After 13 years, Cornelia Brown resigns as head of Augusta schools

Posted July 28, 2012, at 6:35 a.m.
Connie Brown
Connie Brown

AUGUSTA, Maine — School Superintendent Cornelia Brown is resigning after 13 years as the head of the city’s schools. Brown will stay on the job until Dec. 31, when she will leave to become executive director of the Maine School Management Association.

“All children are precious, but the Augusta School Department is truly an extraordinary place,” Brown said in her resignation letter. “I feel very fortunate to have been part of a team of dedicated individuals who give so selflessly, from elected officials, to educators, to parents, to ensure that students have every opportunity possible. I know this is to be true not only as the superintendent of schools, but also as a parent.”

Mayor William Stokes, who was on the Augusta Board of Education for several years while Brown was superintendent, said she provided “terrific service” to the city.

“She has done a terrific job handling some tough budget issues, especially the last five or six years,” Stokes said. “I’m sorry to see her go. I’m sure she’ll do great in her new position. Hopefully, moving forward, we’ll find someone equally skilled.”

Stokes said Brown’s resignation notice coming now, even though she’s not leaving the post until the end of the year, gives the school board time to find a replacement.

Brown said Thursday that she resigned because of the opportunity at the Maine School Management Association, which has had only three directors since its creation in 1971.

She said Augusta’s schools are in much better shape than when she arrived in 1999, when Cony High School was on probation by an accrediting organization. She said 55 percent of Augusta students went on to post-secondary education at the time.

“We now have a new Cony High School and it received accolades (from the accrediting organization) for curriculum, facilities and focus on students,” Brown said. “Now 80 percent of our students go on to a post-secondary experience.”

Jane Dennison, an at-large Board of Education member, said Brown was fiscally responsible and worked to bring new programs, such as pre-school for 4-year-olds and all-day kindergarten, to Augusta.

“She’s a go-getter,” Dennison said.

Dennison said she understands why, after 13 years in the high-pressure, often thankless job of superintendent, Brown would be ready for a change.

Brown was hired to lead Augusta’s schools in 1999, before which she was superintendent of School Administrative Unit 2 in Meredith, N.H.

“I think she did the job the previous board hired her to do,” said Ward 2 Augusta Board of Education member Deborah Towle. “I think she did a really good job and think change is going to be positive for the Augusta School District. We’re going to do this in the most positive way we can and move forward.”

Susan Campbell, chairwoman of the Augusta Board of Education, could not be reached for comment, nor could Jeff DeJongh, a Cony science teacher and president of the Augusta Education Association local union.

Towle, chairwoman of the Personnel Committee, said the board will likely meet with school administrators and other stakeholders to discuss what Augusta needs in its next superintendent.

“We’ll have an open discussion with them and try to find somebody that is going to be able to fill those shoes,” Towle said. “They’re the front line. We’d like to have their input.”

Towle and Dennison both said Brown was not asked or pressured to resign. Towle said she was surprised by the superintendent’s resignation.

Brown’s latest contract in Augusta was good through 2013. She makes about $100,000 per year.

Her resignation, to be effective Dec. 31, won’t officially go to the board until their Aug. 8 meeting.

Brown plans to start her new job as executive director of the Maine School Management Association Jan. 1. The Maine School Management Association, located in Augusta, is a statewide nonprofit federation that advocates for and supports local school boards and superintendents through the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association.

Now, Brown is the Kennebec County representative on the executive committee of the Maine School Superintendents Association.

Augusta Schools have about 2,370 students in four elementary schools and Cony High School, which is attached to Capital Area Technical Center, a regional technical education facility.

Brown said in her resignation letter that Augusta schools have created innovative and successful programs during her tenure.

“We gave 4-year-old students access to universal preschool,” Brown wrote in her resignation letter. “We implemented all-day kindergarten. We built a state-of-the-art comprehensive high school. Our community has overwhelmingly supported the school department’s budget and recommendations. Notably, we’ve seen steady improvement in student achievement. Perhaps most significantly, we’ve achieved all of these important goals in the face of enormous financial challenges.”

A new Cony High School was built in 2006.

Conversely, Buker Middle School closed in 2003 and Hodgkins Middle School closed in 2009, both as cost-cutting moves. Grades 7 and 8 students now attend Cony High School.

“It’s a tough job, with revenue shrinking, she had to close a couple of schools that’s never popular,” Stokes said. “She’s done a superb job of managing the school department during very difficult times. I think we should be grateful.”

(c)2012 Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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