HALLOWELL — Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold is taking a medical leave of absence for eight weeks to “work through some health issues,” leaving a newly hired assistant superintendent in charge of the district until Arnold’s return.

Tonya Arnold, superintendent of Regional School Unit 2 which serves Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond, alerted staff that she is taking an eight-week medical leave. Contributed photo

Arnold said in her automatic email reply that she would be on a leave of absence until March 6. She urged families to contact staff at the closest level to their students.

In a letter to staff members on Monday obtained by the Kennebec Journal, Arnold let staff know of her leave of absence and touched on the “weak moments” that “we have all had” throughout the past year and the coronavirus pandemic, urging staff to “rise above, should there be more to come.”

“Many families struggled for various reasons during break and our students may bring some of those emotions back to school with them,” Arnold wrote in the letter to staff. “Sometimes people lash out at others, irrationally, making assumptions, turning those into judgments and actions without asking questions.

This is not a good feeling; leading back to respectful communication helps. When that negative energy comes your way, it does not define you.”

Arnold could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Her RSU 2 contract runs through June 30, 2023, and she is paid an annual salary of $134,000. In the event Arnold is unable to perform her duties beyond the leave of absence, the school board has the ability to terminate the contract by written notice.

Meanwhile, Arnold apparently continues to serve as the part-time superintendent of Monhegan Island School. According to that school’s most recent budget, she has received an annual salary of $20,948 for the position. The school confirmed Tuesday that she is still serving as superintendent there.

This is not the first time an RSU 2 superintendent took a medical leave of absence — Cheri Towle took a leave of absence in December 2019 and later resigned in April 2020. Former Assistant Superintendent Mary Paine took over for Towle before Arnold was hired for the 2020 to 2021 school year.

Arnold did not specify if she was talking about her own experiences in the past year, but many teachers and staff members have experienced low morale this school year in particular. In Augusta, for example, staff talked about how student behavior this year has been unprecedented — central Maine teachers, and other teachers across the state, are experiencing “burn-out.”

Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer Matt Gilbert, who started in the district on Oct. 18, could not comment further on Arnold’s leave but said she helped him in being able to provide the district with support while she is gone.

“The entire RSU 2 staff has been very supportive as we work to serve the needs of our students,” Gilbert said in an interview. “I have been thoroughly impressed by their commitment to their students and community.”

Arnold’s contract was renewed by the board back in March during the same time the Regional School Unit 2 teacher union said it had “lost patience” with Arnold over her leadership. Prior to that public rebuke, Arnold said — without providing her evidence — in an email to staff that 85% of the district’s COVID-19 cases were because of teachers and staff.

The Kennebec Journal asked for confirmation on her statement, but she said to look at the district website to find the total number of coronavirus cases for the year but the cases did not distinguish staff from student cases.

On Dec. 14, the school board evaluated her contract in executive session, as all school boards across the state do at the end of the year for superintendents. Since the discussion was in executive session, the public does not have access to what was said.

Two weeks before that, at the regular board business meeting on Dec. 2, Arnold did not attend.

Board Chair Jon Hamann said Monday he can’t comment on the matter, but said he wishes Arnold a “speedy recovery.”

Arnold said she would be “cheering on (the staff) from the sidelines” as she “taps into any positive energy” she could find to keep herself going in order to have the best outcome for her health.

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