2016-08-05 / Front Page

Superintendent quickly steps into role

Since taking over the school system, Julie Kukenberger has been meeting with members of the Scarborough community
By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

Julie Kukenberger (center) delivers her first superintendent’s report at the board of education meeting Wednesday, July 27 as Assistant Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore, board members Kate Miles and Kelly Murphy look on and Chairman Donna Beeley takes notes. Later in the meeting Kukenberger shared her entry plan with the board. (Michael Kelley photo) Julie Kukenberger (center) delivers her first superintendent’s report at the board of education meeting Wednesday, July 27 as Assistant Superintendent Jo Anne Sizemore, board members Kate Miles and Kelly Murphy look on and Chairman Donna Beeley takes notes. Later in the meeting Kukenberger shared her entry plan with the board. (Michael Kelley photo) Julie Kukenberger has had a busy month since starting as the new superintendent of schools in early July, meeting with school leaders and learning the ropes of the role, which was vacated by George Entwistle, who retired after five years in the position.

For the rest of the summer, Kukenberger, most recently an assistant superintendent in Massachusetts, will focus on meeting with members of the Scarborough community, both those with children in the schools and those without school-aged children.

“It truly has been a genuinely warm welcome and I couldn’t be happier to be your superintendent,” Kukenberger said at her first official board of education meeting July 27.

Touching base with the Scarborough community is part of Kukenberger’s four-phased entry plan.

“A clear and transparent entry plan in a strategic outline that will allow us to maximize this opportunity presented by our new beginning. In order for a mindset of continuous improvement and to have buy-in from key stakeholders, it is imperative that I hear your voices and include your ideas about how to continue to move forward in service to Scarborough students,” Kukenberger wrote in a brochure about the entry plan process.

The current phase, phase 2, will take place now through November as Kukenberger connect with various segments of the Scarborough community to understand their vision for Scarborough schools. The first phase, which wrapped up in June, included making the transition from Haverhill, Massachusetts, to Scarborough.

“I want to focus on using this process to produce trust, produce credibility, so as we move forward, we are doing what’s best for the students in Scarborough,” she said.

Kukenberger said while members of the community can call her, or visit her at her office on the third floor of town hall, she is also interested in meeting with people out in the community, whether that is at coffee shops, school events or through community forums and meetings.

“I like getting into the community and meeting people where they feel comfortable, where they feel safe, so I can learn more about their interests,” she said.

An online survey has also been placed on the school district’s website (scarboroughschoools.org) to gauge community interest. Kukenberger will also be staffing a tent at SummerFest on Friday, Aug. 19 to connect with families. Board member Cari Lyford said she appreciated Kukenberger’s willingness to meet with members of the public on their terms.

As part of the second phase, Kukenberger would also like to touch base with Scarborough High School alumni to see how prepared they were to enter college or start their careers.

“As you can imagine, I have much to learn about our district’s strengths and areas where we can grow to ensure that all students are able to reach their full potential. Gathering input and perspectives from all stakeholders is critical in ensuring a successful entry in my new role,” she wrote in the brochure.

The third phase of the entry plan will take place in December and January, during which time Kukenberger will analyze the data and information she received and present her findings in a public meeting sometime toward the end of the calendar year. The fourth, and final phase, will take place between January and July during which time a strategic five-year plan will be created. One of the recommendations that could come out of phase four, she said, is the creation of groups or subcommittees to focus on areas of improvement for the district.

The entry plan will focus on five areas: student assessment, community engagement, relationship with the board of education, examination of the budget review process and identification of educational goals and next steps.

In the end written copies of the plan will be available to at community events, as well as placed in the schools and central office. Kukenberger said she envisions the plan, which will have both short-term and long-term strategies, as being a “living, breathing document” that serves as a tool, not only for her, but also for others personally invested in the school district.

Kukenberger said she is “going to try really hard to hold myself to the timeline we have identified” as the process unfold over the next year.

Board of Education Vice Chairman Kelly Murphy was impressed with Kukenberger’s vision and plan.

“I think this is very thorough,” she said. “You have hit every category.”

Board member Christine Massengill said she is “looking forward” to working through the plan with Kukenberger.

Board member Jodi Shea said the plan will send a strong message to the students of Scarborough.

“When our students see adults in the community advocating for them, it makes them feel good and it provides an opportunity for them to shine. I feel engaging the community in all the aspects is great,” Shea said.

Aside from a presentation about Kukenberger’s entry plan to the district, board members also heard a presentation from Brunswick School Board member Sarah Singer on behalf of Stand Up for Students, a group looking to add money to public school funding to meet the requirement of the state paying for 55 percent of the public school education in Maine. The state agreed to the 55 percent threshold in 2004, but has never met the mark. Currently 46 percent is covered.

“This is a statewide issue, but we are being asked to fix it on the local level with very few options,” Singer said.

The plan, Singer said, would add $157 million to educational funding by imposing a 3 percent tax for who earn more than $200,000 a year. The additional tax would only be applied to the income in excess of $200,000. The initiative does not unduly target those folks, Singer said, because it was those who made more than $200,000 who saw disproportionate tax cuts in 2011 and 2015.

The issue will appear on this November’s ballot as Question 2. A kickoff to the campaign was held at the gazebo in Memorial Park Friday, July 15. Board members Jackie Perry, Kate Miles, Shea and Murphy said they support the measure. The other board members – Cari Lyford, Christine Massengill and chairman Donna Beeley – did not share their views on the proposal. Perry said Stand Up for Students also has the support of the Maine School Board Association.

According to the campaign website, standupforstudentsmaine.org, if the funding was in place for the 2015-2016 school year, Scarborough would have received an additional $5 million in aid from the state.

Beeley thanked Singer for her presentation and said the board will discuss whether or not to take an official position on the item.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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