LEWISTON — Gus LeBlanc, Lewiston High School principal since 2006, is leaving to become headmaster at Lee Academy in September.

There’s a big difference between the two schools.

Lewiston High is a public school with nearly 1,300 students, one of the largest high schools in Maine.

Lee Academy is a private school with 270 students in Lee, Maine, about 60 miles north of Bangor. It serves as a public school to area towns, and has 128 boarding students from countries such as China, South Korea and the Philippines. LeBlanc will also serve as chairman of the board of English-speaking schools in South Korea and the Philippines run by Lee Academy.

“I was asked how did I feel about dealing with kids from foreign countries; I said I do it every day,” LeBlanc said. About 20 percent of the school’s population is Somali.

He said he’ll miss Lewiston, the community, the students and faculty, but he couldn’t turn down the adventure. “It’s an opportunity to learn and grow,” he said.

LeBlanc, 61, came to Lewiston High School after serving as principal of Montello Elementary School, assistant principal at Oak Hill High School in Wales and principal at Leavitt Area High School in Turner.

He grew up in Old Town in a Franco-American family. He graduated from the University of Maine in Orono and has been an educator for 38 years, the past 15 in Lewiston.

LeBlanc said he’s worked to raise expectations, and students have met them. He’s coached students to always do more than asked. The result is a higher high school graduation rate. The percentage of students who graduate in four years went from 58 percent six years ago to 73 percent in 2012, he said.

During an interview Tuesday, LeBlanc recalled being new on the job and meeting with a student to show him expectations had to come up.

In August 2006, a high school senior walked into LeBlanc’s office asking that he be eligible to play sports. The student had not passed most of his classes during the past three years.

“He had six credits. Six credits!” LeBlanc said. “He needed 24 credits to graduate! I’m sitting there thinking, ‘How could this happen?’ It was a wake-up call.”

That led LeBlanc to propose a new eligibility policy. Instead of passing four classes to play, athletes had to pass six classes and be on track to graduate. LeBlanc took flack from parents, but the policy passed. Today, more student athletes are eligible to play than under the old policy, and more are graduating.

Also in 2006, the high school offered pre-algebra. “It’s easier than Algebra I, but 70 percent of kids in pre-algebra were failing,” LeBlanc said.

“We eliminated pre-algebra and made all the kids take Algebra I,” he said. “It’s a harder course. We gave them more support. Now the failure rate varies between 25 and 28 percent, which is similar to the national average.”

Other changes made to support students include giving them more class time when needed. That could mean a student has Algebra I, Algebra II or geometry every day all year, or every other day all year, depending on the need.

Some of the darkest moments for LeBlanc came in June 2006, when three Air Force Junior ROTC students died in a plane crash. LeBlanc knocked on the doors of three sets of parents and told them what had happened.

“That is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he said.

When asked what advice he could offer to his successor, LeBlanc said to maintain high expectations for students.

“When we reach (the goals), they’re better prepared,” he said. “They know they can do it. It’s a gift that we give our kids for the rest of their lives.”

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Superintendent: Amnott will fill in as principal

LEWISTON — When classes resume at Lewiston High School this month, Paul Amnott will be interim principal, Superintendent Bill Webster said.

Amnott retired as an assistant principal at the school last year.

Webster said he plans to establish a search committee to help find a new principal. “My hope and expectation is I will be nominating (a candidate for principal) to the School Committee by the end of October,” Webster said.

Principal Gus LeBlanc officially retired July 31, but will stay on in a consulting role for several weeks, Webster said.

Webster praised LeBlanc’s contribution to Lewiston students. While raising student expectations, LeBlanc started several programs to give students different pathways to success, Webster said.

One example is Lewiston Academy, an alternative program that gives students more individual support academically and help with job skills. There will be a high school graduation Thursday night for 17 students who have completed the program.

“These are students who might not have graduated prior to Gus arriving at Lewiston High School,” Webster said.

“We will very much miss Gus,” Webster said. “He’s been an instrumental part of improvements in Lewiston during the last 15 years, the last seven at the high school.” Before that, he was principal at Montello school for eight years.

“We thank him very much and wish him the best in a  new and exciting opportunity,” Webster said.

— Bonnie Washuk

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