Meet the new superintendent

Carpenter set to face challenges in RSU 20

By Tanya Mitchell | Jul 22, 2012
Photo by: Tanya Mitchell RSU 20 Superintendent Brian Carpenter

Belfast — Brian Carpenter has been on the job as the new RSU 20 superintendent for less than a month, but is already getting familiar with the difficulties the district has experienced in recent years.

What's more, he's no stranger to adversity and said he's looking forward to working with the Board of Directors to find solutions.

Most recently, Carpenter served as an interim assistant principal at Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan from November 2011 until June 2012. He also worked as an assistant principal in Calais, a duty he took on for a year during his total three-year tenure as a mathematics instructor at the New England School of Communications in Bangor.

Carpenter also had a lengthy career in the military, beginning in 1974 when he joined the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. From there, Carpenter attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., and then served in the National Guard until his retirement in 2009. Before he finished his military career, Carpenter brought his experience to the Pentagon in 2003 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and after that he returned to the education field for about 18 months before he was deployed once more. He began his deployment at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and then returned to the Pentagon for another tour, where he served as Chief of Staff for his Division, supervising more than 190 people.

Carpenter, in an interview with The Journal Wednesday, July 18, said many of the skills he learned during his military career are quite similar to what it takes to be an educator, as he often took on instructional roles as an officer.

"I was either like a principal, assistant principal or the central office staff," said Carpenter. "It goes back and forth, and they are pretty much the same."

Carpenter said what drew him to the leadership position in RSU 20 was "the opportunity to come back and be a superintendent again," as he formerly served as a superintendent in the Lubec-based SAD 19 prior to its consolidation with the Calais-area district to form Alternative Organizational Structure 77.

"I like a challenge; I like the opportunity to look at the big picture, see what the possibilities are, what we can work toward and what can be achieved," he said. "Change takes time, it's a process, and education is always changing."

One big change that's in the works for Maine schools is the switch to a standards-based curriculum, which will require students to demonstrate they've met standards put forth in the Maine Learning Results in order to earn a diploma.

"We have to move toward the mandates for a standards-based education," said Carpenter, adding that state law dictates the class of 2017 will be the first group of students who will earn diplomas based on a solely standards-based report card.

"How do we do that? We haven't quite figured that out. I don't think anybody has, yet," said Carpenter.

Carpenter said RSU 20 is "off to a good start," as all of the district's elementary and middle school staffs are already teaching under the new model, and the high school staffs are continuing to work toward changing curricula to better suit the state's requirement.

"Instead of [counting] seat time, there is an expectation of meeting certain standards," said Carpenter.

And that means that when a student has a firm grasp of a particular subject they may not be required to remain in the same ability level for the entire school year.

"If a student's in algebra one and they meet the standards in 10 or 12 weeks, they can then go on to algebra two," he said.

Students would also have opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school, which Carpenter said would save the student money and also increase their chances of completing their post-secondary education.

Changing the way RSU 20 students learn isn't the only challenge the district has wrestled with in recent years. The lack of new teacher contracts, concerns over ever-reducing revenue and ever-increasing costs and ongoing efforts on the part of some towns to withdraw from the RSU remain on the horizon.

Carpenter said addressing those issues would take strategic planning, and he's looking forward to working with directors to pinpoint and prioritize each of those challenges in order to map out a course of action for the coming years.

"Then everyone will be clear about what the board's expectations are," he said.

And if it turns out the plan isn't working for some reason, Carpenter said, there's nothing wrong with readjusting so the district can move forward in a positive and constructive way.

"Just because you put it on paper, that doesn't make it so," he said.

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