MONMOUTH — The staff and students at Monmouth Middle School have a leader back in the front office after more than two years without a principal.

Scott Barksdale, who most recently served as assistant principal at Philip W. Sugg Middle School in Lisbon, took over the top position in Monmouth on Nov. 9. His initial contract, which runs through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, will pay him $49,000.

“I think we struck gold,” said Superintendent Bill Zima of Regional School Unit 2, which also includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond. “We’re very happy.”

Barksdale is the school’s first full-time principal since 2013, when the district eliminated the position with the retirement of principal Steve Philbrook and split its responsibilities between the principals of Monmouth Academy and Cottrell Elementary School, while also hiring a townwide assistant principal. Zima, who was not superintendent when the change was made, said the structure has worked at middle schools in Farmingdale and Richmond, but the middle school and high schools in those towns are under one roof.

UNIQUELY QUALIFIED

The structure proved much less effective in Monmouth, where the middle school, which includes grades 4 through 8, is in a separate building. Zima said that on many occasions, the assistant principal, who handled day-to-day operations, worked at the high school or the elementary school, leaving the middle school without any oversight. The structure produced a division at the middle school that led the staff and parents to view the fourth- and fifth-graders as an extension of the elementary school.

“They don’t want to feel like they’re a satellite of the elementary school down the street,” Zima said. “I heard loudly from the Monmouth parents, staff and kids that they would like a principal back there.”

More than 20 people applied for the position, which is more than Zima expected, considering it was a mid-year appointment. Barksdale quickly rose to the top of the stack.

“It was clear in his packet material, and in his interview, that he is a very thoughtful, instructional leader,” Zima said. “He had this very positive approach. It’s more about, ‘How can we work through this together?’ That’s the approach I like. That’s the approach I feel works best when you’re working with others.”

Barksdale, who has spent his career teaching or administering at the middle school level, has the skills to bring the middle school back together, Zima said.

“It’s great to have someone with the grade levels going in,” he said. “It’s a unique grade span.”

Barksdale, 43, taught fourth through sixth grades in Maine School Administrative District 51, which is composed of North Yarmouth and Cumberland, before taking over as assistant principal at Sugg just over a year ago. Barksdale, who lives in Freeport with his wife and two young children, said he was drawn to Monmouth because it is a proficiency-based district, which replaces traditional letter grades with standards in each subject area representing skills and concepts. On each standard, students typically get a grade of 1 to 4, with a 3 indicating proficiency.

“I think it does a lot of good for the kids,” Barksdale said. “I like the direction Superintendent Zima is setting. I really wanted to be here.”

ASSESSING THE SCHOOL

Barksdale holds dual master’s degrees, including elementary education from the University of Bridgeport in his home state, Connecticut; and teaching and learning from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He said he tries to visit classrooms every day. He said he believes teachers need to make the decisions for their classrooms, but he will talk to the teachers about those decisions.

“I describe it as very present,” Barksdale said of his management style. “I’m going to ask a lot of questions. At the end of the day I’m going to follow the teachers’ lead and the students’ lead.”

Barksdale was a musician while earning a bachelor’s degree in leadership studies from the University of Richmond. He went on the road after graduation, making a living with his music, but he got tired of living in hotels. He went back to school to become a teacher.

Barksdale never spent much time in Maine as a child, but he was drawn to this state by his love of winter and the sports that go with it, particularly skiing.

“I realized I wanted to be in a place that was a little bit colder, a little more snow, and a little wilder,” Barksdale said. “Maine was it.”

He quickly realized he loved his new profession as much as his new state.

“I really got into teaching everything,” he said. “I love teaching history. I love teaching writing. It’s really just a pleasure to teach.”

Barksdale said he will take six months working with the teachers to assess where the school is on its 10-year journey to becoming a proficiency-based school. He wants to find out what is working and what isn’t so the school can move forward, rather than sideways or backwards.

“The only way we’re going to be able to take the next step is if we take them together,” Barksdale said. “It’s going to be teachers figuring out what really works for their students. We need to be headed in the same direction, but there are many, many pathways to get there. My responsibility is making sure we are all going in the same direction.”

Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

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