Heather Perry is the sole finalist for superintendent of Gorham schools, but at least one person is still banking on her not getting the job.

That’s Ryan Harnden, chairman of the board for Unity-based Regional School Unit 3, where Perry has been superintendent since 2010.

“She’s done a wonderful, wonderful job, and if they offer her the position, then we’ll be losing quite a leader,” he said. “I’m crossing my fingers that it falls through.”

Perry, 41, who has spent her career in different rural areas of Maine, was selected from a pool of 17 applicants.

“There was one candidate who stood above the rest,” said Dennis Libby, chairman of the Gorham School Committee and the superintendent selection committee, which announced its choice on Jan. 6

Over the past few weeks, Gorham school officials have conducted site visits and background checks. About 75 people from the community attended a public forum where they asked Perry about her leadership style and her method for evaluating teachers.

The school board is expected to vote Feb. 11 on whether to hire Perry.

A graduate of the University of Maine at Machias with a bachelor’s degree in history, Perry has a master’s degree and is working on a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Maine.

She began her career as an educational technician in what’s now Alternative Organizational Structure 96 in Washington County. She rose the ranks within the district to become principal of Fort O’Brien School in her hometown of Machiasport.

From there, she was hired as superintendent of Union 60 in Greenville. In her second year in that position, she was asked to take on School Administrative District 12 in Jackman, as well.

She led both districts for three years before taking her current job in Waldo County, where her district spans 440 square miles, making it the third geographically largest school system in the state.

In terms of student population and annual budget, RSU 3 is just over half the size of the Gorham district, which has about 2,650 students and a $34 million spending plan.

Libby pointed out, however, that trying to get the 11 towns in RSU 3 to vote in favor of a budget, regardless of the size, takes a lot more work than having to garner enough support from a single community.

Harnden said the Waldo County district, which is “not exactly the richest community in the state,” has passed the budget on the first vote every year Perry was superintendent.

Nearly doubling the dollar figure doesn’t faze Perry, who counts finance among her strengths.

“It’s just a question of scale,” she said. “That’s not something that worries me.” Perry’s biggest concern about taking over Gorham schools is that she doesn’t come from the community.

Growing up in a place where the nearest movie theater was more than an hour away, Perry said she’s always wanted to live in the southern part of the state and be able to take advantage of more diverse cultural offerings.

She said she wants to be more active in the arts, seeing plays and going to galleries. A former college basketball player, she likes the idea of professional sporting events happening right down the street.

But she wouldn’t take just any job near Portland. She said she was attracted to Gorham schools because of the traditions and values already in place that matched her own.

CREST AS CLINCHER

The clincher, she said, was seeing the high school crest with the Latin phrase for “know thyself.”

Perry said she thinks it’s important for school districts to have strong vision, formed by the community, and a plan to “put it in motion.”

She said she sees that Gorham has the components of a vision but believes she can help give them focus.

“It’s about clear expectations and excellence,” she said.

If hired as superintendent in Gorham, Perry said, she wouldn’t try to jump in and make major changes right away, but would learn as much as she could about the community and the schools.

“What it means to be a Ram,” she said.

Her long-term plan, however, is a bit more ambitious – to make the school system “the absolute best in the state,” she said.

“That’s my goal,” said Perry. “It’s pretty close to that already, so I shouldn’t have that far to go.”

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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