SOUTH PORTLAND – When Ryan Caron assumes the top job at South Portland High School July 1, he’ll take charge of a school population that’s double the size of his last school and more than half as big as the town where he was raised.
But Caron, 36, who hails from the Aroostook County town of Ashland, isn’t shying away from the challenge.
“I grew up in a small school and I’m now at Sacopee Valley High School, which is also a smaller school of about 400 students,” he said on Monday. “I really like the small atmosphere with its attention on students, but I also spent my first seven years in education in a much larger school. When I talked to people in the area about South Portland, it seemed like the best of both worlds.
“I like that South Portland has individualized programming for kids, especially in their junior and senior years, to really explore what they want to do,” said Caron. “So, the opportunity to come to a place that has a history of progressive education, has some supports in place, and has the resources for students that would allow my vision for education to really come through, was exciting. I applied and, luckily, they liked what I had to say.”
On Monday, the South Portland Board of Education voted unanimously to support Caron’s nomination. He will be on a probationary contract for two years, with a starting salary of $99,039. According to Assistant Superintendent Kathy Germani, who headed up the principal search alongside Curriculum Coordinator Rebecca Brown, Caron beat out 26 other applicants for the job.
Germani said the search began in early March, about a month after the surprise resignation of Principal James Holland, who called it quits after less than two years on the job. Two interview panels of 15 people each, including administrators, teachers, school board members, parents and students, put the top four candidates through their paces.
“Each candidate spent an hour with one panel, then swapped and spent an hour with the second,” said Germani. “Then we put each one in front a computer and asked them to write on demand for us. So, we think it was a pretty grueling process.”
Caron and one other applicant for called back for a second interview before a single 15-member panel made up of members from the first two interview groups.
“The panel felt that clearly Ryan was the best candidate for the position,” said Germani. “People were excited about the having him on board.”
“Throughout the interview process one of the things that struck me the most was comments from staff members who said that they were very impressed by his vision for 21st century schools and the feeling that he was going to challenge them and make them work really hard at their practice,” said Superintendent Suzanne Godin. “Also, in my conversations with Ryan, it’s been very clear that he has an exceptional ability to use data to support goals and to make instructional change.”
Godin said she also was impressed with work she said Caron has done to combat the dropout rate at Sacopee Valley High. During his time as principal, the graduation rate jumped from 79.6 percent to 86.8 percent, according to the Maine Department of Education.
“As you know, that’s a concern of mine here in South Portland,” she said.
According to the Maine Department of Education, South Portland High School lost 27 of its 867 students last year, for a dropout rate of 3.11 percent. Of the students who entered South Portland as freshman in 2008, 82.7 percent graduated on time last June.
Caron earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from the University of New England in 1998 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine in 2009. He began his career in special education at the Spurwink School before moving on a year later to Windham High School, where he taught social studies from 1999 to 2007.
Caron, who lives in Gorham, became the assistant principal at Sacopee Valley High School in Hiram in 2007. He has been the principal there since 2010.
On Monday the school board also approved new contracts for SPHS Assistant Principal Joseph Moore and Athletic Director Todd Livingston, as well as a host of middle and elementary school administrators. It also endorsed the final year of a two-year probationary contract for SPHS Assistant Principal Kimberlee Bennett.