers and our communities,” Tcheyan said.
Harpswell parent Katie Neal said she appreciates Wright’s “calm, level-headed presence” on the board and as a coach and volunteer at Harpswell Community School. She said the board should focus on supporting students and teachers.
“My husband and I deeply value education and we hope to raise our children to be lifelong learners,” Neal said. “I believe it is the school board and the superintendent’s job to work together to exemplify what it means to work collaboratively, and to be creative problem-solvers and to ensure this is a community of fluent learners, critical thinking and contributors to our society.”
A handful of speakers were less supportive. “Mr. Wright, I’m sorry, but this past month’s been a freaking circus and you’re the ringleader,” said Craig Caffrey, of Bowdoinham. “I think you should just resign as chair and from the board.”
Wright did not address the comments publicly except to thank speakers. But the board spent much of the meeting in a series of executive sessions — secret discussions that the public cannot attend or watch online.
The purpose given for one of the sessions was hearing Wright discuss his role as chair.
State law allows public boards to hold executive sessions for several reasons. The board cited a part of the law that allows an executive session for discussion of the duties of a public official, or complaints against a public official, “if public discussion could be reasonably expected to cause damage to the individual’s reputation or the individual’s right to privacy would be violated.”
Board member Eric Lusk, of Harpswell, objected to the executive session and declined to participate, saying the conversation should happen in public.
Wright has served on the board since 2019. A former public school teacher, he has two children in MSAD 75 schools.
In an interview with the Anchor at the beginning of his term as chair, Wright acknowledged the district’s issues with administrative turnover and board conflict. He said his goal as chair was “to create a sense of unity on the board and continue the peace process in order to be able to function as a cohesive unit.”