JAY — In a surprise move Friday, Spruce Mountain High School Principal Thomas J. Plourde was removed from his position by the district superintendent.

Superintendent Todd LeRoy, who has been with RSU 73 since August, said Plourde’s removal was part of a process to reduce the district’s administrative team by one position in order to free up funds for student services.

A number of teachers and school board directors who were contacted by the Sun Journal on Monday were unaware of Plourde’s removal, or of any plan to reduce  the administrative team.

LeRoy, who responded to the Sun Journal’s request for information Monday afternoon before going to Florida on vacation, said the process to eliminate an administrative position was part of a process “initiated with our students’ welfare as paramount.”

LeRoy said Plourde was not fired.

According to his written statement, he made the decision to move up a plan to trim the administrative team and to use that money that had been spent in salary to bring additional help and resources to district students. “The original plan was to wait to implement this plan, but (I) decided to move the timetable up a little to begin the process of transforming two schools, the middle and high schools, into one school, a secondary school.”

According to LeRoy, there are about 700 students in the middle and high schools and “the need for additional student and staff resources district-wide outweighs the need for two principals in the one middle/high school complex. Additionally, I believe we have the expertise and talent in our current administrative team to make this plan not only successful, but to bring about significant improvements in student learning and achievement.”

Multiple messages left with Plourde Monday were not returned, and a number of board members did not return phone calls. Those who did were not aware of the administrative shift. And no faculty member who agreed to speak with the Sun Journal was aware of the change.

According to LeRoy, “our staff has been finding the transition from the traditional educational format to a standards/proficiency-based educational system challenging. We have asked them to make significant changes without providing them the professional development and training necessary to be successful in their efforts,” And, he said, “we have an incredibly strong staff, but you cannot expect them to soar with their wings restricted.”

Over the past few years, according to LeRoy, RSU 73 has made significant budget decreases, leaving the district short of funding in many important areas, “so we have had to try to be creative in how we assure we meet the needs and demands of our students. Honestly, this has not gone well, but not for lack of effort.”

Under the new administrative plan, LeRoy said Kevin Harrington, who is currently principal of Spruce Mountain Primary School, will assume leadership of the newly-combined secondary school.

According to Sun Journal archives, Harrington was hired as principal of the Livermore Elementary School in 2014. He came to the Livermore school from the Piscataquis Community Secondary School in Guilford, where he had served as principal for several years.

He is originally from Augusta.

LeRoy called Harrington a true leader who has “shown me he is a man who shares the district vision and is working to make it a reality. He has done an outstanding job at the primary school and, with his secondary principalship experience, I am confident he will have a tremendously positive impact on the secondary students and staff.”

LeRoy said he expects several “highly positive outcomes” from the move.

“First, the staff at both the middle and high schools will become one staff, working and teaming as one coherent unit, making sure student learning outcomes are aligned and balanced through all their time in grades 6-12.”

And, second, he said, “ we will have a single main office, allowing all those working in the office to have access to all kids and the assistant administrator at both the middle and high school will be able to provide more efficient services for a broader group of students.”

Third, according to LeRoy, “there will be a single guidance and counseling office, again allowing our limited staff to form a larger team and meet student needs more efficiently.”

And, “finally, by combining the staffs we hope to be able to offer students more choice and opportunity in classes and learning opportunities.”

With Harrington leaving his primary school duties, longtime middle school Principal Scott Albert will take over as primary school principal.

LeRoy said he had considered moving Albert, who has been with RSU 73 for 19 years, “into the 6-12 position, but believe the role requires a new and fresh start for all those involved.”

According to LeRoy, “it is the district’s intent to work with Mr. Plourde, assisting him in any way to find a new position, as we believe, if he takes the experience he has accrued here in RSU 73, he has the opportunity to be a highly successful administrator.”

LeRoy said he would personally provide Plourde with a positive reference and letter of recommendation, and would be “happy to work with Mr. Plourde” as he seeks new employment.

According to LeRoy, “Plourde is a hard-working man who is well liked and it is not our intent to cause him difficulties in his professional career, but simply to increase student and staff opportunities.”

Plourde will continue to be compensated by the district during his job search, LeRoy said.

Plourde’s current salary is $87,460, and under the collective bargaining contract that governs employment terms from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2021,  he was scheduled to receive a 1.5 percent increase in each of the next three years, bringing his salary to $91,455 for the 2020-21 school year.

That contract was signed in November 2017.

In December 2012 Plourde was hired as the first principal of the newly created Spruce Mountain High School following the consolidation of Jay schools with School Administrative District 36. He began his duties March 4, 2013.

Plourde came to Regional School Unit 73 from Carrabec High School in Anson where he served as assistant principal for almost two years. Prior to that, he taught health education at Skowhegan High School and at Edward Little High School in Auburn.

He graduated from Jay High School in 1994, then served in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years before graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington. He was one of 10 applicants and among five who were interviewed for the position.

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