DIXFIELD — When Superintendent Tom Ward leaves RSU 10 at the end of the month to join neighboring RSU 9, he will have come pretty much full circle in his 40-plus-year professional career.
Almost all of his career has been devoted to the River Valley and Farmington areas. For a few years, he served as principal at Marshwood High School in the southern part of the state.
Finishing out his education path in the RSU 9 district is like going home, he said.
“RSU 9 is where I will retire," Ward said. "I want to give back to the community that was so good to me.”
Ward graduated from Mount Blue High School in 1972. From there, he earned B.S. and M.S. degrees at the University of Maine, followed by his Ed.D. in education at Nova Southeastern University, Rhode Island Campus.
“This whole area has been home to me,” he said. “But I’m going back to where I graduated.”
During the 10 years he served as superintendent in the River Valley area — six years at the former SAD 21, Dixfield, then as the first superintendent for the merged RSU 10 — significant changes have taken place.
The Canton, Peru and Dixfield elementary schools have closed, and a brand-new, modern elementary school has been built. Peru joined with SAD 21, which later merged with SAD 39 and SAD 43 into one district.
“I’m proudest of the success of the RSU consolidation," he said. "It was a very difficult process to bring the three districts together as one. I want to emphasize that we should stay the course. There are better things ahead.”
He said all three former districts benefited from additional course offerings for students, an increase in technology and several other progressive steps. Former SAD 39, Buckfield, probably gained the most, he said.
Although the move to bring the three districts together was mandated by former Gov. John Baldacci, Ward said it was something that needed to be done for the students to preserve programs. The state’s promise to reach 55 percent funding never made it.
“Each year, we’ve been able to downsize," he said. "We’ve saved almost $3 million (more than if the three districts had not consolidated), and cut 67 positions. Only a handful of people permanently lost their jobs.”
Instead, most who were laid off were on call-back lists. As other staff retired or moved on, they returned to the district.
The biggest challenge after the consolidation, he said, was bringing the district’s three bargaining units together, which was completed over a three-year period.
Course offerings have been expanded, some using internet connections so that students on each high school campus can enroll. A major physical education grant provided a significant amount of equipment for use by the schools and community, and greater emphasis has been placed on math and literacy. Now the entire district is gearing up for customized mass learning.
Ward began his teaching career at Rumford High School as a coach and physical education and health teacher. Over the years, he served as assistant principal and principal at MBHS, as well as principal at Dirigo and Marshwood high schools before becoming superintendent for SAD 21 and RSU 10.
As Ward leaves, Dixfield's attempt to withdraw ended in agreement between those considering leaving RSU 10 and the district. Sumner and Buckfield are also taking steps to begin the withdrawal process.
He believes the information the Dixfield Withdrawal Committee discovered will help both Buckfield and Sumner make an informed decision on their own attempts to withdraw.
While Ward looks forward to serving RSU 9, he will also dearly miss RSU 10.
“RSU 10 is a very good school district," he said. "The people have been great, hardworking and dedicated to kids.”
When Ward is not putting in long workdays, he enjoys sailing, jogging and practicing yoga, all of which are stress-relievers, he said.
He and his wife, Grace, an associate professor of education at the University of Maine at Farmington, are the parents of two daughters and grandparents of a boy and a girl.
“We’ve worked very hard to promote equity across the RSU while allowing each school and community to maintain identity," Ward said. "The RSU is the best deal for our children and community. I believe many of the same steps will take place at RSU 9.”
Craig King, currently principal of Mt. Ararat in Topsham, will begin his duties as superintendent of RSU 10 in late June.