Sally Loughlin, a longtime administrator with School Administrative District 51, has gone from interim to permanent principal at the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school in Cumberland. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND — When Sally Loughlin assumed the role of interim principal at the Mabel I. Wilson elementary school last July to fill a vacancy, she intended to return to her position as director of academic services once a permanent school chief was found.

But then the children won her over. Loughlin said she changed her mind “as soon as the kids showed up” on the first day of school.

“I can’t describe … what it’s like to be in the company of all of these children, and these adults who just surprise me, how they go out of their way to care for these kids,” she said. “… I had forgotten how incredibly glorious it is.” Loughlin, of Freeport, began her education career in 1986 as a third grade teacher in Gorham.

It’s fortuitous, then, that Loughlin is the school’s new permanent principal. Susie Robbins, who replaces her as permanent academic services director, was an assistant principal from 1998-2004 and principal from 2004-2010 and 2016 until last year. She had stepped down to follow other academic pursuits, but agreed to stay on as interim academic services director.

Robbins, due to be out of the office much of this month, was unavailable for comment. She was interested in the three-day-a-week schedule of the position, for which her salary will be about $85,000, according to Superintendent Jeff Porter. Loughlin’s is nearly $124,000.

Robbins “has demonstrated great skill in her leadership of academic areas with the district leadership team, her coordination of the teacher mentor program, and work around literacy,” Porter wrote in his letter of recommendation for her.


“Sally’s successful interim tenure, her enthusiasm, and willingness to be involved in all facets of MIW life were factors leading to her selection,” Porter wrote of Loughlin, who joined the district in 2010, having spent the prior six years as assistant superintendent in Topsham-area School Administrative District 75.

Porter added that Loughlin’s “longevity in the district and credibility as an educational leader will help provide stability for the school as it navigates many important and complex changes and issues over the upcoming school years.”

Capacity is high among those issues. Enrollment at the Wilson school, which is about 81,000 square feet and houses pre-kindergarten to third grade with a capacity for 600 students, has risen from 541 in March 2015 to 692 in September 2019, prompting the installation of three modular buildings that each hold two classrooms.

Those buildings are to be replaced later this year by a nearly 8,600-square-foot, eight-classroom “flex plex” with a hallway and restrooms. Meanwhile, the district is looking into a new pre-kindergarten to second grade school and placing grades 3-5 at Wilson.

“Our greatest challenge is the uncertainty of what our enrollment challenges will present,” Loughlin said. “We are actively watching our kindergarten registrations, because … we get about 80% of our kids registered in February and we can figure out what that means for next year.”

A large kindergarten class will be heading to first grade, but first grade is a time when new students who’d been in private kindergartens enter the district, she said.


“We’ll continue to have to work with space that we have,” Loughlin said.

Another issue is teacher schedules.

“We look at our schedule and ask (if) there’s any way it can be better for learning,” she said. Elementary teachers handle every subject, switching gears between literacy and math, with limited planning time in their schedules.

Teachers next year could focus on either literary and social studies, or math and science, depending on their expertise.

“We’re going to offer both things at the same time, so (they will) get to choose,” Loughlin said.

She called her start in teaching “a lifetime ago,” noting that an elementary teacher’s work has since “changed enormously in terms of being very clear and succinct about the learning objectives that you’re working toward, how and what we gather for data for student progress, and what we do to address things.”


Understanding student behavior is one area where the profession has “come light years,” Loughlin said. “Long ago we didn’t have a remedy for a child that really could not be safe in school. You’d call up the parent and say ‘they need to go home today.’ And that is not how we see things now.”

Through “collective efficacy,” staff works together to “figure out what to do to program for a child who needs a lot of breaks, who is dis-regulated. We figure out when these things are occurring, we set up plans … to help,” she said.

Loughlin, who loves being a helper, is pleased to have found her dream gig at age 59.

“To be this old and get a job that you truly love, love, love,” she said. “Luckily I’m old enough not to feel regret; I just know this is a job that at any time had I really understood it, I should have been here.”

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