The South Portland School Board has confirmed Tim Matheney will be the district’s new superintendent. He starts on July 1. Contributed / Tim Matheney

Tim Matheney has spent the last four years working as an education leadership consultant. He’s enjoyed being his own boss, but missed working more directly with students, especially at the high school level.

That’s why he said this week that he is looking forward to becoming South Portland’s next school superintendent, starting July 1. On April 1, the school board appointed Matheney to succeed Ken Kunin, who has held the post for the past six years.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Matheney, 54, grew up as the son of an elementary school principal and graduated from St. John’s Jesuit High School in 1985. He went to Princeton University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1989.

The initial plan was to go to law school, but Matheney couldn’t forget his experience during his college years as a volunteer with Princeton Model Congress, a student-led organization that set up annual mock congress events in Washington, D.C., for high school students.

So instead of a law career, Matheney promptly moved back home and began teaching American government, world history and economics at his former high school. He went on to earn a master’s in education administration and policy at the University of Michigan in 1997. He did a two-year stint teaching college students at the University of Minnesota, but missed elementary and secondary education.

“I loved the environment of K-12 school districts and especially the high school level,” Matheney said.

That interest drew him to New Jersey, where he worked at South Brunswick High School, becoming principal from 2004 to 2012. The school has nearly 3,000 students, about the size of the entire South Portland school district, and the student body was diverse. A full one-third of the students, he said, spoke a language other than English at home.

“I think it’s what our nation is all about,” Matheney said. “It made for a really rich experience for me as a principal.”

Matheney continued to climb higher in education leadership, serving from 2012 to 2015 at the New Jersey Department of Education. Part of that time, he said, he was a chief intervention officer, working with 14 different districts to improve their finances or problems with student achievement. Most of those districts needed financial assistance.

“It was a really critical role during the later years of the Great Recession,” he said.

From there, he left public service to work as the first executive director of the newly-formed Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders, a nonprofit dedicated to working with and advising 100 educational leaders in the city. Matheney said the organization’s chief role was to help develop and maintain principals throughout the city. He served there until 2017, when he founded his own consulting firm, Spire Leadership Group, which also caters to educational leaders.

Despite his success, the separation he now felt from working directly with and in schools, he said, nagged at him. Observing school districts wrestling with the pandemic helped him make up his mind to go back.

“I was truly drawn back to being in a leadership role myself,” he said.

The board confirmed Matheney after a national search. He stood out from a field of more than a dozen applicants. Board Chairperson Richard Matthews said this week he was particularly impressed with Matheney’s background as both an educator and a consultant.

“His experience is so wide, he just stood out to me to be the right guy,” he said.

Matthews said he was also personally impressed with Matheney’s ability to relate to others.

“He really does have a down-to-earth personality,” he said.

Matheney said he has visited Maine before, but neither he nor his partner, Kendric Chua, have any strong ties to New England. He said, however, that he is eager to move to Maine and get to work.

“I have nothing but praise for the kindness and hospitality of the people of South Portland,” he said.

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