After nearly eight years of leading Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, Gary Smith is stepping down from his position as superintendent to pursue life in a new state.

Smith, 60, of Waterville, said Monday he is in the process of moving to Plainfield, Vermont, and has been building a house on land he and his wife bought five years ago. He announced his decision to leave the district at the end of the year, June 30.

Carl Gartley, the current assistant superintendent, was hired by the school board to take the position after Smith leaves.

Smith, who has lived in Maine since 1986, first worked in consulting and private industry before getting a job as assistant superintendent for School Union 52 in 1999, prior to statewide school consolidation. After consolidation in 2009, he joined RSU 18 as superintendent.

While the “driving force” behind his decision to switch over to education was family, Smith said, “It was a good choice.”

“When I first started working in school administration, I did not realize the passion and excitement that exists in public schools,” he said, “and it got me energized and focused me to work … toward becoming a superintendent.”

In the last year, however, Smith said it became obvious that “it was time” for him to step down. He used the phrase “working yourself out of a job,” saying that he felt he’d help grow and develop those around him to a point where he could move on to something different.

“In every job there’s kind of a life cycle and a tenure, and for some people that tenure in a position can be a career, and for others it can be a shorter duration,” he said. Smith said he has started the job search for when he moves and may or may not continue working in education.

Smith said he began his job as superintendent right as the economic recession hit the nation in 2009, and that navigating that “storm” has been a proud achievement for him.

“I think we’re in a good place,” he said.

Smith also said he’s proud of the expansion of leadership throughout the district, and how the administration created a “problem solving climate in our district.”

What he’s most proud of, though, is “how we continue to raise the bar on student learning and achievement.”

Smith cites the increase in the graduation rate since he joined the district. Back then, it was 84 percent. Now, it’s 94 percent, he said.

“That achievement really is because we focus on every student in every school every day,” he said.

Smith also started a district-wide wellness program called “inspiring balanced lifestyles,” that encourages and helps staff be more healthy and active, which he said multiplies throughout the system as staff are happier and healthier.

“I hope it continues. It is what a healthy, modern organization needs,” he said.

There are still some aspects of the job that Smith said he won’t miss, like the night meetings and budget seasons, and the fact that it’s often a “seven-day-a-week position.”

“I will absolutely miss the wonderful staff and meeting with students every day,” he said. “Being a school administrator can be quite demanding, but when you go out in the school, it goes back to the whole thing about why we’re here. It’s wonderful to get out to our schools, to see teachers working magic in our classrooms and our students learning.”

Gartley, the incoming superintendent, said he isn’t looking to implement “huge changes in policy” once he starts the job. He said Smith has done an “amazing job leading our district” and that they are lucky to have him.

“I really enjoy working in this district. I think our district is in a very good place. I think we are headed in a very good direction. I think we have a strong vision for our students,” said Gartley, 48, of South China. “I’m absolutely thrilled about taking this position.”

Gartley worked as a teacher for 12 years before entering administration as assistant principal. In 2007, he became principal at China Middle School, which became part of RSU 18 after school consolidation. He’s been an assistant superintendent for the district for two years.

Gartley’s father was a teacher, and he said he always “looked up to him.” While he didn’t enter college at the University of Maine at Orono as an education major, he ended up switching.

“It always sort of called out to me,” he said.

While Gartley said he knows there will be a lot of demands from the high-performing district, he’s excited to join a district that believes “that every kid can be successful.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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