UNITY, Maine — After 37 years working in education in Maine — the last three spent heading SAD 3 through a major school construction project and a tough financial climate — Superintendent Joseph Mattos is hoping that once he retires on June 30, he’ll finally be able to relax.
The challenges of school administrators are many, he said, and for him they have included 14-hour workdays, a yearlong negotiation period for the new teachers contract, and construction of the $40 million school.
“I’ve kind of put my personal life on hold for the last three years,” said Mattos, 59. “I need to spend time with my wife and my family. I just want to take a year to catch my breath and get healthy.”
One of his plans is to finish his doctorate at the University of Maine. He said his daughter started kindergarten in 1994, the same year he began work on that doctorate, and she will graduate from UM next year with a degree in business.
“I plan to graduate with her. That’s my goal,” Mattos said.
Glenn Couturier, school board chairman, said he and others are sorry to see the superintendent leave.
“He’s done a very good job. When he came here, we had a lot of issues on the table that needed to be resolved,” he said. “He worked nearly two jobs and did a lot to propel this district forward in the time that he was here.”
Before heading SAD 3 — the school district that is composed of the western and northern Waldo County communities of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo — Mattos worked for 34 years in Waterville, Winslow and SAD 47 schools.
“I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve loved what I’ve done,” he said this week.
Mattos traced the origins of his Maine educational career to his youth spent studying and playing football in Providence, R.I. When Colby College football coach Dick McGee went back to his old high school to recruit promising players, he found Mattos and brought him north.
“I just stayed in Maine,” Mattos said. “I really liked Maine.”
Although the longtime educator said that in some ways he hates to stop his work as superintendent because the school system is “on the cusp” of building great things for the kids, in other ways he has some general frustrations about the state of public education. Though schools don’t control “all the factors” that determine how students learn, they do control many of them, Mattos said, and one of the most crucial factors is to ensure the students are taught by good teachers.
The way teachers are evaluated has more to do with showing up to work than with results shown through their students, he said, and that system could be tweaked for the benefit of the kids.
“There’s a lot of good research out there that says that we should hold ourselves more accountable,” Mattos said.
His successor will be facing many challenges, including another reduction in state revenue and the possibility of closing schools. But other considerations particular to SAD 3 include the fact that 80 percent of kids in the district are from families that qualify for free and reduced lunch.
“How do we help families?” Mattos asked. “There are not a lot of resources. There are a lot of social problems that keep getting heaped on that don’t make it easy.”
The school board will begin interviewing some of a “substantial list” of superintendent candidates on Friday, Couturier said.
“We’re looking for the best administrative leader that we can find,” he said. “If we could find someone nearly as qualified as [Mattos], we would consider ourselves fortunate.”