Heather Manchester, second from left, was appointed Monday night as interim superintendent of School Administrative District 17 in Paris. From left are superintendent executive assistant Debra Hertell, Manchester, school board Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris and Vice Chairman Jared Cash of Norway. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

PARIS — Directors of School Administrative District 17 voted unanimously Monday night to appoint Heather Manchester as interim superintendent.

Directors representing the eight district towns overwhelmingly expressed satisfaction with Manchester, the district’s chief academic officer who was appointed acting superintendent Jan. 26 after Superintendent Monica Henson was placed on paid administrative leave.

They also authorized Chairwoman Natalie Andrews of West Paris to name two directors to negotiate a contract with Manchester. The board will vote whether to accept the contract at its meeting May 2 at Central Office on Main Street in Paris.

At the special board meeting, directors agreed their first priority is rebuilding after Henson’s resignation April 4 after leading the district for 10 months. She was being investigated by state and district officials after being accused of improperly physically restraining a student at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris in September 2021 while filling in for the principal for one day.

There was universal agreement Monday to focus first on staffing and school stability and not rush to bring in a permanent superintendent.

Support staff such as bus drivers, custodians and substitute teachers were harder to find and retain during the COVID-19. Longtime educators began making retirement announcements. Dozens of positions have not been filled.


Between the time Henson was hired July 1, 2021, and classes started in September, the district business manager, food services director, technology director and facilities director all left. By October, Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hartnett resigned to become a professor at the University of Maine’s School of Education and Human Development.

Instead of hiring an assistant superintendent, Henson eliminated the position and split its primary responsibilities between a chief operating officer and a human resources specialist. Hebron Station School Principal D.J. Thorne was named chief operating officer and Stephanie Rowe was hired to head up human resources.

Apart from the turnover at the Central Office, four of the eight elementary schools have had to adjust to new leadership during the 2021-22 school year. Jamey Martin, Guy E. Rowe Elementary School assistant principal, was appointed principal of the Hebron school. After Agnes Gray Elementary School Principal Beth Clarke took a medical leave and then resigned midway through the year, Paris Elementary School Assistant Principal Cathy Bickford was named to Clarke’s position.

And in January, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Principal Ted Moccia announced he would retire June 30.

While Manchester won praise from the board for her performance, some directors expressed concern that her appointment as interim superintendent could create another void in the curriculum department, which she has led since 2014.

“There have been so many changes,” Director Veronica Poland of West Paris said. “The curriculum piece of it, that’s big. To have that loss (of Manchester), will it be a hard role to fill?”

Manchester said there are candidates who could step up as curriculum director and she will continue to be heavily involved with curriculum decisions. She said she expected to return to her position as chief curriculum officer if she does not become the permanent superintendent.

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