Three top administrators are leaving the Portland School District, two to become superintendents elsewhere in the state, just as a new superintendent begins work July 5.

Chief Academic Officer Becky Foley will be superintendent in RSU 5 in the Freeport area, and Director of School Management Kim Brandt will be superintendent in the Turner School District. Chief Financial Officer Ellen Sanborn is leaving to head up finances for the Metro transit system.

That means incoming Superintendent Xavier Botana, who is Portland’s sixth superintendent in nine years, will have to immediately rebuild his executive team.

“It’s obviously a huge gap in the leadership in the district as I move in,” Botana said Friday. “We really are in a state of flux.”

His first decision was to ask outgoing Acting Superintendent Jeanne Crocker to stay in the district, allowing him to fill the chief academic officer position temporarily with an in-house hire. The CFO position, posted last week, will be a permanent hire, Botana said.

Botana said that will give him a leadership team while he evaluates district needs, and Crocker, who had planned to retire, can be a resource to him.

“That’s truly valuable from my perspective,” said Botana.

Crocker will return to her previous role as director of school management, working directly with district principals. Crocker has been acting superintendent since Emmanuel Caulk, the previous superintendent, left last August to be superintendent at a Kentucky school system.

School Board Chairwoman Marnie Morrione said the board appreciated that Botana was “proactive” and made those hiring decisions before starting work in the district.

“He wants to be extremely thoughtful and measured in his approach of what the district needs are,” Morrione said. “This is to ensure some stability, but he also wants to listen and learn.”

School Board member Sarah Thompson said the changes give Botana the chance to create his own leadership structure, and pick his own people.

“I think it’s an opportunity,” she said, noting that previous superintendents have changed job titles, job duties and created entirely new positions that were in line with their priorities.

Officials have said the turnover, and shifting priorities that have come and gone with various leaders, have led to an extended unsettled period for the district. Hiring and turnover can be time-consuming, distracting and expensive – and the school board has repeatedly said stability is a top priority.

“What people want is stability and the right people in the right seats. I think Xavier will bring a fresh perspective,” Thompson said. “Not that we want a lot of major changes, but education changes all the time.”

Botana said the changes “really bring … home for me” how the district suffers from a lack of stability.

“One of the big takeaways for me is the importance of trying to build the leadership capacity within the district so that we really have a pipeline of school and district leaders and we don’t have to be reeling every time people move on,” he said.

There has been turnover at the principal level, too. This fall there will be new principals at Portland High School, King Middle School and PATHS – Portland Arts & Technology High School.

When Crocker replaced Caulk, she quickly filled three executive-level vacancies, including hiring Foley and Brandt.

Before Caulk, the superintendents were James Morse, Jeanne Whynot-Vickers and Mary Jo O’Connor, who resigned in 2007 after a $2 million deficit sent the district into a financial and management tailspin that took years to stabilize.

When the board was searching for a new superintendent, members agreed that finding someone who would stay for the long term was a high priority. When they hired Botana, who has a three-year contract, they said they were convinced he intends to remain in Portland for an extended period.

“Ideally, I wanted to have the most seasoned and consistent team possible coming in,” Botana said. “But you’re not always dealt the cards you want.”


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