HOPE, Maine — As employees of School Union 69 mourned Superintendent Deborah Stewart on Monday, the interim superintendent was on his first day of the job and getting ready to deal with the budget.
Stewart, 57, died alone of natural causes Wednesday at her apartment in Belfast, according to police there.
“Both personally and professionally, it’s been an incredible shock,” Carol Hathorne, principal of Hope Elementary School, said Monday morning.
One thing that is helping to ease the shock is the fact that recently retired Union 69 superintendent David Wiggin is coming back to serve as the interim head until June 30.
“That’s exactly what we need right now,” Hathorne said, “a little stability to get us through.”
The administrative offices of Union 69 are closed today in observance of the funeral services planned for Stewart in Presque Isle.
Wiggin, who officially retired in June 2007, said he is not planning to come out of retirement permanently. Yvonne Walker, school board chair for the union, contacted him last week about the emergency opening and it “wasn’t hard to say yes,” he said.
“It’s the kind of situation where you think you have to do something,” Wiggin said. “It’s a very crucial time of year for school departments. It’s budget season. Being without someone at this point in time would be difficult.”
Wiggin said he would work three days a week for Union 69, one day a week serving as interim superintendent of schools for SAD 19 in Lubec, and “one day driving.”
“We haven’t planned ahead,” he said of the future of Union 69. “There might have to be some transition time in the summer, but it would be ideal if we could have someone ready to go by July 1.”
Wiggin said he worked with Stewart in Aroostook County, where they both served as administrators. He remembered her strong focus on curriculum development.
It’s a focus that she brought with her to Knox County, too, Hathorne said.
“She was particularly interested in that,” the principal said. “She really encouraged the Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville schools to pursue a professional learning community. And she wanted us to allow teachers to share their best practices with each other.”
Superintendent Terry Comeau of CSD 9 in Aroostook County said he worked with Stewart for some years when she was serving as head of SAD 70 in Hodgdon.
“I think she certainly was top-notch,” he said of Stewart. “She just was a very dedicated person. We worked together and had a lot of fun. She’ll be missed.”