Phillip Potenziano. Contributed photo

BRUNSWICK — Phillip Potenziano will return to Brunswick, where he started his educational career more than 20 years ago, to lead the district as its new superintendent. 

Potenziano is the interim superintendent at Regional School Unit 21 in Kennebunk. He will replace retiring Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski, who announced his retirement in September after 12 years in the district. 

Potenziano will start on July 1 with a salary of $133,000. 

Potenziano has 25 years of administrative and teaching experience, according to a press release from the Brunswick School Board. He started his career as a teacher at Coffin Elementary School in Brunswick, where he worked for three years. 

His entry to the Brunswick School Department comes as the COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered schools throughout Maine, including in Brunswick, which announced Thursday that school buildings would not reopen for classes for the remainder of the school year.

This will not be Potenziano’s first time navigating a new leadership role during tumultuous times.

Potenziano stepped in as RSU 21’s acting superintendent in June 2019 after then-superintendent Kathryn Hawes resigned to take a tenure-track professor position at the University of Southern Maine. A few months later, Hawes’ replacement, Maryann Perry, resigned from the position after just a few weeks over allegations that she mishandled special education bills at her former job. 

The former school board chair, Marybeth Luce, also resigned due to the “incomplete hiring process.” Potenziano was then selected as the interim superintendent. 

In December, the RSU 21 School Board formally apologized to Rosa Slack, a former Kennebunk High School teacher, for the way the district responded to complaints she had made about racially-motivated incidents that had taken place more than two years earlier. Two other complaints of racial incidents involving students were also investigated this year. 

In December, Potenziano wrote a letter to the community, addressing his feelings of sadness, anger, discouragement and remorse over the incidents, though he was not leading the district at the time the incidents involving Slack reportedly occurred. 

“I wish that we could go back to those days — to have responded differently, to have supported those involved more thoroughly, to possibly even thwart the incident altogether, but sadly we cannot,” he wrote. He then announced he would propose “critical” Affirmative Action training to the school board.  

“While I can’t go back and change what has happened,” he said, “I will work to change the future, and that is what I’ve resolved to do.”

His experiences this year have driven home the need for diversity, equity and inclusion in education, he said in an interview Thursday.

“I am passionate about ensuring an educational program to support all students,” he said. “I hope to instill some of that love (in Brunswick).” 

Potenziano has also worked as a director of special services, a special education classroom teacher and education technician. He graduated from the University of Maine Farmington and holds a doctorate in Education Leadership from Boston College. 

A search committee launched in September and the board received 20 applications and interviewed six candidates. 

According to School Board Chairman Jim Grant, the coronavirus pandemic did not impact the superintendent search process, as Potenziano was identified as the most qualified candidate beforehand. 

“He has a demonstrated commitment to engaging leaders in his community around the value of great public schools,” Grant said, adding that his interest in establishing a coalition of stakeholders and his familiarity with the district made him an especially attractive candidate.

In a Facebook post, school board member Sarah Singer said the board determined through talking to past and present colleagues that Potenziano is “highly respected for being approachable, friendly, extremely competent and most of all, kid-centric.”

“He has a personal commitment to equity and inclusion and is known for his commitment to learning and growing as a leader,” she wrote. 

Potenziano said he plans to host online Zoom meetings with school officials, administrators, teachers, the collective bargaining units and others to start making connections.

Potenziano said he was excited by the opportunity to lead a district on his own, especially one already on solid footing with a reputation for strong leadership, calling the district “progressive.” 

“I think my first goal will be getting to know the district and the community,” he said. “That’s paramount. … To make changes you need to build trust and you do that through forms of interaction.”

He is holding off on setting too many goals too quickly, he said, but will work to make sure students receive a “world-class education.” 

Comments are not available on this story.