Sara B. Simms, the newly named principal of the new Connors Elementary School, appears on a large screen as she speaks Monday night from Virginia. Simms told the Lewiston School Committee she and her family are eager to move to Lewiston. She is an assistant principal in Alexandria, Va. (Sun Journal photo by Bonnie Washuk)

LEWISTON — The new Connors Elementary School is not yet open, but it has a principal.

Sara B. Simms, now an assistant principal in Alexandria, Virginia, was hired Monday night by the Lewiston School Committee as principal of the new school.

Connors Elementary, next to Lewiston High School, is in the final stages of construction and will open in the fall.

The new school will blend the student populations of Martel and Longley schools.

Martel Assistant Principal Charlotte Nile said there were 17 applicants for the post of principal. Five candidates were interviewed, then the list narrowed to two, then one.

Nile introduced Simms to the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night. As Nile spoke, Simms’ face appeared on a screen from Virginia.

With extensive experience in education, Simms is a “dedicated educator who will bring her positive energy to our community,” Nile said. “She and family are excited about moving to Maine.”

Simms said she was honored by the prospect of joining the Lewiston team. It has been a dream of hers “to come to Maine.”

She said her children are excited, too.

“I’ve told my children they cannot pack their toothbrushes yet,” Simms said with a smile. “I’m very excited to come, learn about the community, the district and build relationships.”

She has experience in general education and special education. She has also worked with students from poverty and those for whom English is not their first language. She said her style is to collaborate with parents, the district and the community.

Simms is now assistant principal at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, where she is charged with designing and leading the school’s initiatives to help students in need through intense monitoring, community engagement, instructional monitoring and support.

Before her current position, Simms was academic principal at Jefferson Houston School, where she worked to help turn that school from a “priority school,” or one where students were not meeting standards, to a school no longer classified as such.

The Lewiston School Committee voted unanimously to hire Simms.

“Thank you and welcome,” Committee Chairman Mark Cayer said to Simms, which was followed by applause.

“I’m excited to begin my new journey in Lewiston,” Simms said.

In other matters, the School Committee approved a trip for the Lewiston High School mock trial team to go to the national competition after winning the state title in December. 

The team of 17 students attended the meeting, dressed in suits, and asked for $19,000 to pay for flights to Georgia, hotels and meals.

School Committee members took two votes. In the first vote, they quickly approved the trip. But they debated the requested $19,000.

The $19,000 request “is a lot,” Chairman Cayer said. And the expense is not a budgeted item.

Student Shawn Chabot shared the journey of the mock trial team, and how its state championship was a first for Lewiston High School. The Lewiston students will represent their community well, he said. They will compete with 46 high school teams from across the country.

Parent Darby Ray pointed out that Lewiston has achieved many victories in athletics, but this state title represents excellence in academics. The city should support and be proud of the team, she said.

Former mayor Paul Dionne, a lawyer and father of the team’s coach, Michelle Crowley, is one of three local lawyers who volunteers to help teach students about trial cases.

He said there is great pride in the students’ success and in their having “unseated the powerhouse,” five-year state champion Cape Elizabeth High School.

In past years, Lewiston’s mock trial teams have come close to winning the states, “but always finished second best,” he said.

Dionne said he will take part in the trip to the nationals to help students. He will pay his travel expenses.

After debate, a majority of the School Committee voted to approve $16,000, leaving it to students to raise the rest.

Tina Hutchinson and Tanya Whitlow of the School Committee voted against the expense. Hutchinson said Lewiston Regional Technical Center students attend competitions and raise the money to cover most of their costs.

The mock trial team and adult chaperones are scheduled to travel to Athens, Georgia, for the national competition May 16 and 17.

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