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SAD 22 superintendent gets national health recognition

HAMPDEN, ME -- OCTOBER 7, 2010 -- Hampden school superintendent Rick Lyons near the construction site of the new Hampden Academy, which will be next to the football field. LINDA COAN O'KRESIK
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

HAMPDEN, Maine — SAD 22 Superintendent Rick Lyons is getting national recognition for his commitment to the health and wellness of the students, faculty and staff in his district.

Lyons, longtime head of SAD 22, will be presented next week with the 2010 School Health Leadership Award from the American School Health Association at a ceremony in Kansas City.

In a recent interview, Lyons said the award — given to only one school administrator in the country — is less about him and more about his staff and faculty embracing his ideas.

“With anything, if your CEO is an advocate for something, it’s going to trickle down,” he said.

Nearly a decade ago, Lyons used some grant funding to hire a school health coordinator. Few school districts in the state have a point person devoted to health and wellness, but Lyons embraced the idea.

The more he thought about it and the more research he uncovered, Lyons found that healthier students are more productive students. The same is true of faculty, he said.

One of his first initiatives was the introduction of a faculty wellness incentive. In 15 years, more than 60 percent of staff have taken advantage of the program, which offers a full day’s pay if the staff members take fewer than three sick days in a calendar year.

A new Hampden Academy, which is under construction and set to open in the fall of 2012, will include a wellness center available to staff and students during the school day and to community members after hours.

Jacqueline Ellis, director for coordinated school health programs for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, nominated Lyons for the award.

“Rick is an innovator and a mover,” she said in her nominating letter. “He has been an important voice promoting the importance of school health with other school administrators and community leaders.”

Susan Wooley, executive director of the American School Health Association, said criteria for the leadership award — now in its third year — are strict, and the process is competitive.

“Support of the superintendent is the key to being successful. You can have passionate advocates, but if the superintendent is not supportive, it’s not going to go anywhere.”

Lyons, a University of Maine graduate, has been superintendent of SAD 22 for 19 years. In 2004, he received the Superintendent of the Year award from the Maine School Superintendents Association. In 2007, he received the Maine Commissioner of Education’s Distinguished Superintendent award.

In accepting the national honor next week, Lyons is set to give a speech.

“I think they will want to know ‘How did I get support?’” he said. “With my staff and school board, it was easy.”

Besides, Lyons doesn’t just talk about wellness. He lives it.

Last weekend, Lyons completed the Maine Marathon — his 30th to date — in 3 hours, 28 minutes, 52 seconds. The time qualifies him for the exclusive Boston Marathon, which he has already completed 13 times.

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