OAKLAND — Messalonskee High School’s Paula Callan was honored Thursday morning as Maine’s assistant principal of the year in a surprise ceremony at the school, an honor that also highlights her efforts at helping the community in the wake of recent school tragedies.

The cavernous performing arts center was filled with thunderous applause as students, faculty, staff, family and school board members gave Callan a standing ovation after the award was announced by Richard Durost, executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association.

In the past year, Callan has been at the forefront of helping students work through the sudden deaths of Cassidy Charette and Nora Birch, two Messalonskee students who died within two weeks of one another last autumn. Birch, 17, from Belgrade, committed suicide; and Charette, 17, from Oakland, was killed in a hayride accident in Mechanic Falls, events that have spurred use of the slogan “Messalonskee strong” at events and on social media.

In an interview after the assembly, Principal Jon Moody said Callan personally helped some grieving students and worked to boost suicide prevention in school. Callan also worked with seniors and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, to draft legislation to improve suicide prevention in schools and tighten regulation on hayrides.

Last November, Callan organized hundreds of students for a ceremony to thank the community for its emotional and financial support of the school.

“She takes a very personal approach,” Moody said.


Speaking from a lectern on the stage Thursday morning, Moody said that while the school regularly celebrates student achievement, it doesn’t usually get a chance to do the same for educators.

“What we don’t often do is focus on the adults in the building who work so hard to do the same thing, the people who give so much, for all of us, and make Messalonskee the amazing school that it is,” Moody said. “Today’s about celebrating the accomplishments of one of our unsung educators.”

The surprised Callan accepted a hug and some flowers from Moody when she took the stage.

“For once, I’m lost for words,” Callan said.

“It speaks volumes for the staff and students that I get to work with every day,” she said of the award. “I look forward to getting up every morning and coming in and getting the school started and seeing each one of you on a daily basis.”

The association and school officials kept a tight lid on Callan’s award, and it came as a surprise to her. She was interviewed by a selection committee last week but didn’t know if anything would come of it, Callan said in an interview after the assembly.


Callan will be presented the 2016 award formally at a banquet in April. Part of the award is a trip to Washington, D.C., where she will meet with assistant principals from across the country for a four-day conference, Durost said. Reading from his nomination letter to the principals’ association, Moody remarked on Callan’s passionate advocacy for students at the high school.

“She sets a firm expectation that we all adhere to the belief that there is always more we educators can do to meet the needs of our students at Messalonskee. In meetings, in her day-to-day activities, and in running professional development opportunities, Paula Callan models the idea that individual student interests must be at the forefront of every decision we make,” Moody said. “Her organization and focus on the whole child sets an example that impacts our entire school, students and staff alike,” he added.

Callan has been an assistant principal at Messalonskee High School for 13 years. Before that, she was an assistant principal at Cony High School in Augusta, Morse High School in Bath and Lincoln Academy in Newcastle. Before moving into administration, Callan was a special education teacher at Cony High School for 10 years.

At Messalonskee, Callan gives individual students academic support and connects with them on a personal basis. She works mainly with freshmen and seniors, which gives her a chance to see students as they enter high school and just before they leave, she said.

“I enjoy getting to know them,” Callan said. “You get to know them on that personal level as far as what their interests are,” she added.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239


Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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