For RSU 5 school leaders, lots of homework

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Becky Foley, left, the new superintendent in Regional School Unit 5, and Cynthia Alexander, the new assistant superintendent, know each other well from their time at School Administrative District 52, based inTurner.

RSU 5 starts the year with a new superintendent, assistant superintendent and high school principal.

With the first day of school in Regional School Unit 5 just three weeks away, new Superintendent Becky Foley has been scurrying around Freeport, Durham and Pownal, preparing for the new year.

Foley, who worked as curriculum coordinator in the Portland School Department last year, met two weeks ago with another new RSU 5 administrator, Freeport High School Principal Jennifer Gulko. Foley and Gulko both have expertise in proficiency-based learning, which will be a graduation requirement in 2021 at Freeport High School. Foley also has met with the Freeport High School Building Advisory Committee, which is overseeing a $14.5 million renovation that, she said last Thursday, is 60 percent complete. She’s learning the who’s, what’s and where’s of the school district.

“I’m working on an entry plan and formulating goals,” said Foley, who succeeds Ed McDonough, and is the third new RSU 5 superintendent in as many years. “I’ve met with all administrators, town managers and all board members individually, and will meet with all (parent teacher organizations).”

Foley, 60, has a salary of $128,000. She is working with two new administrators, in addition to Gulko. Cynthia Alexander fills the new position of assistant superintendent, whose main responsibility is to serve as curriculum coordinator. And Charlie Mellon, who has been a social studies teacher at the high school, moves to fill the vacancy left by Gulko as assistant principal.

Foley and Alexander are old colleagues, from their days in Turner-based School Administrative District 52, where Foley was assistant superintendent and Alexander was a principal.

Alexander, 52, will earn $108,000 as Foley’s assistant. Working with Foley again will be good for both of them, Alexander said.

“We push each other’s thinking,” Alexander said. “We have the same goals in mind.”

Alexander, who lives in Auburn, spent 20 years in the Hampden school system and five in SAD 52.

Foley is confident that Freeport High will be ready to meet the requirements for proficiency-based education, which is based on Common Core standards. The new class of eighth-graders at Freeport Middle School and Durham Community School will be the first to graduate under those requirements.

“By 2021, students must be able to demonstrate they are proficient in math, science, English and social studies in order to ensure that they graduate ready for college or post-secondary careers,” Foley said. “The (state) statute adds one additional proficiency in the areas of health and physical education, visual and performing arts, world languages, and career and education development until the year 2025, where students must be proficient in all eight content areas in order to receive a diploma.”

She said Freeport High “is well on its way to identifying clear standards and learning targets so that each student can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the identified skills through multiple pathways.”

Foley said that, when done well, proficiency-based learning empowers students to develop the critical thinking and skills needed to succeed once they leave Freeport High School.

“This work will be one area of focus for this upcoming school year for staff,” she said.

Foley also is intent on establishing a solid line of communications with everyone involved in RSU 5. While McDonough produced a superintendent’s newsletter, Foley has two different methods she will use to stay in touch.

“My goal,” she said, “is to be highly visible.”

She said she prepares a weekly email update for the school board and is planning a monthly article for the community that would be published in the Tri-Town Weekly.

Foley assessed the strengths of RSU 5 as “a highly respected district that is very student-focused.”

RSU 5 has a strong administrative team, a strong teaching team and a school board that is committed to education, she said.

An area of concern: a more cohesive mathematics curriculum at the middle school level. Programs for students at all three grade levels – 6, 7 and 8 – are created by different publishers, Foley said.

“We’re hoping to find a program that will meet the needs of our students in grades 6 through 8,” she said. “We have a strong math program at the elementary level.”

Becky Foley, left, the new superintendent in Regional School Unit 5, and Cynthia Alexander, the new assistant superintendent, know each other well from their time at School Administrative District 52, based inTurner.

Superintendent Becky Foley stands outside the Regional School Unit 5 Central Office, which is getting a facelift this summer with new siding and windows.

A closer look:

School in Regional School Unit 5 starts on Tueday, Sept. 6, for students in grades kindergarten through 9, and on Wednesday, Sept. 7, for all students.