The Brunswick school department has appointed Laurie Catanese as the new principal for the junior high school.

According to Superintendent Phil Potenziano, Catanese was approved by the school board for the position on June 9 and started on July 1.

“Ms. Catanese comes to us with a rich, diverse educational background, which was the perfect fit for Brunswick Junior High School” said Potenziano in a statement. “She has quickly begun to acquaint herself with the school, district and community — I hope everyone will join me in welcoming her to Brunswick.”

Catanese was selected from an applicant pool of 13, where six were interviewed, Potenziano said. Her starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year is $102,750.42.

In an interview, Catanese said that first and foremost, her goal is to build relationships.

Brunswick Junior High School Principal Laurie Catanese. Contributed

“I am new here, I don’t know the community really well, I don’t know the students really well, and so it’s hard for me to understand what the diverse needs might be without first building those relationships. So that is my primary goal,” Catanese said. “From there I’d like to collaboratively build those goals.”

After first taking time to engage with students, parents and teachers, Catanese said she is interested in expanding community-based learning, stating she is proud of her ability to connect students with community partners and empower teachers to try something new in the classroom.

“Something I really believe in is community-based education,” she said. “There are already some connections with Bowdoin, which are amazing, and I think however we can expand upon that is really important.”

In October of 2020, The Times Record reported that the Brunswick School Department formed a steering committee to address initiatives related to equity. More specifically, The Times Record reported, the committee focuses on implicit bias and white supremacy culture in schools, among other goals.

“When applying for this job what impressed me the most was reading through the minutes of the diversity, equity, inclusion committee,” Catanese said. “It does not come across to me as we’re doing this just because it’s the thing to do, but we’re doing it because we mean it and we want to grow, and we want to allow all students to feel valued and appreciated in our community.”

When asked about the impacts of COVID-19, Catanese said that she thinks the pandemic brought to light both positive and negative aspects of education.

Laurie Catanese, the new principal at Brunswick Junior High School, standing outside of the school. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

“It magnified student resilience, teacher resilience,” Catanese said. “It also magnified some of the inequities that we see. In Maine specifically, I think about rural access to the internet and how difficult that was for students who had to work remotely who did not have access to the internet because of where they live.”

Catanese replaced former principal Mandy Lewis, who is now the principal at Yarmouth Middle School. According to Lewis, the decision to leave the junior high school was a personal one, as she wanted to have her family life and administrator role in different communities.

Lewis became the principal at the junior high school in June of 2019, replacing former principal Walter Wallace, who announced his resignation in March of 2019, stating that he had received his superintendent certification and that he was looking to pursue a different administrative position, The Times Record reported.

Also, around that time, Wallace was involved in controversy related to allegations of bullying female staff in the school department, The Times Record reported, stating that 11 teachers claimed Wallace had harassed, bullied and emotionally and verbally abused female staff for years and that complaints were swept under the rug by the administration.

Catanese has a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Maine at Farmington.

Before starting in Brunswick, Catanese worked 11 of her 14 years in education at the Oxford Hills School District as an elementary school teacher, middle school teacher and, most recently, as a high school assistant principal.

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