HALLOWELL — Regional School Unit 2 will be looking for a new superintendent for next school year.

Superintendent William Zima will be taking his passion for developing learner-centered, proficiency-based education to schools across the country, working with his mentor, Bob Marzano of Marzano Academies.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent William Zima answers questions during an interview Friday at his office in Hallowell.

“Unexpected honor to be offered the position,” he said.

Zima has used that educational approach to help RSU 2 prepare its students to be successful thinkers and collaborators. He noted a recent example  — when he was approached by a former student to film an anti-bullying video at the Richmond school she attended — a video she directed and in which she sang —  of how that learning style helps students be ready to move beyond secondary school.

“She was confident and in control of her career,” he said. “If all of our grads can walk across the stage and say ‘I can,’ we’ve given them a gift greater than any standardized test can hold.”

Feeling that test scores lack the social and emotional individuality of students, Zima has helped teachers find ways to connect with the kids to help them to pass their assessments.

“(Bill) pushes us to think of ways to make learning experiences for kids more meaningful,” said Melissa Burnham Barter, principal of Monmouth Middle School.

As part of learner-centered, proficiency-based teaching, Zima doesn’t want students to simply read Shakespeare. He wants their teachers to identify what they’re expected to gather from the text. And if the student can’t gather that through Shakespeare, can they recognize those elements by reading other types of stories?

“He is dedicated to students and the learning process,” said Jonathan Hamann, chairman of the RSU 2 school board.

Zima has developed connections with district staff as well.

“He is always personable and makes you feel comfortable coming to him with issues and concerns and makes sure you know you’re valued,” said Marie Roy, a kindergarten teacher at Henry L. Cottrell School in Monmouth.

It has been Zima’s own quest for identifying his passion that led him to this point.

“I have an eclectic background, which is why I believe so strongly in multiple pathways for kids,” he said.

The Chicago native’s background was in industrial technology electronics, and one of his first positions was working for Innersonics, doing research for NASA. After a weekly racquetball game, Zima and his co-workers met for dinner, filling the tables with formulas written on napkins — but he realized he lacked the passion his co-workers had for the work.

Still focused on sciences, he turned his attention to ecology.

“Back then I read field manuals,” Zima said. (Now he reads about neuroscience when he’s on the beach.)

He began working in education at the Phoenix Zoo, and later helped open Disney’s Animal Kingdom. But that interest, too, was fleeting, as the work became too routine.

“Then my wife chimed in, ‘You should try teaching. It’s never the same,” Zima said.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent William Zima answers questions during an interview Friday at his office in Hallowell.

Soon he was filled with a passion for teaching.

His first challenge came when students weren’t catching on to his lessons. He thought of managing employees at the Wild Kingdom, and realized the students wanted guidance — a chance to know how to be successful in the position. He looked at the end goal — what did these students need to learn? — and worked backward, guiding the students to explain what they needed to learn so they could see the equation work in their heads.

At RSU 2, Zima has emphasized these learning styles, further helping teachers find a way to make sense to their kids.

“We were on this track, but (Bill) helped us get there,” Hamann said.

According to Hamann, Zima helped the district group students by ability levels.

“He helped execute the vision of the board,” he said.

A parent of two children in the district, Hamann is sad to see Zima leaving.

“He is rally passionate,” said Hamann. “He really inspires a lot of the teachers.”

Zima said the district’s teachers and their commitment to all students is phenomenal.

“(The teachers) believe in the process of continuous improvement,” he said. “They say, ‘What do we need to do to help this kid connect to his hopeful future?’”

Hamann has seen firsthand how Zima has worked with the students. One of his children, a freshman at Monmouth Academy, represents the school in the Superintendent’s Cabinet. Members of the cabinet visit other high schools in the district to see and evaluate differences in the high schools, even making suggestions to the schools for improvement as seen from a student perspective. These students then share their experiences with Zima, so he can implement their ideas.

In his future role, Zima will continue with his passion for education, helping schools across the country build multiple pathways for students to learn.

“I’m excited for him because he’s so passionate about research and brain development,” Roy said. “This new job will be right up his alley. He’s involved in this already.”

Though his direct contact will be with school officials, Zima’s focus still will be on the students.

 “They can find the success in what interests them and then also discover other interests and build that agency within themselves,” he said, “so they can believe they can accomplish what they need to accomplish.”

A student-centered learning vision is what Burnham Barter hopes to see in Zima’s replacement.

“(I hope they) push our thinking in ways we might not even realize we need to be pushed,” she said.

Hamann said the school board is preparing to seek applicants for the position and thinks it will be able to start screening applicants by April.

 

Abigail Austin — 621-5631
[email protected]
Twitter: @AbigailAustinKJ

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