Faces in the Crowd

New Appleton principal has been there before

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Jun 27, 2014
Courtesy of: Susan Stilwell Susan Stilwell, new principal of Appleton Village School, was the school's technology teacher from 2000 to 2006. She starts Aug. 1.

Appleton — When she takes over as Appleton Village School's new principal Aug. 1, Susan Stilwell will be returning to familiar territory.

From 2000 to 2006, she was the technology teacher for Appleton and for Hope Elementary School, and helped implement former Gov. Angus King's original Maine Learning Technology Initiative there.

She came to Maine 30 years ago, and has lived in Jefferson with her husband, Bob, for 23 years. They have three grown sons, the youngest of whom is now in college. Stilwell was born and raised in Canada. After attending college in Newfoundland to earn a bachelor's degree in marine biology, she went to work for the University of Maine's Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

There, she met the wife of a coworker, who was a teacher; the woman persuaded Stilwell to go back to school at the University of Maine and get certified as a science teacher.

She first taught science and social studies in the Bremen school system, then went to Hope as a fifth-grade teacher. During this stint at Hope, she participated in a social studies curriculum committee that developed a common curriculum for the towns that form the Five Town Community School District (CSD).

While she was technology teacher in Hope and Appleton, she earned a master's degree in computer technology in education from Thomas College in 2003. In 2008, she went on to get a certificate of advanced study in school administration and supervision from Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

She went to Maine School Administrative District 5 -- know known as Regional School Unit 13 -- as technology director for the district in 2005 and in 2009 became first interim assistant principal and then assistant principal at Rockland District Middle School. When she started working as an administrator she felt she had found her niche, Stilwell said, and the place she could have the most impact.

“I really enjoy working with the students and the staff and being able to make an impact on both their lives,” she said.

She also likes the variety of problems that come her way. “Being in education, you're never bored.”

She became interim principal of Thomaston Grammar School in November 2010, and has been principal of both Thomaston Grammar and Owls Head Central schools since August 2011.

Stilwell values integrated, hands-on learning like the fifth-grade garden project, where students grow vegetables for use in the cafeteria at Thomaston Grammar School.

About returning to Appleton, she said she thinks K-8 schools are important because they allow the staff to build relationships with students and their families over a long period of time. She feels the school has a lot of strengths.

“For a small school they're doing some amazing things,” she said. For example, the school has a fully implemented Positive Intervention Behavior Support program, which fosters a healthy school culture. It also uses a team structure for planning school activities that is similar to the one used in RSU 13.

She does not plan many immediate changes. “For the short term, I just want to continue the good work they're doing,” Stilwell said.

Later, she hopes to implement more integrated learning opportunities, for example, student-led conferences like those that have taken place at Thomaston Grammar. She also plans to build on Appleton's garden program, possibly having some students visit the program at Thomaston Grammar to pick up ideas.

Stilwell said she was concerned about the fact that Appleton voters turned down both the local school budget and the CSD budget June 10. But she added that the needs of the school and the needs of taxpayers must be balanced. In a town like Appleton with no industry to offset educational costs, “trying to find that balance is incredibly hard,” she said.

She said it is challenging for towns like Appleton to prepare their students to attend the same high school as their peers from Camden and Rockport, which have much larger business tax bases. When the next school budget vote comes up, she plans to call people she knows in town who care about education and remind them to vote.

“You've got to have the people who care involved.”

As for her educational priorities, Stilwell said she wants students to grow, to be engaged in active learning and to have a school that celebrates learning.

“I really want all my kids to become productive citizens,” she said.

Comments (4)
Posted by: KERYN LAITE | Jul 01, 2014 06:23

I stand by the scool budget and elected school officials along with the principal being "completely transparent" meaning when townspeople / taxpayers attend school board and or budget meetings and ask for clarification of expenses there should be straight forward answers without question and no double talk. 

As for the rising cost of education, it is what it is everywhere.In  Appleton there appears to be no type of industry / business growth in therefore Joe Q. Taxpayer is going to have to absorb a lot more of local expenses. There is no real draw card to increase the number of residents which in turn would increase the taxpayer base, ultimately, which would lower local taxes. In most towns, the majority of local taxes is for local education be. Good luck people.   JMO



Posted by: Lori Messner | Jun 29, 2014 07:51

Voting down the school budgets  does not mean that Appleton residents don't care about education. It proves that  taxpayers are fed up the with  the ever increasing cost of education.  This is an important distinction.  Costs continually rise; quality of education lags to the detriment of students.  Why????  More money isn't the answer.  Yet the proponents of more money to educate will have us believe that it is the answer.  Just as politicians do with local, state and federal budgets.


Every  resident should vote on  the next budget - but only after fully understanding how ALL of  the money is to be spent.

There is a growing dissatisfaction with  the  way our property taxes keep increasing  with little to show for them.



Posted by: Mary Kate Moody | Jun 27, 2014 12:11

I concur with the above, and also hope this principal is not using our school as a stepping stone to a bigger school, or to spend the last two years before retirement.  We have had to much of that in our last 20 years.



Posted by: KERYN LAITE | Jun 27, 2014 07:47

Hopefully this new principal can work closely with the school board to be completely transparent when it comes to financial demands. The taxpayers of this town and every town for that matter, need this for the school system to be successful. She has her work cut out for her. JMO



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Sarah Reynolds
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
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Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.

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