LIVERMORE FALLS – Ted Finn sees challenges as opportunities. And, he insists on giving his all to each one.

The Livermore Fall Middle School principal has helped improve student achievement and changed the perception of discipline by taking back control, and made the school more welcoming to students during his five years as top administrator.

The Wales resident begins a new challenge July 1 when he becomes principal of Lake Region High School in Naples. Finn will be leading that staff there through a rigorous educational transformation in an effort to improve students’ achievement.

Like Livermore Falls High School, Lake Region was one of 10 schools in Maine classified in March as a persistently low-performing school based on three years of low test scores.

Both schools have applied for a federal school improvement grant that requires schools receiving it to redefine the way they do business to improve student learning.

Finn, no stranger to leading staff and students through change, has accomplished the goals he set for the three to five years he expected to be at the middle school. Among them was instituting a literacy program to improve student achievement on the Maine Educational Assessments. Five years ago, only 17 percent of the middle school were meeting standards in literacy and only 11 percent in math, he said.

“Today we have an average of 73 percent meeting the standards in literacy and 64 percent in math,” Finn said. “According to a state report, middle and elementary schools in Maine, as a whole, failed to make adequate yearly progress on this past school year’s (New England Common Assessment Program) test in literacy and math. I’m proud to say Livermore Falls Middle School did make annual yearly progress.”

Finn, in year 16 of his education career, has taught for nine years and administrated for six. Eleven of those were in Regional School Unit 36, including six years as high school social studies teacher.

He left the latter to be assistant principal/athletic director at Wiscasset High School, and returned a year later when the opportunity arose to become principal of the Livermore Falls school.

Initially, he worked under the late Superintendent Terry Despres’ certification until he earned his own certification and master’s degree in educational leadership, 18 months into the job.

“Terry gave me a chance,” Finn said. “He believed in me. He gave me a start at my principalship.”

He didn’t leave his first job in Livermore Falls nor this one because he was unhappy, he said, but because of opportunities.

“I have had a great time. It’s been a great 11 years in the district,” he said.

Finn initially applied to become principal of Livermore Falls High School this past spring but withdrew because of unknowns.

“When I was doing my homework, I found myself with more questions than answers,” he said.

The high school is going into uncharted waters with an educational transformational plan and he had no input into it, he said. In fact, he hasn’t seen it.

He has seen the Lake Region plan and it is very doable, he said.

At the same time, RSU 36 is working toward consolidation with Jay. That will also require significant staff commitment to develop it to go before voters in January 2011.

“One thing I learned from Terry is a good leader will be able to identify what their limitations are,” he said. “I pride myself in giving 100 percent to what I do.”

The school improvement grant is an “awesome project, an awesome undertaking.”

So is school consolidation, he said.

“I believe both projects will have a lot of good come out of them,” he said.

He feels for the Livermore Falls staff who will be trying to accomplish both together, he said.

Maybe a more experienced administrator could say with confidence they’d be able to accomplish and give 100 percent to both, he said.

“But for me, maybe if I had a voice at the table,” he said. “I don’t know. The system I’m going to is focused on just one project, that’s the (school improvement grant).”

That plan has the components to do an internal makeover, and they’re in the process of doing an external makeover of Lake Region High School and the technical center that will fit their transformation plan.

“It’s so exciting to be part of the whole process. That’s why the change,” Finn said. “I want to make it clear. I wish this district well.”

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