KENNEBUNK — The school board Monday authorized the start of a search for an interim superintendent to replace Katie Hawes, who resigned last month after months of controversy over the district’s handling of two racist incidents.

The decision to begin the search comes just weeks after Regional School Unit 21 confronted another racially tinged incident involving a video that appears to show both underage drinking and the repeated use of a racial slur by a high school student at a party off school grounds.

Acting Superintendent Phil Potenziano said before Monday’s meeting that the district is continuing to look into it and school board members did not discuss the investigation Monday night.

The board voted 13-0-1, with board member Amanda Oelschlegal abstaining, to have the Human Resources Committee start the superintendent search.

Some residents at the meeting said they are optimistic about a new school year, new board members and the prospect of a new superintendent following Hawes’ departure over fallout from a complaint by former teacher Rosa Slack, who said she was retaliated against for raising concerns about how the district handled two racist incidents.

“In the past I was very concerned about secrecy and a lack of attention to the Rosa Slack issue, but I must say so much has changed,” Kennebunkport resident Peter Fellenz said. “We have new board members, new leadership of the board and the prospect of a new superintendent, all of which are healthy and are due.”


Another Kennebunkport resident echoed those sentiments.

“This is a brand new board,” Michael Severance said. “It’s not a board in distress or conflict. I don’t see that body language. I think you all are working well.”

Maureen King, chair of the committee, said she would recommend that the board look to hire an interim superintendent by Aug. 30.

“When you do a search for a superintendent, you don’t want to bring them in midyear,” she said. “That will disrupt another school and possibly could disrupt your school. You will also get the best candidates if you hire when everyone else is hiring.”

One resident, Miriam Whitehouse, asked for the public to have input into the superintendent search process.

“It feels like we’re at a threshold,” Whitehouse said. “There’s been so much talk about the community feeling at odds with the board, feeling disappointed and mistrustful and (it’s time) to maybe make a change and involve the greater community, not just a few members in that process.”


The same week the district settled with Slack for $50,000, Potenziano sent a letter to the school community referencing a 10-second video featuring two female students that was sent to the Press Herald by a classmate.

“A portion of the event was posted to social media and included language that I would characterize as hate speech,” Potenziano said. “Because of the potential disruption that it may have in our schools – even during summer – I feel we have to respond and thus the administration has swiftly begun an investigation.”

The video, which was reported anonymously by a student using the new Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, includes two teenage girls who appear to be intoxicated facing the camera, selfie-style.

One of the girls can be heard repeating different variations of a racial slur. The video, which was recorded outside of school and off school grounds, ends with the other girl laughing and saying, “we need more (expletive) shots.”

Potenziano wouldn’t say Monday whether the students in the video will face discipline.

“We don’t typically talk about that disciplinary stuff,” he said. “It’s a confidentiality issue.”

Police, meanwhile, have charged the owners of the house where the party took place with furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol, Kennebunk Deputy Police Chief Michael Nugent said in an email Monday night.

Nugent, who was at home Monday night, said he could not immediately provide the names of the owners of the house who have been charged.

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