HALLOWELL — New Superintendent Tonya Arnold says she has been impressed with the work-ethic of the Regional School Unit 2 staff as they navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

Tonya Arnold is the new superintendent of Regional School Unit 2, which serves Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond. Contributed photo

“These are challenging times not just based on the health and emotional impacts of the pandemic, but in the shear volume of work to be done,” Arnold said. “Every one here works very hard.”

Arnold, a Richmond resident, took over the role on Aug. 1 from Mary Paine, who was serving on an interim basis after Cheri Towle resigned due to medical reasons following an extended leave.

Arnold, who declined to give her age, said Tuesday that she was drawn to the Hallowell-area district’s vision, saying RSU 2 was a pioneer in “student-centered, proficiency-based” learning.

“Personalized student-centered, proficiency-based learning has so many advantages that can lead to better outcomes for learners in the situation we are in with potential flips in and out of classroom based learning,” she said in an email. “Empowering students to help drive their learning path, maximizes engagement especially at this uncertain time.”

On Aug. 13, the district’s Board of Directors approved “Plans for Safe Return to Classroom Instruction,” which uses a hybrid model of instruction wherein students are broken into two groups and attend school for two days a week, with online instruction happening during the other days. Parents may opt to have their child participate in fully remote learning.

The plan is structured in three colors — green, yellow and red — all corresponding to levels of remote and in-person learning that are allowed based on the state of the pandemic. Red status would bring stricter restrictions, including a fully-remote structure if buildings are closed due to an increase in positive COVID-19 cases. In late July, all Maine counties were given the least-restrictive green-light designation, and those county designations will be updated every two weeks.

Arnold said the plan should be viewed as a “starting point” and the hybrid model approved last week was nimble enough to change with the pandemic.

The district needs “a plan that can allow us to pivot to more restrictive situations quickly if required by the executive orders, DOE notices, or unexpected outbreaks, while maintaining as much consistency as possible in routines for learning and daily contact with educators and peers,” she said.

Arnold said transportation scheduling and restrictions of learning spaces with distancing guidelines were particular challenges with the plan. Per the green-light plan, 3 feet of space will be maintained between students, 6 feet between adults, 6 feet between adults and students, and no group will be larger than 50 people.

“We would all love to go back to life the way it was before, even with masks, but the restrictions require more than that to keep everyone safe, according to the experts,” she said.

Last year, Arnold took over as principal and superintendent of Vinalhaven School after leadership restructuring, and also maintained her role as superintendent of Monhegan Island School. Arnold said her team on the islands worked quickly to address the needs of students when the pandemic hit in March, including calling homes and eventually setting up outdoor learning experiences.

Asked what improvements or changes she would like to see in RSU 2, Arnold said it was important to assess the district and build relationships before “re-visioning.”

“This will not be the typical first learning year,” she said. “Taking care of the health and wellness of the team and our students will be critical.”

“Learning about the system will happen naturally along the way, and lead to review of how alive the vision and mission remains,” Arnold added. “I suspect when we emerge from this crisis, it will be time to do a comprehensive visioning process involving all constituents of the system.”

Arnold in 2015 was hired as the new principal for the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, a charter school on the campus of Good Will-Hinckley in Fairfield. Arnold also spent eight years as a school principal in Fryeburg, in Stratford, New Hampshire, and more recently at Lake Region Middle School in Naples.

Paine said she will be returning to her initial role in the district, which was overseeing curriculum and instruction, while ensuring that federal funds are spent on the district’s highest priorities.

“I am looking forward to returning to working closely again with the incredibly talented and hard-working teachers and administrators of this RSU on implementing a learning experience that is engaging and exciting for all students and educators,” she said.

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