SOUTH PORTLAND — Superintendent Ken Kunin announced Tuesday that he will leave his job in June after overseeing the city’s public schools for six years.

Ken Kunin, who became South Portland’s superintendent in 2015, plans to leave the job in June. Forecaster photo

Kunin, who previously worked at schools in Portland and overseas, returned to Maine in 2015 to lead a school district with nearly 3,000 students and more than 600 staff members.

“I have decided that after this current school year I will be seeking new professional challenges and looking for new ways to continue to serve students, families and learning communities,” Kunin said in a written statement to the school community.

Kunin notified the Board of Education that he won’t seek a new contract and will step down officially on June 30, 2021, he said. He hopes to help with a smooth and productive transition to a new superintendent next year, he said.

Kunin said it has been an honor to serve as superintendent during a time of great operational and social change in the district, including planning for a mostly state-funded consolidated middle school that’s set to begin construction next year.

“The past five and a half years have passed far too quickly,” Kunin said. “Each day, week and month has been full of incredible points of pride, as well as times of anxiety and worry. While there have been countless challenges and very long hours – just ask my family – I truly love the work that we have done together on behalf of our students and community.”

Kunin’s announcement surprised incoming school board Chairman Dick Matthews, who is heading into his 12th and final year on the board.

“Seems like just yesterday we hired him and now I’ll be overseeing the search for his replacement,” Matthews said Tuesday. “He’s given a lot to the community and he’s earned a lot of respect. It’s going to be a big loss. I hope we’re lucky enough to find a replacement as good as Ken.”

Kunin’s annual salary is $140,000. He lives in Portland with his wife, Beth Stickney, an immigration law and policy expert and advocate.

In addition to overseeing the middle school project, Kunin promoted policies that welcomed student diversity, dealt with a controversial grading system change and wrestled with a rise in vaping among middle- and high-school students, Matthews said.

Kunin also noted that the district has doubled its preschool enrollment and continued to educate and care for all students, including during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which he said didn’t accelerate his decision to leave.

“Even in this year of pandemic, I come to work each day excited to strive to provide safe, effective learning,” Kunin said. “It’s certainly been challenging, but I haven’t had easy positions for 32 years.”

Kunin’s career in education spans 42 years, including stints as principal of Deering High and the former Reiche Community schools in Portland. He started as a teaching intern at the Walker Home and School, a special-education day and residential school in Needham, Massachusetts, where he later worked as a teacher and administrator.

Before coming to South Portland, Kunin was the middle- and high-school-level principal at the American Overseas School of Rome, Italy, which serves 600 students from 50 countries. Prior to that, he was a senior research consultant for the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine.

In the coming months, Kunin said, he will continue to help ensure South Portland students and staff members survive and thrive in uncertain times. His passion for education remains strong, he said, and he’s open to job opportunities that might take him overseas again or allow him to advocate for policy changes benefiting children and families that he anticipates happening under the Biden administration.

“I just turned 63 and I’ve got plenty of years left in me,” Kunin said. “We’ll see what happens next.”


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