POLAND – After eight years, Poland Community School Principal Richard Benoit is getting ready for a new position in a nearby district.

Richard Benoit, principal of Poland Community School RSU 16

Benoit, 51, said Monday that when the new school year gets underway, he’ll be taking the reins at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School.

Benoit said it’s hard to leave the Poland school, but he wanted a new challenge and a chance to work with middle school students again. He taught seventh and eighth grades for 18 years at Oxford Hills Middle School in Paris before becoming a principal.

“I love that age group,” Benoit said. “I love the discussions you have with them.”

He said middle school students are “trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in. They challenge boundaries.”

Benoit said he’s enjoyed the Poland school, which has a little shy of 500 students from prekindergarten to sixth grade. This year, he said, the students who first entered school when he became its principal are set to graduate.

“It’s a great community,” Benoit said, hailing students, faculty, staff and parents for their effort and concern.

He said, though, the lure of dealing with middle school students was too big a draw for him to resist, something he recognizes is not the typical response of adults to youngsters in that age group.

What’s made it especially hard for him, he said, is that the opportunity arose shortly after students at his school were sent home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The timing couldn’t have been harder,” Benoit said. “I feel like I’m not having closure with the school.”

But in the scheme of things, his leaving is only a small piece of an unparalleled disruption in education.

“Everybody is struggling with this new reality” of remote learning and physical distancing, Benoit said.

He grew up in Brunswick and graduated in 1992 from the University of Maine at Orono. He later earned a master’s degree from the University of Maine as well.

He said he simply loves teaching.

It offers “an opportunity to help kids grow in a multitude of ways,” Benoit said, including socially, behaviorally and academically.

“I can’t describe the joy that brings,” he said.

Benoit said his impression of the middle school where he’s going to be in charge is quite positive already.

Students there “are polite, respectful and well-mannered,” he said, clearly “a part of a culture they’ve built” in Gray and New Gloucester that’s helped its students succeed.

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