For the first time in years, Maine is poised to have a permanent education commissioner.

Bob Hasson, a longtime educator nominated by Gov. Paul LePage, was endorsed 12-0 at a confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. The committee’s endorsement will go to the Senate.

“My focus will be on students,” Hasson told the committee. “I am laser-like for the next two years on improving student achievement at all grade levels.”

The Maine Department of Education hasn’t had a permanent commissioner since Jim Rier left in 2014.

In his remarks, Hasson said he would prioritize efforts to help students who are disadvantaged, doubling the number of students in career and technical education, and increasing teacher salaries.

He alluded to needing to move quickly to effect change in the next two years.

“I am happy to collaborate and cooperate, and I’m happy to be decisive,” he said. “I have a limited amount of time with this real gift to provide leadership and I fully expect to take advantage of that.”

Hasson has been acting commissioner since November, the last in a string of acting department heads named in order for LePage to keep his top pick for commissioner, Bill Beardsley, in a leadership role without going through the traditional nomination process.

The decision to keep Beardsley in place through temporary appointments drew criticism from lawmakers and education organizations who said the department, with its $1 billion budget, needed a permanent commissioner.

Beardsley resigned in December and LePage nominated Hasson this month.

In the Department of Education, Hasson previously oversaw certification, educator effectiveness and higher education. Before joining the department, he was deputy executive director of the Maine School Management Association and executive director of the Maine School Superintendents Association. He was superintendent of SAD 51 in Cumberland and North Yarmouth from 1993 to 2013.

Hasson earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Joseph’s College, a master’s in special education from Fitchburg State University and a doctorate from Boston College.

At the confirmation hearing, Hasson said he wanted to move the department away from a focus on regulations and filling out forms correctly to being more of a resource to teachers, schools and districts.

“It’s time to shift to something else,” he said.

Several speakers praised working with Hasson, including Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, who noted that they didn’t always agree on the issues.

“I’ve always valued his perspective, his knowledge, his commitment to education and his immense ability to see the other point of view,” said Hubbell, who has served on the education committee. “I just want to thank the governor and his office for recognizing what I expect Bob will bring to the (commissioner’s role.)”

Hasson also signaled his preference for other education innovations. On school leadership, he said the historical structure of “running schools with authority figures doesn’t work,” and cited Portland’s Reiche School as an alternative approach, where three teacher leaders run the school. That’s in line with LePage’s longstanding push to reduce school administration.

Hasson emphasized wanting all of the education department’s efforts to be student-centered and “liberating teachers to teach.”

“I want to move resources as quickly, as elegantly, as efficiently, to people who are working with the students,” he said.

LePage long has said education is one of his priorities, and his administration has some sweeping education reforms, including the introduction of charter schools to the state and shifting to a proficiency-based graduation model.

Much of that work began under LePage’s first commissioner, Stephen Bowen, who stepped down in August 2013. Rier won unanimous support – and a standing ovation – from the education committee to succeed Bowen, but he stepped down less than a year later for medical reasons.

Tom Desjardin was named acting commissioner in April 2015, but suffered a significant injury in a fall and was replaced by Beardsley in October 2015.

LePage nominated Beardsley to be commissioner in January 2016, but withdrew his name after Democrats on the Legislature’s education committee indicated they might vote to block the appointment. At the time, LePage said he would take over some responsibilities of the job himself rather than subject his nominee to political scrutiny. The governor’s comments prompted criticism from Democrats, who accused LePage of circumventing the process for appointing state agency chiefs.

LePage took advantage of legislative loopholes to keep Beardsley in control of the department, without the formal title. In a surprise announcement, Beardsley said he was stepping down in December.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

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