Longtime Belfast Area High School Principal Butch Arthers announced last week that he is leaving the school district to take a job at Lee Academy, a private school in Lee. The news comes shortly after Searsport District High School and Middle School Principal Gregg Palmer said he planned to leave the district to take a job in Falmouth.

Arthers said he had regrets about leaving the school where he had worked for the last 20 years, often in more than one capacity at a time. But several factors drew him to the new position, he said, including elderly family members who live in Lee, and the school’s offer to hire his wife, BAHS physical education instructor Angela Arthers.

Butch Arthers came to BAHS in 1990, taking a job as the student activity coordinator. Previously he had taught math and coached several sports at Marshwood High School in South Berwick, which he described as “very similar” to BAHS. Like his anticipated move to Lee, Arthers said his decision to take the job in Belfast 20 years ago happened quickly.

“The job became available. I met with the superintendent in Portland and a week later I knew I was heading up here to Belfast,” he said.

He began coaching football and later became assistant principal. During this time, he continued to serve as student activity coordinator.

“For a while there, I was pretty busy,” he said.

By 1998 Arthers had coached the football team to two state championships.

“That was, I thought, a great thing for the community. There’s something about having a state champion in your community that just brings everyone together.”

In 2001 then-BAHS Principal Ronald Gleason left. Arthers was offered the position, which he took with the understanding that he would be allowed to continue coaching until his sons, one of whom was in sixth grade, had graduated from high school.

Arthers stopped coaching two years ago, a decision he said was difficult. The dual role of coach and principal, he believed, gave him an opportunity to get to know students in more than one context.

Looking back, Arthers described two major changes to the academic structure of the school: a rotating bell schedule, in which students take six of eight total courses on a given day, with the numbers cycling throughout the week, and the advent of the school’s “academic coaching” program, in which students are paired with a faculty adviser who stays in contact with them through all four years of school.

A third major change has been the addition of a school resource officer. Law enforcement saw the SRO as a chance to improve children’s perceptions of law enforcement, Arthers said. But from Arthers’ perspective, the important point was to protect the students. Arthers credits Greg Stearns, who signed on as SRO at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year, for what he sees as the success of the position.

“I’d like to think that [students’] relationship with law enforcement in general, outside school, has improved because of their relationship with Greg in school,” he said.

The physical plant of the high school has seen three major additions during Arthers’ tenure: a seven-classroom math wing, an eight-classroom English and science wing, and most recently, a state-of-the-art fine arts wing.

“The one thing we’re missing is a performing arts center,” he said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last 15 years, but we just haven’t been able to land it.”

Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education, the high school’s alternative education program, has expanded from a single ed tech and a dozen students working out of borrowed spaces in the main building, to a full-fledged program with 40 students and dedicated classroom space in a separate building on nearby Merriam Drive.

“It’s been a huge benefit for dropout prevention,” Arthers said.

Arthers estimated that the student population has remained at around 650 students for as long as has been at the school, but he predicted that number may soon drop to 550, based on the number of students in RSU 20 elementary schools.

Arthers said he had been “blessed” to have had few major personnel issues. He sees his working relationship with the school board as having been primarily positive, though he reserved some criticism for the stresses of the consolidation of MSADs 34 and 56, during which, he said, he often heard his school compared to Searsport District High School.

“I don’t think that’s fair that they do that,” he said. “When we bought into the consolidation, one of the things we were told was that we’d get to retain our integrity as a school.”

There has also been a certain amount of friction that comes with changing orders from successive school boards. “What I’ve tried to explain to them,” he said, “is that these [school policies, etc.] aren’t things we dreamed up. They’re things we’ve worked for and were asked to do by boards during the last 15 years.”

The timing of Arthers’ departure, one month after Searsport District High School and Middle School Principal Gregg Palmer announced that he would be leaving the district to take a job in Falmouth, leaves RSU 20 without a principal in either of its two high schools.

Superintendent Bruce Mailloux said he had received around 20 applications for Palmer’s position, and the school board hiring committee was slated to conduct interviews May 26. The Belfast position, posted Friday, had returned one application as of May 24, Mailloux said.

Mailloux said the positions had not been published in national newsletters, but some of the applications had come from out of state, a fact he credited to a posting on the popular education employment Web site, Servingschools.com.

Arthers finishes June 6, and Mailloux said he hoped to complete the hiring process “as soon as reasonably possible.” The hiring process, he said, involves search and screening committees composed of school board and community members and district staff.

“We try to keep it to a manageable number, but a lot of people are going to want to be involved with this,” he said. “… It’s a double-whammy. You lose one arm, then you lose the other arm. But they’ll grow back.”