AUBURN — In a way, taking over the helm of the Auburn School Department is a homecoming for Cornelia Brown.

Her father, Wayne Smith, spent most of his career teaching middle school English in the city. It instilled in Brown a passion for public education.

“For most students, it is the best hope they have,” she said in a recent telephone interview.

Cornelia “Connie” Brown, right, began her new job as superintendent of Auburn schools July 1. Her daughter, Emma, left, is a sophomore at Cony High School and a USA gymnast. The photo was taken this past Mother’s Day. Submitted photo

Brown, 57, was appointed superintendent of Auburn schools May 13. She began the job July 1, replacing Katy Grondin, who resigned after nine years in the position.

Brown said she has been “favorably impressed” with people in the district.

“It starts with leadership,” she said. “The School Committee is singularly focused on students.”

She added that she had met most of the central office staff and was impressed by their competence and dedication.

“Many of them grew up there, which is cool,” she said.

She said her first days on the job were spent learning technology systems, but she is eager to get down to work.

The School Committee plans to set goals July 21.

“I will fashion my agenda around that,” she said.

Phase one of her approach will be listening, observing and analyzing, she said. Then, she will develop a strategy around what she hears and observes. Phase three will be planning for implementation and recommendations.

Brown said she has studied the district’s data.

“It’s clear there’s work to do — the graduation rate, standardized test scores — there’s dissatisfaction with how Auburn is doing,” she said.

An educator for 35 years, Brown impressed a search committee with her experience, “which is something that community forums and surveys indicated was important to this community,” School Committee Chairwoman Karen Mathieu said before the committee’s unanimous vote to hire Brown.

Brown has served 23 years as superintendent of both large and small districts, including the Augusta School Department and the Winthrop School District.

She has been a classroom teacher, an elementary school principal, a Title 1 director, an assistant superintendent and director of a nonprofit organization.

She also impressed the search committee — made up of teachers, administrators, and members of the community and School Committee — with her “strong desire to foster open communication and transparency between the Auburn School Department and the community,” Mathieu said.

Brown said Friday she would do that by sharing information.

“You have to be a good communicator and find a way to get people information that’s important to them,” she said. “I need to help get them what they need to make decisions.”

For example, she said, people want to know what to expect in the fall, whether schools will reopen and how that would be done.

That will become clear in the next couple of weeks, she said.

Parents and teachers are being surveyed about whether they prefer to continue with remote instruction, reopen school buildings or patch together some kind of combination. Schools closed mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Once a plan is in place, information will be shared with the  community, she said.

She already has explored several neighborhoods. An avid cyclist, she rode her bicycle around the city this past spring, she said.

“It was really helpful to understand the neighborhoods,” she said. “I wanted to get a sense of the difference between East Auburn and Sherwood Heights, for example, what makes neighborhoods unique.”

She even rode up Goff Hill, the middle school neighborhood.

“It’s very steep,” she said. “I’m in no hurry to do that again.”

Brown said she will continue to live in Augusta with her husband and their daughter, Emma, a sophomore at Cony High School and a USA gymnast.


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