Gregg Palmer the superintendent of schools in Brewer. Credit: Gabor Degre

Gregg Palmer, who resigned last week as principal of Deering High School in Portland following a large enrollment drop at the school, is the new superintendent of schools in Brewer.

Palmer, a Carmel native who started his new position Tuesday, returns to Brewer after working as a special education teacher at the city’s high school from 1994 to 2002 — his first teaching job.

“Professionally, it’s home,” Palmer said. “There are a lot of people who still work in Brewer who I worked beside when I was a teacher. Coming back to work with them is kind of a homecoming for myself.”

Palmer left his Brewer job in 2002 to make the shift from teaching to school administration. He served as principal of Searsport District High School from 2002 to 2010.

In the small school district, Palmer was part of a team that implemented a new approach based on teachers outlining specific standards students had to meet, then working closely with students until they met them. The approach led to higher graduation rates, lower dropout rates and improved standardized test scores.

“Before the state went to proficiency education, we initiated it in Searsport,” Palmer said. “Really our focus was on pushing kids to higher levels of learning and giving them more support to get there.”

Palmer left the Searsport job to serve as principal of Falmouth High School, where he worked until starting at Deering in 2017. He stayed at Deering for two school years.

“I’ve been a principal for 17 years, and I think that’s long enough,” Palmer said. “I had to admit to myself that it was time to walk away from the principalship and to work at that next level of design, which is the superintendency.”

In his first job as a school superintendent, Palmer will oversee a district with three schools and 1,661 students.

He spent his first day visiting teachers at all the schools and learning about the district.

Palmer said he does not have a list of things he wants to change, but his initial goal is to empower teachers to do their jobs.

Last year, a Brewer High School teacher brought a teacher survey to the city’s school committee showing that most Brewer High School teachers were dissatisfied with how the district had implemented proficiency-based education. The teachers in the survey wanted to revert to a traditional system based on course credits.

Palmer said he will evaluate how well Brewer’s dual credit- and proficiency-based system, which the city adopted last year following that teacher survey, is working and what changes need to be made. That evaluation will involve hearing from teachers, he said.

“If I have an initial goal, it is to empower teachers and to reinforce the message that it is them who make a difference in the lives of students,” he said. “I don’t want Brewer to be a top-down, hierarchical, paperwork-driven school district. I want it to be a district that’s about kids and teachers who believe in one another.”

In Portland, Palmer said the city’s school department was addressing the enrollment drop at Deering High School.

“I was in Portland for two years, and I’m probably not well-versed in the ways things shift,” he said. “They were looking at district enrollment and what the ebbs and flows were ultimately about.”

Earlier this summer, the Portland Press Herald reported that more Portland students were choosing Portland High School over Deering amid concerns that Deering had become unsafe. Portland students can choose from three public high schools based on available space.

This fall’s incoming freshman class at Deering is 127 students, down from a typical enrollment of about 220, the Press Herald reported earlier this month. Portland High’s freshman class will have 272 students, compared with a typical freshmen enrollment of 180 or 190.

The Portland School Department has launched an inquiry into the enrollment shift.