FAIRFIELD — As Reza Namin began to pack up his office on a recent afternoon, he stopped to flip through pages of a scrap book filled with cards and photos he’s collected during his brief tenure as the superintendent of School Administrative District 49.

He paused on the page that holds what he said is his most treasured memory from the past year: a vibrant blue thank you card from a fifth grade class at Benton Elementary School. It reads, “Thank you Dr. Namin, for leading us to awesome!”

“I love to look at this,” Namin said. “When you visit the classrooms just to say hello and introduce yourself and they send you things like this after you leave, it really means a lot.”

His fondness for that support, though, is in stark contrast to his feelings on the months of sharp controversy that marked his days on the job.

Namin formally resigned from his position on July 2, after less than a year as superintendent. Students’ protests over the departure of a principal and mass turnover on the school board in response to his actions have clouded his time at SAD 49.

In an interview in his office, Namin said multiple factors pushed him to come to his decision.

“I feel like I’ve been in the middle of a gun battle, just dodging bullets,” he said. “I can’t be successful in this environment, so I need to let someone come in who can be successful.”

The restructuring plan was set to eliminate the principals at Lawrence High School and Lawrence Junior High School, as well as the three assistant principal positions. The new structure would instead include one principal for both the high school and junior high school, and one dean of students.

Additionally, six positions — the current finance director, payroll processor, business office assistant, director of special education, director of technology and transportation supervisor — would get new titles and job descriptions. Lastly, the director of operations position would be eliminated and replaced with a human resource manager.

Namin said the changes would create a more cohesive environment where children coming from all different backgrounds could receive the appropriate attention and support they needed to perform well academically and socially.

“The district needed a transformation, not a change. Restructuring needs to happen, because this district has been operating the same way for more than 30 years,” Namin said. “I wanted to create more emotional support for kids coming from homes where issues were present. Having a dean of students does that; the position is more personal.”

According to Namin, the plan would improve academic performances but was also estimated to save the district more than $113,000.

After the plan was approved by the school board in January, however, it was met with polarizing reactions.

The resignation of Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell in April — and the ensuing buyout of he and two additional administrators’ contracts that cost the district upwards of $417,000 — didn’t sit well with many faculty members, the student body or the community.

Soon after Campbell willingly resigned from his position, more than 300 students protested the district’s leadership and school board by staging a walkout during the school day.

But despite an overarching negative reaction to restructuring, Namin’s plan did receive support as well, including a group of district custodial and transportation workers who felt they were inaccurately represented by a small portion of employees during a school board meeting.

In an statement forwarded to Namin in April, nine employees reprimanded two individuals who spoke out in front of a crowded auditorium at Lawrence Junior High School and spoke as though every employee in the district objected to Namin, the board and the restructuring plan.

“You do not represent all bus drivers, custodians, or administrative staff … ” the email said. “And the fact that you feel compelled to publicly misconceive staff and our towns people into thinking you do is quite disconcerting. Before you misspeak and misrepresent you should really have all of the facts and only speak for those who really do support your opinion.”

The letter goes on to state that this group of employees felt the restructuring process was moving the district in a positive direction.

Due to the backlash associated with the plan, the board decided to put all restructuring on hold.

 

NAMIN’S DEFENSE

Namin holds a doctorate in science and math education and has been an educator for multiple districts in Maine and Massachusetts. Throughout his career, he has been nominated for several awards for his achievements in education, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics, Science and Technology and the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year award.

But the experience that most resonates with him and his approach to education is his emigration to the United States from Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Namin said he came to this country without knowing how to speak English or understanding anything about the culture, and that experience shaped him into the kind of educator he strives to be.

SAD 49 Superintendent Reza Namin reflects July 9 on his position that he will resign from, effective Aug. 2. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

“I’ve tried to use my own story as a way to change the culture of compliance that’s present in this community,” Namin said. “There’s kids here coming from tough backgrounds, and I wanted every child to know me and my struggles, so I could show them that someone who has faced adversity can make it.”

Some of his fondest memories from his time at SAD 49 include sharing his Iranian culture and traditions with the students.

“In Iran, we celebrate New Years in March; it’s called Nowruz,” Namin said. “So a fifth grade class at Albion wanted to celebrate and display Haft-sin, which is a tradition where seven symbolic items beginning with the 15th letter of the Persian alphabet are arranged on a table to ring in the New Year.”

Namin also recalls the way he helped students break through their struggles in math by making it more interesting.

“There were a lot of kids struggling in math and algebra, so I thought I could do something to help,” Namin said. “I went in and did a lesson in Farsi, and that really caught their attention. It got them excited and motivated to learn.”

But throughout his time with SAD 49, he says he’s constantly felt misunderstood and misrepresented.

“No one knows me,” Namin said. “I’ve been here since last August, and I’ve tried to get to know people, but I truly feel like folks don’t know who I am.”

And Namin blames much of this on what he called a disconnected school board.

 

BOARD TROUBLES

Namin was unanimously voted in by SAD 49’s school board last August. Shelley Rudnicki, chairwoman at the time, sung his praises when asked about the decision last January.

“Dr. Namin proved himself the best fit to carry forward the vision of the district,” Rudnicki said in a release.

SAD 49 Superintendent Reza Namin speaks about the controversy that he and the school board created after eliminating administrative positions at Lawrence High School last school year. Namin reflected on his position on July 9, and he will resign, effective Aug. 2. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

However, once the backlash from the restructuring plan began to swirl, conflicts among the board and Namin began to arise.

Much of this conflict is what drove him to ultimately give up his position.

“I was brought in by the board to transform the district,” Namin said. “What I presented to the board in my 100-day report was simply an assessment of what I thought needed to happen and costs. The board are the policy makers: they don’t have to listen to me. I feel like they didn’t fully understand the concept of strategic planning. There was no shared goal. No one knew what we wanted to do.”

Namin also claims that extensive personal issues among board members, poor attendance and lack of training undermined the progress he was trying to make.

“I fully respect each and every one of the board members, but I feel like they need to learn how to treat each other,” he said. “They need to resolve their own issues. I’m not here to be caught in the middle of personal grudges; I’m here to do a job. If you have a uniform board, you’ll have decisions being made and implemented, but we didn’t have that. I strongly feel like they need to understand their roles better and there needs to be more training. … We’d have some board members who would miss eight meetings, and when they finally showed up, they’d undermine the decisions that were made. That can’t happen. ”

School Board Chairman Shawn Knox said he agreed with Namin.

“All school board members should engage in in-service training,” Knox said. “Professional development for a board is an important part of being a well-functioning board while creating a strong governance team, including the superintendent. I believe, during the coming year, the board will function effectively and efficiently.”

Regarding his relationship with the faculty and student body, Namin feels no one got the full story.

“The story that was in the newspaper about the students protest didn’t acknowledge the other half of what happened,” he said. “I had met with a group of student representatives from Lawrence High School the day before the protest, and they told me that their anger was at the school board, not me. So therefore I didn’t have to be present on the day it happened because we had already had a discussion.”

Namin also said he apologized to the high school’s student body for failing to communicate with them and wanted to ease tensions by bringing back former principal Mark Campbell to conduct the graduation ceremony.

 

NAMIN’S DEPARTURE

When Namin’s resignation goes into action on Aug. 2, he will move onto his new position as a dean of STEM and accountability at a public charter school in Massachusetts. He declined in an interview to identify the school, saying only it’s in an urban area with a diverse population of students, something that has been on his radar since he began his career.

“I’ve always wanted to serve minorities,” Namin said. “I’ve always tried to get people to speak up more and not let the minority dominate the majority. That’s something I hope I can do at my next position.”

Knox said he wishes Namin nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

“I congratulated Dr. Namin on his new position with another organization,” Knox said. “He did successfully assist the district in the year he was here. I’m hopeful his career continues successfully.”

As for Namin, he leaves SAD 49 with hopes for a brighter future.

“I wish nothing but the best for the district, the faculty, the students, the entire community,” he said. “I appreciate everyone and especially to all the people who have thanked me for my efforts and have wished me the best. All I can do now is stay until August and make sure that they have a successful transition into the next superintendent.”

Related Headlines


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.