ELLSWORTH, Maine — A familiar face is returning to the largest municipality in Hancock County to lead its new school department.
Dan Higgins agreed last week to be the school superintendent for Ellsworth, which will withdraw from Regional School Unit 24 at the end of June. Ellsworth voters decided last November to once again form the city’s own school district.
Higgins is an Ellsworth High School graduate and a former coach, teacher and administrator in Ellsworth who now serves as superintendent of RSU 64, which includes the towns of Bradford, Corinth, Hudson, Kenduskeag and Stetson.
Higgins said Wednesday that, though he has been in Corinth for the past several years, he and his wife have kept their home in Ellsworth. He said the job opening in Ellsworth is rare in that he’s not inheriting it from anyone. The city’s schools themselves aren’t being reinvented, he said, but the district and its direct and exclusive connection to the Ellsworth community are.
“It’s a chance to start over,” Higgins said. “It’s an opportunity to come back home.”
Dawn Ihle Hudson, chairwoman of the city’s new school board, said Tuesday that 10 people applied for the superintendent position. The city’s search committee, which consisted of school board members, Ellsworth city and school officials and parents, interviewed five of them, she said.
Higgins stood out not only because of his familiarity with the city’s schools but because of his vision for the school system, Hudson said.
When Ellsworth and 11 other towns formed RSU 24 in 2009, the bond between the schools and local residents was weakened, Hudson said. This was not the fault of RSU 24 administrators, she said, but a result of the structure of the RSU, which consists of 12 municipalities.
The RSU may have been able to realize some cost savings in administration, she said, but its size and geography made it less approachable to most citizens. The schools may have been the same physically, she said, but having them governed by a school board made up of 13 people from towns that are up to 25 miles apart made the connection between the schools and their host communities more impersonal and distant.
“We’re really interested in getting the community back involved in the schools,” Hudson said. “Dan Higgins talked a lot about that in his interviews. His vision really matched the [Ellsworth] board’s vision moving forward.”
The city’s elected school board, which was formed in February, met Tuesday night and approved the hires of three more administrators for the city’s budding school system. Carolyn Heller, who now works in Union 93 on the Blue Hill peninsula, will be the business manager. Ray Daily, the food service manager for RSU 24, and Kimberly Bennett, assistant special education director for the RSU, will assume those same roles for Ellsworth.
Jack Turcotte, a former Ellsworth schools superintendent who is overseeing the re-creation of the city’s school system, said Tuesday that two other department administrators already have been hired. Lynn Maddocks, special education director for RSU 24, will fill the same role for Ellsworth. Russell Gray will go from directing transportation and maintenance for RSU 24 to doing the same for the city schools.
Hudson said that there are a few more administrator positions that the school board wants to fill before the city school system begins operations on July 1. Turcotte will consult closely with Higgins on choosing people for those hires, she said, with the school board having the final say.