Kim Andersson is in her third week at Searsport Middle and High School as dean of students and feels lucky to have the opportunity to do something she loves.

“What I do mostly is I problem-solve with kids and teachers,” she said.

A Wiscasset resident and town selectman, Andersson said she finished her master's degree in educational leadership at the University of Maine at Farmington in May. Last year she interned at Wiscasset Middle-High School, which is also a sixth-to-12th-grade school.

At the Wiscasset school she had previously taught alternative education in grades nine and 10 for five years and was also an educational technician for two years.

Alternative education, Andersson said, is for students who are not finding success in the traditional classroom. They tend to be kids who are disenchanted with school for whatever reason. “Sometimes they have a lot of baggage at home, with trauma in their lives,” she said, adding that they do not technically fit with the special education model.

“The part of my job as the alternative education teacher that I most loved was working with kids and helping them sort out issues and problems that they were experiencing, and now that is my job,” she said. “I’m pretty lucky.”

As an alternative education teacher, she did project-based and interdisciplinary learning. “We did a lot of service-learning, we worked outdoors, we worked with Lincoln County Historic Preservation Commission, Midcoast Conservancy and Morris Farm Trust.”

“I took kids that hated to be in school, and I took them out,” she said. “And we did school elsewhere.”

The students, she said, also had time in the classroom and met the same standards as all the other students.

Much of the focus with those students was developing their soft skills — communication, collaboration and managing stress. If you are not a good communicator, or if you are not able to work with others, then that is always going to be a challenge, she said.

Her years of teaching in alternative education, she said, have set her up well for her current job. “I got to work with kids who maybe aren't making the best choices, but those kids, in my opinion, are the ones I can really connect with,” she said.

The dean of students position is really like an assistant principal, Andersson said, dealing with discipline and also supporting the teaching staff with whatever they need. “I need to make sure that everything runs smoothly so that kids have the best opportunity to learn and teachers have the best opportunities to provide instruction,” she said.

As part of the administrative team, she works closely with Principal Josh Toothaker, Superintendent Chris Downey and Special Education Director Amanda Little.

“I feel like it's a perfect fit for me,” Andersson said.

The school administration’s top priority, she said, currently is working on how best to have school open for the greatest amount of time for the most students during the pandemic.

That priority is not just at this school, but at every school across the country and perhaps around the world. “It’s a very strange and challenging time and no one has ever done this before,” she said.

“Our greatest challenge with hybrid learning is, I think teachers feel stressed-out because they want to do more for the kids.”

Everyone goes into education, she said, because they want to help kids. When you cannot see them face-to-face, or have limited time with them, that is stressful. It is the idea of wanting to do more, “but there are limits that are outside of anyone's control, and so I think that that's a great challenge,” she said.

Two-thirds of the students who are remote learners are all showing up and doing what they need to do each day, Andersson said. There are some kids who struggle checking in every day. “For some students, teenagers especially, it can be challenging to be self-motivated,” she added that it is actually challenging for a lot of adults, too.

Andersson said the school is better prepared for online learning now than at the end of the last school year. “When things shut down last March, not only for this school, but for every school, people had hours' notice to restructure the way that they deliver curriculum,” she said.

The Maine Department of Education recommended schools focus on what was most important and accept that “you're not going to be able to do it all.” Now, with more time and preparation, Andersson thinks teachers are better equipped to do much more.

“It is pretty crazy, and the kids are really resilient,” she added.

While living in Wiscasset, Andersson said she is adjusting to the commute.  “It's beautiful,” she said of her drive to school. Every morning she sees the sunrise and has stopped several times in Lincolnville Beach just to take a picture.

“It’s pretty spectacular,” she said. “I feel very lucky and grateful to be here, and excited to be part of the community.”