SOUTH PORTLAND — The incoming principal at South Portland High School said the city knows who it is as a community and sees opportunity in the future of public schools.

Michele LaForge of Brunswick will transition to South Portland from her position as head of Baxter Academy of Technology and Science in Portland on July 1. She will replace Ryan Caron, who is moving on to Windham High School. 

The School Board appointed LaForge in a special meeting May 17.

“(LaForge) has been described by many as an intensely thoughtful person who builds strong relationships with students, staff and parents in service of getting the best results possible,” Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin said.

Under a collective bargaining agreement with the South Portland Administrator’s Association, LaForge’s salary will be $113,700 annually in an initial two-year contract, Kunin said. 

LaForge, who was born in Presque Isle and graduated from Greely High School in Cumberland, returned to the state after a decade of working in publishing.

LaForge and her husband, Jim Adolf, moved to Brunswick with their daughters, Josephine and Maggie Adolf, when the children were 2 years old and 6 months old, respectively. The girls are now in high school, she said, with Josephine set to graduate from Brunswick High School next month; Maggie is a sophomore at Baxter Academy. 

LaForge graduated with degrees in mathematics and Russian language from the University of New Hampshire in 1991 and earned a graduate degree from Northwestern University in Slavic languages and literature in 1994. She worked for Princeton University and Oxford University Press, publishing academic texts and merging her love of language and reading with science, technology, engineering and math.

While in publishing, LaForge said, the desire to teach was always present, and when she returned to her home state she recognized mathematics was a targeted need in education. 

After becoming certified, she taught math for nearly a decade at Freeport High School, where she became the head of the department and leadership team. LaForge was introduced to Baxter Academy by fellow teacher Jonathan Amory, one of the academy’s founders. 

LaForge agreed to lead the school, which has grown in each of the five years since its founding. 

She said public schools all face challenges in mental health, safety and changing demographics. But she said there have been great improvements in education, too, with girls taking courses they shied away from in the past and immigrant populations making the community more diverse. 

LaForge said South Portland distinguishes itself from other school districts with its clarity of vision, and by recognizing opportunities through diversity. She said her job is to help optimize those opportunities.

Transitioning to leading a school of 900 from a school of about half that size is something LaForge said she is looking forward to.

She said it’s just a matter of numbers that help students cultivate relationships with their peers; the scope of the school makes it easier for students to pursue their interests, from track to French immersion.

She said nobody learns without a relationship, and she will help foster that in her new position by making sure teachers have the resources they need. 

LaForge said she will also make a point to attend school functions, whether on the soccer pitch or in a concert hall. 

“Relationships make schools work,” she said. 

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at [email protected] or on Twitter @JulietteLaaka.

Michele LaForge, now head of Baxter Academy in Portland, will become principal of South Portland High School July 1.