CAPE ELIZABETH – During the town’s first search for a new superintendent of schools, Meredith Nadeau didn’t know about the job opening and didn’t submit a resume.

But the school administrator from Durham, N.H., saw the job posting when the Cape Elizabeth search committee, unsatisfied with the candidates in the first round, decided to put out a second call for applicants earlier this year.

It turned out to be good fortune all around.

With the unanimous backing of the School Board, Nadeau was announced Wednesday as the new schools chief for Cape Elizabeth. She replaces Alan Hawkins, who retired in December after serving as superintendent for five years.

“I’m thrilled,” said Nadeau, 41, a New Hampshire native. “I’ve always been fortunate to work in relatively small communities, where I’ve had the opportunity to know kids and families well. That is really important to me.”

Nadeau is a director of instruction, special education and humanities curriculum at the Oyster River Cooperative School District in Durham.

She has 18 years’ experience as an educator, including serving as a principal, assistant principal and a special education and language arts teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Bowdoin College and a master’s degree in education from the University of New Hampshire. Nadeau is a doctoral candidate at Boston University.

Cape Elizabeth’s search for a superintendent included a total of 33 candidates applying from 18 states. Ten semifinalists were interviewed and Nadeau was chosen over one other unidentified finalist.

“From the beginning of our search process, the Cape Elizabeth community has voiced a desire for a leader who steers all students toward a lifelong curiosity and love of learning, a person with energy and passion for continuous improvement,” School Board chairwoman Mary Townsend said in a news release. “We believe that Meredith Nadeau exceeds these expectations.”

Howard Colter, superintendent at Oyster River Cooperative School District, said it will be tough to say goodbye to Nadeau.

“It is going to be a real big loss for this district, but it was just a matter of time before she moved on to a superintendency,” Colter said. “I have worked with many administrators in my career, and she is among the very best.”

Nadeau has a friendly, outgoing personality and she enjoys spending time in the schools, talking with teachers and students, instead of sitting behind a desk, Colter said.

“She is incredibly focused on children and on teachers’ professional development. She has a strong background in special education. Beyond that, she is just an outstanding educator and an absolutely top level administrator,” he said.

Ken Murphy, a retired superintendent for Yarmouth schools, has been Cape Elizabeth’s interim superintendent since Hawkins left. He will continue in that job until Nadeau takes over in mid-July. She has agreed to a three-year contract, with an annual salary of $123,000.

Nadeau and her husband, Travis, have two daughters, ages 2 and 4. She said they will be looking for a place to live in Cape Elizabeth or as close to the town as possible.

Nadeau said she felt the Cape Elizabeth job was a match once she had the opportunity to speak with members of the search committee.

“They definitely came across as very genuine, welcoming, very focused on students, and that really resonated with me,” she said. “My primary goal through the summer is have the opportunity to meet as many people as I can, learn as much as I can.”

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at [email protected]