Saco School Superintendent Dominic DePatsy, who is departing the district April 20, talked about his tenure in Saco in a recent interview, and what he’ll be doing next. Courtesy Photo

SACO — Saco School Superintendent Dominic DePatsy said his early departure — pegged for April 20 rather than the June 30 date he originally planned to leave the district — is a result of a mutual agreement between him and the Saco School Board.

“We have different philosophies and different ways of leadership it came down to a mutual agreement between the new board and myself … we decided to part ways now and move forward with no hard feelings,” he said in an interview on April 6.

DePatsy, who was working under a two-year contract due to expire on June 30, 2022, announced Nov. 4 — the day after the Nov. 3 election that saw three new members elected to the school board — that he intended to leave on June 30, this year. That changed last month, when School Board Chair Kevin LaFortune announced at a School Board meeting  that DePatsy had expressed his desire to leave early.

The Saco School Board met briefly on April 6 to discuss the way forward. LaFortune told the board he had spoken with the Maine School Superintendent’s Association to work out a process for vetting and interviewing candidates for an interim superintendent through the end of this school year. Four candidates have expressed interest in the short-term position, said LaFortune, who named an ad hoc committee of School Board members Beth Johnston, Christina Shea and Sarah Truman, with Jennifer Preble as an alternate, to interview them and recommend a candidate for the board to consider. Longer term, the board had previously discussed a one-year interim position, and the entire School Board will interview candidates for that position — but that will come later, he said.

DePatsy, who said he’ll be 50 this year, talked a bit about his accomplishments as superintendent since he arrived in Saco on July 1, 2015, some of the difficulties, and what his new gig will be.

“A lot of it has been really good,” said DePatsy of his tenure in the city. “Saco is hard, it’s a very political city. I really love the families, and a lot have reached out. We’ve done a lot of good work.”

DePatsy arrived in Saco from MSAD 53 — composed of the towns of Burnham, Detroit and Pittsfield, in mid interior Maine — where he was named superintendent in 2013, after education stints in Freeport and Cape Elizabeth and a two-year position as a due process consultant for the Maine Department of Education.

One of his first initiatives in Saco was creation of a strategic plan, along with a professional evaluation system for teachers and ed techs, he said, and project-based learning for students.

“When I first got here, the curriculum, assessment and instruction system were not up to snuff and we made some improvements there,” said DePatsy, and he noted, scores went up, though he said he’s worried the coronavirus  pandemic may now take a toll on the numbers. He pointed out summer school is planned to try and help close that learning gap.

Special education services have improved during his tenure, he said, including programs that keep students in the district rather than sending them elsewhere.

He said he’s been working on state reports and the upcoming budget, meeting with the board chair, vice chair and administrators, and is happy to help after his departure if need be, as spelled out in the agreement.

Prekindergarten was instituted under DePatsy’s tenure, and while it was a rocky start, with building issues related to the former Toddle Inn property in one of Saco’s industrial parks, DePatsy described bringing prekindergarten to Saco as one of his top  accomplishments in the district. And he pointed out, the school board at the time voted unanimously for the Toddle Inn property lease. He said the issue became political.

“In the end, the kids have a great preschool now,” said DePatsy. “I’m proud of it and I’ll stand by it.”

He said he is excited at the prospect of a new school building for Saco. In June 2018, the Maine Department of Education released a list naming Young School, which educates kindergarten through second grade students, as the fourth most urgent school construction project in Maine. Following that announcement, the School Board’s Infrastructure Committee began discussions and planning. In February, the DOE sought proposals seeking architectural and engineering services to conduct a feasibility and planning study, as well as analyze existing schools to identify possible solutions for addressing Saco’s needs.

As to the future, DePatsy will be undertaking a part-time superintendent role on Long Island, off Portland — a one day a week position he said will work well as he continues to manage commercial buildings and short-term vacation rental properties he owns, and expands his repertoire to commercial real estate.

The part-time superintendent job in the small island school district will allow him more direct interaction with students, he said.

“It’s perfect,” DePatsy said.

The agreement between the Saco School Department and DePatsy spells out that the district will pay the departing superintendent the balance owed on his salary, at $515 a day, through June 30, along with the department’s share of health and dental insurance premiums and other benefits; $20,600 for 40 sick days; and $9,270 for earned, unused vacation.

DePatsy expressed his thanks to those who were on the prior School Board for much of his tenure, naming Stephen Shiman, Lynn Leary, Garrett Abrahamson, Emily Walters, Cynthia Chadwick-Granger, Stan Mozden, Edna Bem-Ami and Art Tardif, whom he called “Mr. Saco,” who served as chair for a time and remains a member of the board. Tardif, DePatsy said, turned out to be his biggest supporter. “As board chair he came in (to the school department office) and sat down and made sure he knew what was going on,” said DePatsy.

As to the interim, Lafortune told the School Board on Tuesday that the committee is expected to interview candidates and make a recommendation for the full board to consider within a short time frame.

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