New South Portland Superintendent Timothy Matheney started his position at the district on July 1. Courtesy photo Timothy Matheney

SOUTH PORTLAND — As a new school year approaches, and with it a new South Portland superintendent, community members are able to learn about the district’s most prevalent challenges and goals.

Superintendent Timothy Matheney, who is replacing retired Ken Kunin, began at the South Portland School Department on July 1, receiving a warm welcome from staff and the school board, he said. His transition into the district is highlighted in the South Portland School Department entry plan, released earlier this month.

The plan details work that Matheney has completed since he was hired in March of this year and discusses upcoming projects reflected in three goals: to “develop a deep knowledge of South Portland students’ educational attainment and identify approaches to reinforcing a district culture focused on extraordinary student outcomes; develop a deep understanding of SPSD’s organizational capacity and operational efficiency; (and) identify and assess the critical issues — both short-term and long-term — facing SPSD and pathways for sustaining its current strengths and successes.”

These goals show the best practices a superintendent can take to approach a new district and identify its strengths as well as areas of improvement, Matheney said.

“I’m very fortunate to inherit leadership of a school district that is in very fine shape so that the priority of the entry plan can be getting to know the community, getting to know the educators and support staff who work here as well as identifying those organizational strengths that can lead us to success in the future as a school district,” Matheney said.

In line with the entry plan, Matheney has completed visits to the school, which he said he found the most instructive, and is continuing with interviews and conversations with staff members, board members and community members, he said.

Matheney sees the entry plan as a collaborative process that ensures the diversity of voices, he said.

“While I’m meeting some of the folks who hold formal leadership roles in the district, I’m also meeting with high school students, community members who aren’t employed by the school district,” he said. “We want to ensure that the individuals who participate in interviews and focus groups really do reflect the diversity of the school district, and that’s something we’re going to monitor continually and ensure that as the entry process subsets and we transition into the next part of my leadership plan, that we have had really diverse voices involved in my entry process.”

Unique challenges the district faces this fall are related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Matheney said.

Construction of the new middle school in South Portland is underway behind Memorial Middle School on Wescott Street. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in early June. Courtesy photo

“Every district in America, and much less in the world, is facing the challenge of creating the most ideal conditions to return to full schooling as the pandemic subsides in the United States,” he said. “We’re so fortunate here in Maine to be one of the highest performing states in terms of vaccination rates, so I am very hopeful that we will be able to have an uninterrupted school year, as long as some of the things that concern us, like the Delta variant of the coronavirus, do not present challenges down the road.

“The key part of it is reacclimating our students to in-person, five days a week schooling, while ensuring their safety and continuing to monitor any changes in the success that we’ve had in managing the pandemic in Maine.”

The leadership team that has been established at South Portland is what Matheney sees as one of his biggest strengths, he said.

“I’m smart enough as a leader to know that one individual can’t provide for the education of 3,000 students,” he said. “I’m so excited about working with the fantastic principals in South Portland as well as the central office leadership and the board to support high levels of academic learning for our students. The best skillset I can bring to the table is that I believe in collaborative leadership and that’s the kind of approach we’ll be taking as I continue this transition and succeed Superintendent Kunin.”

The first school board meeting with Matheney as superintendent took place on July 12, where he provided a number of updates on topics such as summer activities, South Portland High School’s baseball championship win and the new middle school construction project.

The district is thoughtfully approaching the construction and development of the new middle school, Matheney told the Sentry. Having started construction earlier this summer, the middle school will be replacing Mahoney and Memorial Middle Schools once completed.

“We realize that a single middle school is a significant change in the community, but we’re going to be approaching that thoughtfully and ensuring that the structure of the school programmatically, really provides that intimate learning environment that students are used to in Mahoney and Memorial right now,” he said.

People are encouraged to contact the superintendent’s office with questions about the entry plan, Matheney said. Those who have questions can call 871-0555 or view the entry plan at spsd.org/news.

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