Gregg Palmer, principal at Searsport District Middle and High schools, will be leaving his job in RSU 20 at the end of this school year in order to become the principal at Falmouth High School.

Palmer said his last day at Searsport would be June 30, and that he would begin his new job in Falmouth July 1. He informed staff at the school of his decision on April 13.

RSU 20 Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said the district hated to lose Palmer, and that Searsport’s loss would be Falmouth’s gain.

“He’s done a great job there [at Searsport], and he’s got the school on track to where we need to be,” said Mailloux. “I wish him the best, and I think he’ll do very well [in Falmouth].”

Mailloux said the process of finding a new principal for the Searsport schools would begin once Palmer officially submitted his resignation. The job opening will be posted both locally and statewide, and a search/selection committee will be formed. The goal, said Mailloux, will be to have someone new on board July 1.

Palmer said his decision to leave Searsport was a recent one — he said he wasn’t thinking about leaving Searsport at the start of the school year, nor during the Christmas vacation nor at the start of spring, for example — and that it was a decision that was brought on by factors affecting his family.

“Some things changed in my family’s life,” he said.

As far as what drew him to Falmouth specifically, Palmer said he had spent some time in that school system as part of his work with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. He also said that after talking with folks in the Falmouth school system, he felt the staff had similarities with the staff in Searsport.

“There are echoes of this staff down there,” he said.

Palmer will have been working in the Searsport schools for eight years when he leaves at the end of June. He started July 1, 2002, as the dean of students. Chris Downing, now director of the Waldo County Technical Center, was hired as principal at the same time, and when Downing stepped down from the principal’s post that fall, Palmer took the job.

Prior to working in Searsport, Palmer was a special education teacher in the Brewer school system for eight years. He said part of what drew him to Searsport was that the high school was doing “a lot of really cool work.”

He referred to the school’s decision to eliminate tracking — the separation of college-bound students and those not headed for post-secondary education into different classes — and the decision to use portfolios as a graduation requirement as two examples.

When asked what he is proudest of having done during his time at Searsport, or what his biggest accomplishments have been, Palmer said he preferred to credit the rest of the staff.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m just lucky to be here,” he said. “The staff had already set the course for the school to be a really innovative school.”

He described the school’s decision to apply for a Great Maine Schools grant, which he said gave the school a charge to substantially change how it delivered education to its students. While some would have been deterred by such changes, Palmer said the staff at Searsport had not been.

As an example, he mentioned the move to a standards-based curriculum, which requires students to meet specific requirements — standards — rather than earn a specific number of credits in order to graduate.

Palmer also talked about the use of academic interventions, which he said provided “immediate help and support to students who are struggling,” even if only with one assignment or specific assessment. He said this was a change from the past, when students were sometimes not offered help until they were seen having problems with a number of assignments.

The willingness of the staff to embrace such changes to the way they teach and work with students, Palmer said, is the school’s biggest asset.

“Many, many public high school staffs are resistant to change,” said Palmer. “This staff is really accepting of change.”

Palmer’s former boss, former SAD 56 Superintendent Mary Szwec, said April 13 that Falmouth was “darn lucky” to be getting an educator of Palmer’s caliber.

“He is just an outstanding leader,” said Szwec. “He will be sorely missed at the high school.”

Szwec said before she was hired in SAD 56 in 2004, she had asked to meet with the high school principal — Palmer — because she had felt that was one of the key staff positions in the district.

“I told them I wouldn’t take the job until I met the high school principal, because I wanted to make sure we clicked,” she said. Upon meeting Palmer, she recalled, “I knew instantly that Gregg was going to be a phenomenal leader.”

Szwec said Palmer was willing to do what was best for the education of students, even when that meant doing things differently than they had been done in the past. That’s not always an easy thing to do, she said, but Palmer is not only willing to do it, he does it well.

Palmer also has an ability to tackle a problem head-on, Szwec said, rather than make excuses or try to explain the problem away. She referred to a time when the high school’s SAT scores were particularly bad, and recalled Palmer’s reaction at a school board meeting: “Yes, we know it, and this is our plan.”

“If you listened to some other schools, they had 1,001 excuses as to why that was,” she said. “I respect Gregg and his staff because they didn’t.”

Palmer said the biggest challenge he saw facing the school as it moved forward, like many others of its size, was funding. He said the school had been lucky in recent years to have received various grants, and that the school had also “shown that the money spent is well worth it.”

Asked what he would miss most about Searsport, Palmer answered without hesitation: the staff and the students, he said.

“You can go to a lot of places, and a lot of schools, that just don’t have the same feeling that this place has,” he said. “It is with a lot of sadness that I leave Searsport District High School and Searsport District Middle School.”