FAIRFIELD – The window by Glenn Cummings’ desk looks out onto a row of mostly empty cottages that have housed hundreds of boys and girls who lacked stable homes.

Cummings predicts, two years from now, students will be living in those houses again.

It’s been a month since Cummings took over as president and executive director of Good Will-Hinckley, and the future of the 121-year-old institution is starting to take shape.

Cummings, a former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, left a job with the U.S. Department of Education to lead the turnaround of the boarding school for troubled teens that was all but shuttered a year ago for budget reasons.

Though a stillness pervades the sprawling 2,450-acre campus, inside the Prescott Building last week, Cummings spoke with confidence about a plan to revitalize the school.

The plan includes Kennebec Valley Community College buying land for a satellite campus and starting the state’s first two-year agricultural science program there.

Young adults transitioning out of foster homes could live in Good Will housing and take classes at the college, he said.

High-school students from around the region could be bused in for a daytime alternative-education program. And local businesses, like Johnny’s Seeds and Backyard Farms, could expand onto the school’s agricultural fields.

But there’s still at least one major hurdle in the way of realizing that vision.

“We just need to make sure we have a dependable and diversified funding stream,” Cummings said.

It’s up to him to make that happen.

The fate of Good Will-Hinckley has been hazy since the board of directors decided in the spring of 2009 to suspend the school’s core residential and educational programs, leaving nearly 50 students without homes and more than 100 employees without jobs.

‘IN A HOLDING PATTERN’

In the fallout, the board was criticized for failing to make financial adjustments and the chief executive officer resigned.

Since then, a staff of 25 has maintained the grounds and run a school for about 20 local students with special needs.

While a committee worked on a strategy for bringing Good Will-Hinckley into the future, the school’s stakeholders waited.

“It was difficult. We were in a holding pattern,” said Natalie Jones, director of operations and administration.

But a current of excitement has been running through the organization since Cummings got to campus, she said.

“This is a professional who can really drive our vision forward To have someone on our staff who is so focused on that, it’s really revitalizing for us,” said Jones.

His start date was Sept. 24, and he’ll be officially welcomed with a reception Thursday, but Cummings has been at work since his hiring was announced in August.

On the three days a week he commutes to Fairfield from his home in Portland, Cummings meets with local leaders and prospective land buyers.

On the other days he’s in Portland or Augusta, talking to state officials, including judges, legislators and department heads, about the needs of at-risk youth in Maine.

Cummings’ connections in the state were part of the reason he rose to the top of a pool of about 80 candidates for the presidency, said board chairwoman Kathryn Hunt.

But there was also his strong background in education, his experience with federal government and his unrelenting energy.

“He brought to us everything we were looking for,” Hunt said.

EDUCATOR’S EDUCATION

Cummings, 49, started his career as a social studies teacher at Gorham High School. Later, he served as the dean of advancement at Southern Maine Community College and, most recently, was the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of education in the Office of Vocational and Adult Education.

During his four terms as a state representative, starting in 2000, he was the chair of the education committee and the speaker of the House, and he sponsored a bill that converted the state’s technical colleges into today’s Maine Community College System.

At the same time, he continued his own education, earning a master’s degree from Brown University and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Cummings planned to apply for college presidencies when he stepped down from his post in the Obama administration, but a rule requires a year-long grace period between regulating educational institutions and working for them, he said.

Hunt said Cummings was hired to bring the school through a transition and wouldn’t speculate about whether he’d stay after that.

“We’re at a major turnaround period. We anticipate Glenn will be with us for the turnaround,” she said.

Cummings said he expects that work to take about two years. But, for him, a longer stay isn’t out of the question.

“I’ve become enamored with the Hinckley concept,” he said. “It’s very possible I could be here for the next 25 years.”

‘A NEW DAY’

Cummings first stepped into his new role at the annual alumni meeting in August. Though there was some lingering sadness about the end of an era at Good Will, he said, the former students accepted that changes were coming.

“(They) felt very strongly that this was a new day and that required new ideas,” he said.

Still, a few remain critical of the new direction, saying the school has abandoned its original mission to give homes to young people who don’t have them.

Though he “wish(es) Mr. Cummings the best,” Bill Powers, a former board member, said he’s skeptical that the school will ever serve its intended purpose again.

Paul Nagy, a 1957 alumnus who’s been an outspoken critic of the board, said the school needs to hold onto its land and buildings, “so that when the economy turns around Good Will will thrive again.”

“It’s a tragedy and a travesty,” he said about the plan to sell land.

But Cummings aruges that selling and leasing property would cut operating costs and give the endowment a much-needed boost. And having Kennebec Valley Community College purchase the land would provide greater programming opportunities.

Helen Pelletier, a spokeswoman for the Maine Community College System, wouldn’t disclose much about negotiations with Good Will-Hinckley, but said the concept of a satellite campus there is “very attractive.”

Her characterization of the talks mirrored a sentiment expressed by most people involved with the organization.

“I think everyone’s feeling positive and hopeful, but there’s a lot to undertake,” she said.