Beecher ready for Supt. challenge

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

Kathleen Beecher

Kathleen Beecher has spent years working toward this moment.

She has climbed education’s professional ladder — teaching elementary-aged students, leading a school as a principal, been a driving force in curriculum development and improvement, and has served SAD 61 as an assistant superintendent.

And, a year ago, she earned her doctorate.

Now, Dr. Beecher is ready to assume the challenging role as SAD 61’s interim superintendent of schools. She recently received unanimous support from the SAD 61 School Board to take the reins from Patrick Phillips, who will leave the district in June to assume the superintendent’s post for Regional School Unit 23 — Saco, Dayton and Old Orchard Beach.

The News posed the following questions to Dr. Beecher regarding her upcoming one-year “interim” term:

BN. Is this a role you thought you would one day tackle?

Dr. Beecher: When Frank Gorham resigned as superintendent three years ago, several people encouraged me to apply then. At the time, I was still working on my doctorate degree, and knew I would not be able to truly give either the job or the degree the focus it deserved. Now, I feel very ready to take on the challenges of leading a school district.

Working in the position on an interim basis is a “win-win” for both the district and myself. It gives me a chance to step into the role, live the life of a superintendent every day, and decide if I like it and may want to continue doing the work. It gives the School Board the opportunity to work with me in this role, determine if I am meeting their expectations, and decide if our working relationship is productive and good for the students, staff, and community members of SAD 61. I will decide whether to apply for the permanent job when it is posted in early 2012.

This is a role I was looking to step into at some point. I have lived year-round in the district since 1987. I own a house in Naples and my family owns a summer home on Brandy Pond. I spent all my childhood summers in the Lake Region. All through college, I was a lifeguard at Sebago Lake State Park.  I care deeply about the people and this area of Maine. I am truly honored to have the support and confidence of the School Board, the administrators, and many, many staff members who have e-mailed, called, or talked with me about the appointment as Interim Superintendent.

BN. How many years were you assistant superintendent, and in that role, how do you feel it prepared you to serve as interim superintendent?

Dr. Beecher: I have worked as the assistant superintendent for the district for six years. This role has allowed me to have a K-12 focus as we have worked on curriculum, instruction, and assessment updates and revisions in the district. On a regular basis, I fill in for the superintendent when he is away or in meetings. I lead meetings, address issues that come up day-to-day, and make decisions that need to be made before the superintendent returns on a fairly regular basis.

In this role, I have the opportunity to be in all the district programs and buildings on a regular basis to observe and be part of what is happening in a student’s typical day. I also work with staff members of the district every day. I try very hard to get to know people as individuals and to truly understand the joys and challenges of each person’s position in the district. I believe in being transparent with people and encourage people to be honest with me about issues or challenges that could be improved. I would much rather hear about issues as they come up than to let things fester and have the conversations happen in the parking lot as opposed to getting them out in the open. I work hard to earn the trust of people, and I feel that is one of the best personal qualities I will bring to the role of interim superintendent. I truly believe that our staff members are some of our greatest assets of the district.

BN. What do you see as the biggest immediate challenges you will face?

Dr. Beecher: I believe there are three major challenges that I will face over this year. The first is everything to do with budgets and funding. Over the last several years, the state has allocated less and less funding to SAD 61, which has required the property owners to take on more and more of the funding for our schools. In our present economic times, this situation creates tension. Taxpayers are at a breaking point and increased fuel and food costs added into the mix are creating an even more difficult situation for people. Working people and Social Security recipients are not experiencing any increases to be able to pay more. On the other hand, how much can you cut from the school programs before you affect the education of the students?

Before we begin the budget process next year, I believe we need to step back and really look at all programming to determine if there are areas that can be changed or eliminated to allow us to better meet individual student needs and also result in some tax savings. In the fall, I will be asking all stakeholders of the district for their cost-saving ideas. All of us are much smarter than any one of us.

The second greatest challenge will be in creating an atmosphere where all staff members, parents, and community members have high expectations of our students. The experience of having our high school appear on a list of “persistently low performing schools” is not just a representation of what is happening for students in Grades 9-12. This situation was created K-12. We need to draw some lines in the sand about our expectations for students. For instance, unless a student has an identified learning disability or other special education determination, he or she should be reading at grade level by the end of third grade in our district. We need to be providing specific literacy and numeracy interventions to students who are not working at grade level in reading or math in all grades from K-12, but especially focus on our youngest students.

The third greatest challenge will be working with LRHS administrators and staff to continue the high school transformational work. As we begin working under a new structure and model in the fall of 2011, we need to assure that parents and students understand the changes so they can give the model a chance to work. I am sure there will be challenges along the way and things will need to be tweaked as they are tried, but this is our high school and we all need to get behind it and support our staff and students as things change. I will say more about this as we approach September, but I have all confidence that our new principal, Mr. Ted Finn and the leadership structure at LRHS are working very hard to develop a model that will result in improved achievement of our students and more actively engaged and involved students as well.

BN. What will you do to ease the transition?

Dr. Beecher: It is my goal to be as involved as possible with everything happening this spring that will have implications for next year. Because of the many responsibilities of my present position, I will not be able to be at every meeting. I will do my best to schedule things so that I can be at as much as possible. In the short time since Mr. Phillips has announced that he will be leaving at the end of June, I have been attending more of the School Board’s committee meetings and executive sessions of the board. Mr. Phillips and I have set up regular times to meet over the next several weeks to have time to assure I am prepared to take over the areas where I have had less involvement.

Looking ahead to the summer, I plan to reach out to businesses, community agencies, and individuals who live within the district by introducing myself and set up times to meet together if people would like. I will invite people to “Meet the Interim Superintendent Gatherings” in August. (I held several well-attended “Meet the New Principal Nights” at Sebago Elementary School the summer I became their principal.) I will hold some of these in the evenings and some in the mornings to accommodate people’s varied schedules. I will encourage people to stop in to the Central Office to talk with me as well. I will attend many summer events within the district such as Sebago Days and Casco Days. I hope that if you see me at an event and know who I am, you will say hello and introduce me to your friends and neighbors that live within the District.

I will be setting up times for each of the School Board members to meet with me individually, and I’m hoping that many of our former School Board members who have cycled off the board over the last few years will also meet with me to discuss what they see as our most pressing district needs and also simply things they think I should know.

I’m going to attend a part of each of the school’s early staff meetings at the beginning of the school year. I plan to poll the staff about their ideas for making sure we have effective communication to and from myself and staff members and to and from members of the administrative team and staff members. I plan to continue Mr. Phillips’ practice of writing a “Weekly Update” for the School Board and Leadership Team each Friday. I also hope to publish a quarterly District Newsletter for parents and community members of the district.

BN. Finally, how will the job responsibilities (could you mention what they are) you are presently in charge of be handled once you become interim superintendent?

Dr. Beecher: The following list highlights my major responsibilities in my present position of Assistant Superintendent: director of Instructional Programs/ Curriculum Coordinator; act as Superintendent Designee in Superintendent’s absence; No Child Left Behind Coordinator; write all NCLB Title grant applications and performance reports, including the Rural Low Income Grant, and oversee all grant projects; develop and administer the district instructional and gifted and talented program budgets; supervise all district curriculum committees; supervise the district Title I program and staff; supervise the district Gifted and Talented program and staff; responsible for instructional policy development and revisions; Administrative representative to the School Board Curriculum Committee; coordinate the District Response to Intervention (RTI) Committee; lead the District Response to Intervention (RTI) Assessment and Data Collection Sub-committee; work closely with building principals and the Professional Development Coordinator to plan, lead, and sustain professional development opportunities for staff members; lead NCLB audit visits and the SAU Review visit from the Maine DOE; administrative representative to district ad-hoc committees such as the Substance Abuse Committee and the Foreign Language Exploratory Committee; and wrote the current District Lau Plan.

The School Board’s Personnel Committee will discuss how these job responsibilities that I am presently in charge of will be handled once I become Interim Superintendent at their next meeting to be held later this month. My hope is that we will hire an Interim Assistant Superintendent or Curriculum Coordinator for the 2011-12 school year.

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