WHITEFIELD — From her start in a two-room schoolhouse, Patricia Watts now oversees the education of more than 1,400 students in the Sheepscot Valley.

Richmond native Watts is the new assistant superintendent and curriculum director of the eight-town Regional School Unit 12.

Watts is interested in moving the school district in the direction of customized learning, in which students who master a topic move on to the next and they are eventually grouped by proficiency, rather than age.

“I am a true believer that every child can learn,” she said. “I think we have to look at individualizing our work with children.”

Watts said she is steeped in elementary education and is having to learn quickly about high school, but this is not her first job with wide-ranging responsibilities.

After graduating from the University of Maine, Watts took her first job at a two-room schoolhouse in Topsfield, where in addition to teaching language arts to children of many ages and abilities, she also was the custodian. The other teacher at the school was the bus driver.

She later returned to central Maine and worked in special education in Augusta and Gardiner. Most recently, she was principal of Bloomfield Elementary School in Skowhegan.

Watts succeeds Gary Rosenthal, who was hired this fall to be superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 97, the district for Fayette and Winthrop.

RSU 12 Superintendent Greg Potter said Watts’ background as an elementary school administrator and her focus on literacy are well suited to the district’s needs.

Watts wants to maximize classroom time for students and to provide more opportunities for teachers and other staff to coordinate and collaborate across the far-flung district, which serves Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield, Windsor and Wiscasset.

Watts also is contributing to RSU 12’s work as one of the districts in Maine Schools for Excellence, a federal grant-funded program to improve teacher effectiveness and develop new evaluation systems for teachers.

Potter said Watts shares his frustrations about the way No Child Left Behind evaluates schools based solely on student scores from a high-stakes standardized test.

“One thing about the Schools for Excellence initiative is redeveloping a growth model and looking at multiple indicators of success, rather than a single snapshot determined by the state,” Potter said. “One of the things that Pat was really excited about was becoming involved in an effort to do exactly that.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]