RUMFORD – Danny Michaud arrived in SAD 43 in 1994 amid lingering turmoil from the merger of Mexico’s SAD 43 and the Rumford School Department.

He came as principal of the merged Mountain Valley High School, served a year, then became the district’s superintendent in 1995. He was the fourth superintendent of the 6-year-old district.

Now, as he leaves on June 30, he believes the district is in better condition than ever.

“It’s in good shape financially and educationally,” he said.

He points with pride to SAD 43’s statewide leadership in the fields of literacy and science education. The literacy program, under Title I, focuses on assuring that all children learn to read and write.

“It’s been recognized by the state as an exemplary program and used as a model for other districts,” he said.

As a result, reading scores by SAD 43 students are generally higher than those of other districts. So, too, are the science scores.

The hands-on inquiry-based science program, funded by a National Science Foundation grant, gets away from textbooks and into kits that allows children to learn by doing.

But one of his biggest accomplishments is the development of student assessments that are aligned with the Maine Learning Results and the development of a districtwide curriculum that focuses on local, state and national educational standards.

Despite the rancor that often plagued the newly merged district, Michaud believes it was the best thing for the students and for the community. Even now, 14 years later, he sees remnants of the dissension that was in full bloom at the time.

“The merger isn’t fully complete. There is still some apprehension in the community that crops up and that can hold a merger up. People need to get past those issues and focus on what is best for the kids,” he said. “People have to work together for the kids’ benefit. It (merging) will become a trend across the state and nation.”

Boards and administrators from around the state have visited SAD 43 throughout the years to learn about the pluses and minuses of merging. The most recent ones came from Millinocket and East Millinocket on the day Great Northern Paper closed its doors this year.

Michaud advised them to get as much input from the two communities’ residents as possible and to show them that they have a vested interest in a possible merger. And, he said, the boards should recognize that they may not get the involvement they want.

He believes more mergers are the future for many districts around the state. With nearly 20,000 fewer students expected to be enrolled in public schools in 2010, Michaud believes more rural areas will have to devise new ways to educate their children.

SAD 43 may not be immune. Since the merger, student population has dropped from more than 2,000, to about 1,650. And Michaud has seen even more drastic enrollment drops in one of his former schools, the Van Buren District Secondary School. It has gone from 850 students 25 years ago, to 150 today.

Michaud was born in St. Agatha in northern Maine, grew up in Somers, Conn., and just outside Fort Kent.

Besides teaching or leading the Van Buren school, he also served as principal for five years at Schenck High School in East Millinocket.

He has degrees from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, the University of Maine, and Nova College.

His passion is history. One of his degrees is in Canadian history and many of his favorite books and movies have historical themes. He and his wife, Mary, a speech therapist, can often be found kayaking in tandem on Wilson Lake or Worthley Pond. They are the parents of three daughters, all three graduates of Mountain Valley High School, with the youngest having graduated earlier this month.

He’s not sure yet what the future holds, he said. He has applications out for both educational and noneducational positions, and several interviews scheduled.

“I feel good that I’ve left the district a better place and that I’ve had a positive impact on the education of students here. Teachers now have more say in decisions, as well,” he said. “SAD 43 is a good place and there are some good people here. It’s been a good run. I wish my successor much success.”

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