New superintendent to focus on shared leadership approach
Rockland — As the school year begins the first of September, students, staff and parents will be seeing a lot of John McDonald.
McDonald, of Montville, began Aug. 1 as the new superintendent in Regional School Unit 13, which includes schools in Rockland, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Owls Head, St. George and Cushing. He previously worked as assistant superintendent in RSU 20, based in Belfast. He has a son and a daughter, who are both in college, studying engineering and nursing.
His first order of business is to get to know the region, the communities and meet the staff and administrators. His first administrative team meeting is next week.
McDonald, a graduate of both the University of Maine and University of Southern Maine, has worked his entire professional career in Waldo County, working in RSU 3, which includes the towns of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and in the RSU 20 district, which includes Belmont, Belfast, Morrill, Northport, Searsmont, Searsport, Stockton Springs and Swanville.
Prior to joining RSU 13, he served since 2009 as the assistant superintendent and director of curriculum and instruction for RSU 20, but has also been the assistant principal of Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, principal and a teacher at Monroe Elementary School and director of technology and assessment at Morse Memorial School in Brooks.
McDonald has a master's degree in educational leadership. He also holds undergraduate degrees in both anthropology and writing.
McDonald is the third superintendent since School Administrative Districts 5 and 50 consolidated in 2009. There have also been three interim superintendents during that time.
"I'm someone who enjoys a challenge," he said.
McDonald said he is not one to lead from behind a desk, but instead likes to be in the schools. He is the type of person that goes into the classroom just for a visit.
"My approach [to leadership] is that none of us is as smart as all of us," McDonald said.
In addition to going into classrooms, he plans to attend staff meetings and to work collaboratively with administrators. McDonald's leadership approach, which also will include collecting feedback on himself and the administrators, will help boost staff morale, he said.
"Leadership is not one person — it's all of us," he said.
Like every district, RSU 13 faces financial challenges, a decline in enrollment and increased costs, such as insurance and fuel. On top of that, the district is still working to become unified after consolidation, which is always a challenge when groups combine, McDonald said.
"I don't think RSU 13 is unique in those challenges at all," he said.
In order for a district to thrive given all these factors, the schools, he said, need to offer students research-based programs and a robust curriculum.
"We need to give students a voice and a choice on how to accomplish their goals," McDonald said. He also is a big believer in alternative education, like internships or special projects and said that is an opportunity the district can build on.
McDonald also plans to begin a superintendent, parent and community group to meet one time per month to discuss current topics and issues.
"It is a good way to get a weather gauge on how the community is feeling," he said, adding it is a less formal way to share and obtain information.
If interested in being on the committee, McDonald can be reached at 596-6620 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courier Publications Copy Editor Kim Lincoln can be reached at 594-4401 or by email at email@example.com.