New Westbrook Superintendent to work with community on long-term plan

Westbrook’s new superintendent has a plan – or at least a plan to make a plan.

As Reza Namin begins his first school year as superintendent of Westbrook schools, he’s also kicking off a process that will determine the direction of the department in the foreseeable future.

“It’s not going to be a plan that sits on the shelf for five years,” Namin said last week. “I want a three-year, attainable, measurable and meaningful plan that gives us direction to where we want to go.”

Earlier this month, the Westbrook School Committee approved spending up to $18,000 on Brunswick-based Good Group Decisions Inc., an outside consultant meant to guide the district through the process of developing a strategic plan.

During the next six months, Craig Freshley, owner and president of consulting company, will help with distribution of a survey and the formation of community focus groups whose purpose would be figuring out what residents would like to see happen in the schools, how the district can make that happen and how it can determine that it’s reached its goals.

“The overarching question is, how can the Westbrook School Department best serve this community?” Freshley said.

Among many other aspects, he said, school policies and the use of facilities will be some of the things taken into account.

Freshley will present the details of how he’ll go about gathering information and input from the community at a School Committee meeting on Sept. 9.

Namin has appointed Peter Lancia, principal of Congin School, as the faculty’s point person for the process. Lancia said that in his 19 years with Westbrook schools, he only remembers one time the department did a similar kind of self-evaluation, as part of a larger, national effort called Goals 2000. That was about 10 years ago, just before Namin’s predecessor Stan Sawyer stepped into the position.

“That was really rejuvenating at the time. It really helped us see what we believed,” Lancia said. “I think it’s healthy.”

School Committee Chairman Greg Smith agreed that it was the appropriate time for such an exercise.

“It’s always good to take a fresh look at things,” he said, and with the transition of superintendents, it makes sense to revise and refresh the department’s vision now.

Even as the plan is still in the planning process itself, Smith said, he’s seen the energy of a new beginning infiltrate the district.

“I think the staff is feeling excited,” he said.

But, meanwhile, Namin hasn’t been sitting back waiting for the plan to be put in place. He has started several initiatives that students will benefit from right away.

Ten students will be enrolled in a test run of Virtual High School – an international, Internet-based program that will expand the catalog of courses older students can take.

He’s also implemented ConnectEd, a system that allows Namin to instantly send messages through e-mail, voicemail and text messaging to students, parents and staff regarding school closures or other emergencies.

He plans to revise the department’s Web site to include daily updates, calendars, instructional material and a secure portal that would give parents access to their children’s academic information.

Namin wants to form councils of parents, community members, teachers, administrators and students at every school, as well as two other advisory boards made up of representatives from each of those councils. Along the same lines as the development of the strategic plan, these panels will ensure that all areas of the community are represented.

“We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to take part,” he said. “The decision-making process starts from the bottom.”

But Namin knows not everyone will come knocking down the doors of the school department in order to get involved. He hopes that by putting himself out into the community, residents will respond.

Namin, 49, who emigrated from Iran nearly 30 years ago, has a doctorate in math and science education, and most recently worked as the superintendent of the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District in Orange, Mass.

Since moving to Maine, Namin said, he’s been getting his coffee at Mister Bagel on Main Street, and he and his wife, who is still in the process of moving up from Massachusetts, like to eat at Casa Novello when she’s in town. The eggplant Parmesan is his favorite, he said.

Within the schools, he said, he not only wants to be visible, but also he hopes to have a meaningful presence. As the sports teams train for their upcoming seasons, Namin has been stopping by practices, meeting the athletes. A former professional soccer player, he offered to help coach the football team’s kickers. He also got an invitation to play in the boys soccer alumni game Thursday, which he plans to – right after making his rounds at the barbecues held for students and parents at each of the city’s elementary schools.

“In order to build a strong team, you need to build strong relationships,” Namin said.

One of his personal goals is to have every, single student in the district know who he is. He started working toward that last year, when he spent a whole day in each of the schools in the district.

Namin said he’s already started to see the payoff. When he and his wife were walking around Wal-Mart in Scarborough a few weeks ago, a kindergartner spotted him and dragged his parents over to meet the new superintendent.

“That was my proudest moment,” he said.

Westbrook’s new school superintendent, Reza Namin, is getting ready for the start of the new school year. (Photo by Rich Obrey)

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