Assistant Superintendent Peter Hallen entertains students recently during lunchtime at Creative Minds Daycare at Waterville Senior High School. The Waterville Board of Education voted unanimously March 27 to name Hallen as Superintendent Eric Haley’s successor. Haley is set to retire July 1. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — Peter Hallen is set to become superintendent of Waterville Public Schools during a time of many challenges in education: rising costs, staffing shortages, working with young children who have lost critical skills during the COVID-19 pandemic and an increasing number of homeless children who need resources.

Hallen, 51, who has been assistant superintendent since last July, is set to assume the top spot July 1, when Eric Haley is scheduled to retire after 45 years in education, the past 22 as superintendent. The Waterville Board of Education voted unanimously March 27 to name Hallen as Haley’s successor.

Hallen said he looks forward to the job, which he does not expect will be easy. One of his responsibilities as assistant superintendent is serving as a liaison for homeless students and families.

“It fluctuates, but I believe there are 74 students right now that we know about, and that’s from 50 or so families — obviously families that have more than one student in the system,” Hallen said. “Our efforts for the students really focus on making sure they have the resources they need to be in school — transportation, school supplies, clothing if they need it, food to send home.”

Making matters especially difficult, schools do not have the resources to help when families are priced out of the housing market and cannot find a home or apartment, according to Hallen. Schools cannot provide them rent money, but can connect them with resources and people who can assist. Meanwhile, some families who are homeless double up with other family members or friends.

“That can be very volatile,” Hallen said, “because a lot of apartments are barely big enough for one family.”


It used to be most homeless students were in high school and would couch surf, he said. But they generally lived locally, so school officials could easily find them. Now, entire families can be on the move.

Though the pandemic is not the sole reason for staffing shortages and other challenges, that hangover lingers from when schools were forced to do things differently, according to Hallen.

For example, children who never got the chance to be in kindergarten lost important socialization and other skills that help set the foundation for their school experience.

“So much happens in kindergarten,” Hallen said. “That’s where you learn your routine, it’s where you learn to share, wait your turn. It’s not just academics. It’s the foundation that you get.

“I see a level of dysregulation that we’re not used to and that can be kind of contagious. I really see that in my conversations with teachers and other administrators, with parents. What we’ve got to make a priority is to teach students how to be with each other before we can teach them how to do math and things like that.”

Staffing shortages in all areas are another reality schools face. The district, for example, is down two bus drivers, and it has been difficult to fill those positions as drivers retire. Because driving a bus is a part-time job, many drivers also work other jobs.


Waterville Public Schools has begun a training program for bus drivers, and so far about 15 people have signed up, according to Hallen. Participants will do 42 hours in the classroom, 20 hours practice driving on a range with no other traffic and then 10 hours on the road.

“The rub right now is that two people who are going to provide instruction are bus drivers,” Hallen said. “Our goal is to have it at least start this spring so people will be certified and ready to go before the summer’s out.”

Hallen grew up in Leicester, Massachusetts, near Worcester, and moved to Maine in 1999 when his wife, Lisa, got a job as associate dean of students at Colby College. She now is guidance director at Waterville Senior High School. Their three children were educated at Waterville schools, with Maddie, 21, now attending Tufts University; Piper, 19, a student at the University of Connecticut; and Lucy, 15, a freshman at Waterville Senior High School.

Hallen said he has learned much from Haley over the years, describing him as “one of the most genuine people you will ever know.” Haley served on the superintendent search committee with several other educators.

“I’m not intrinsically a proud person, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud to have been given this opportunity, because I know who supported me through this and at the top of the list is Eric,” Hallen said. “He didn’t just want to walk away. He wants the schools to flourish, and I don’t think anyone could give me a bigger compliment than him trusting me.”

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