Bangor School Department's Assistant Superintendent Kathy Harris-Smedberg. Credit: Courtesy of the Bangor School Department

Bangor’s assistant superintendent will take over leadership of the school district when the current superintendent steps down later this year.

Kathy Harris-Smedberg will step in as interim superintendent on Nov. 1, once longtime superintendent Betsy Webb leaves for a new job as a professor at the University of Maine.

Webb has led the Bangor School Department for 12 years.

Harris-Smedberg has been assistant superintendent of Bangor schools for about four years, and has headed curriculum development, teacher training and supervised the gifted and talented program.

The transition in leadership of the fourth-largest public schools district in Maine comes at a time filled with uncertainty as schools plan for multiple ways to deliver instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve never experienced learning like this before,” Harris-Smedberg said. “Ensuring safety and academic well-being for all our students is going to be our primary focus. Doing it in this time of COVID-19 brings on new challenges that have never been seen before.”

The Bangor school committee unanimously approved Smedberg as the district’s interim superintendent at a meeting on Aug. 19. The committee will solicit input from the community in October on a new superintendent, and gather feedback in the form of questionnaires and forums in November and December.

It will review applications for superintendent next year. The first round of interviews are planned for March, according to school board chair Warren Caruso.

Bangor students have performed strongly on standardized tests during Webb’s tenure. They consistently outperform their statewide peers, and their overall performance has improved in recent years while statewide performance has stagnated.

Harris-Smedberg said she’s looking forward to upholding that high academic performance.

The school department this year has focused on antiracism efforts after Black students at Bangor High School shared stories of discrimination, including being called the N-word there.

The school department hired an investigator to look into reports of racism and retained Racial Equity and Justice, a BIPOC-led organization to conduct diversity training for faculty and staff.

“We need to ensure that we’re providing an environment where students are best able to learn whether that’s in-person, hybrid or remote learning,” Harris-Smedberg said about her priorities in her new role.

“And of course we continue to work on our equity awareness and building capacity within our staff, faculty to understand the needs of all of our students,” she said.