The longtime head of John Bapst Memorial High School, Mel MacKay, plans to retire at the end of the upcoming school year.
MacKay has headed the 540-student independent high school in Bangor since 2007. Under his leadership, John Bapst has developed a reputation for its strong academics and diverse international student population.
MacKay will be 66 when he retires next year, ending a 37-year-long career in education.
“It feels like a good time personally, and a good time for the school in the sense that we hope we’ll be past this coronavirus emergency,” MacKay said. “The memories that come back from my time in education are very specific — of a particular student, of a particular performance, of a particular class, whether John Bapst or earlier.”
MacKay, a native of Boston and graduate of Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, has a background in teaching and administrative roles at independent schools across the country.
He brought some tactics he learned from his past experience to Bangor and made the school more student-centered than it was when he took over, initiating weekly school-wide assemblies where students get a chance to perform talents they want to showcase and establishing individual communication channels with students regularly.
Under his leadership, Bapst added a Chinese language option for students, revitalized social sciences and technology, broadened visual arts offerings and doubled the number of Advanced Placement offerings.
MacKay was instrumental in expanding John Bapst to resemble a true campus, with dorms for international students on French Street and Broadway and apartments and houses where faculty members, including himself, live. The school also is expected to unveil its new $3.8 million fitness center in January 2021.
MacKay started his role at the school in July 2007, in the same month Maine passed the sweeping school consolidation plan, leaving small towns around Bangor with less school choice, which presented an enrollment challenge for John Bapst.
A few years later, he initiated the international student program, which has since brought in hundreds of students from more than 20 countries across the world to Bangor. Last year, the school welcomed the largest number of new international students ever.
“Now, in 2020, John Bapst is bigger than it was before,” MacKay said. “It has a worldwide reputation, not just the reputation of that good local private school. It’s much more diverse than it was before. So I think we’ve done some very positive things.”
After he steps down, MacKay hopes the next leader will continue to foster the environment of inclusion and open-mindedness that the Bapst community currently has.
The Board of Trustees have formed a search committee to find MacKay’s replacement. In a letter to parents, board chair Hans Peterson thanked him for his years of leadership.
“Thousands of students who have passed through the school since 2007 have been the beneficiaries of his leadership and vision,” Peterson said.