READFIELD — Christopher Cheney has spent the last few months meeting staff and getting to know the community since he was named the new leader of Kents Hill School. He’s also remembering what it’s like to live in America.

“(Living abroad) was an amazing experience, but we’re excited to re-connect with Maine,” said Cheney during an interview in the Readfield school’s new dining commons. “This community is a wonderful place, and we’re excited.”

Cheney took over as the 20th Head of School in Kents Hill’s 193-year history July 1 after moving back to Maine from Slovakia with his wife, Lisa DiIorio, and two daughters. While in the central European country, Cheney helped start an independent boarding school in the capital city of Bratislava.

Before working in Slovakia, Cheney and his family lived in South Africa, where he worked at two new leadership academies in Johannesburg. He said he has a start-up mentality, so there will be challenges coming to a school that is just seven years away from celebrating its 200th birthday.

“I like change, and I’m okay with change, but there are some people that aren’t,” Cheney said. “I have to be careful about the pace of change and the amount of change.”

He was drawn to the opportunity at Kents Hill because of shared principles about education.

“There was a lot of alignment as a school in terms of character education, values-based education and leadership,” he said. “It resonated with me as I thought about education.”

Cheney said it’s a very competitive market and trying to find enough people to pay the $31,000-per-year day tuition rate isn’t easy, but the goal is the same: to find the potential in every student.

“A high school education can set a kid up for success, and kids who get the right tools and learn how to use them can be much more successful,” he said.

Board of Trustees President Edward Lane III said the board anticipates Cheney’s tenure with confidence and called him an accomplished leader.

“He is deeply committed to ensuring that each student reaches their full potential,” he said, “while developing the character, values, knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in higher education and beyond.”

While working internationally, Cheney gained experience working with different cultures, something he thinks will mesh well at Kents Hill, which has students from about 20 countries. He said he brings a level of understanding of intercultural competency that is unique in New England boarding schools.

“Chris brings a global perspective coupled with deeply rooted Maine values,” said Dean of Faculty Babs Wheelden. “His vision for character-based education and entrepreneurial leadership is making a resounding early impact on our diverse community.”

After having just 17 heads of school in nearly 190 years, Kents Hill has undergone some turnover at the top since Rist Benneford retired in 2011 after 21 years leading the school. Jeremy LaCasse’s contract was not renewed in 2013, and his replacement, Patrick McInerney, announced last year that he would retire in June 2017.

Cheney said despite the changes, his predecessors all did good things he hopes to continue.

“It’s an organization that has had some transition, but I’m looking at this as a long-term thing and how I help Kents Hill position itself for its third century,” he said. “It’s about looking forward.”

He said the Board of Trustees and the head of school must be the right match, because running a modern boarding school has its challenges. He thinks this is the right fit.

Getting financial support from donors and alumni and receiving tuition revenue doesn’t mean Kents Hill doesn’t have financial challenges. They are different than a public school, who often rely on government and the vote of taxpayers.

Cheney said the school is responsible to those who are paying its tuition. Nearly half the students at Kents Hill receive some financial assistance, but there is a challenge because some people see the tuition cost and automatically don’t consider the institution.

“The advantage we have is that we can privately raise money for things that are mission aligned and will advance our school,” said Cheney about the new $6.5 million Bibby and Harold Alfond Dining Commons. “This can be a transformative space where everyone can eat together.”

Inside the new dining hall, various countries’ flags adorn the top of the structure, representing some of the students who attend or have attended the institution. The Cheneys insist that the Slovakia and South African flags were not put next to each other on purpose.

“We took that as a sign,” Cheney’s wife Lisa, an English teacher at the school, said while smiling. “Our opportunity is endless.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ