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Profile                                                            Page 51

 

A Force for Sustaining Rural

Life

BY PAUL RIEDE

Michael Cormier
Michael Cormier

Michael Cormier’s father left school after 6th grade for a career in a Maine paper mill. His mother quit after 8th grade to work at a shoe factory.

How, then, did Cormier end up going to graduate school to earn a doctoral degree and launching a 30-year career as a superintendent?

He listened to his dad.

“My father said get an education and you won’t have to work the way I do,” says Cormier, who turns 65 this month.

He honored his deep roots in Maine by spending several summers as a student working at paper and cotton mills. But as he toiled in the massive drums of the paper mill, where wood sent down the river was debarked for pulping, he knew this life wasn’t for him. He stayed in Maine, but after graduating from the University of Southern Maine in Gorham in 1971, he went directly to work in education and never left.

Cormier retired in June after 20 years in the Mt. Blue Regional School District in Farmington and jumped directly into an interim superintendency 70 miles down the road at the 1,800-student Maine School Administrative District 40 in Union.

Throughout his career, he served in three school districts in Maine, the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi.

From 1982 to 1985, he oversaw a pair of tiny districts, totaling 600 students, including one on Deer Isle in Penobscot Bay. During the same time, he functioned as state agent for a district on an even smaller island nearby. The latter, Isle au Haut, had one school, one teacher and five students. It also had a five-member school board — for a 1-1 ratio of board members to students. Cormier hitched a ride on a U.S. mail boat for monthly visits to the district, which had no phone service.

Cormier went on to become 2008 Maine superintendent of the year, president of the Maine School Superintendents Association in 2011-12 and a member of the AASA Governing Board. He developed expertise in school finances, helping his colleagues squeeze every penny their schools were entitled to out of the state budget. Among the know-how he shared with fellow school leaders: Stay close to your state legislators and make sure they understand the fragile state of Maine’s rural schools.

The vibrancy of Maine’s community life traditionally has depended on the “three-legged stool” of grange halls, churches and schools. With the decline of the first two, schools have become even more important, Cormier contends. That’s why it was so difficult for him to close two community schools in Mt. Blue — even though one enrolled only 13 children.

That tough stance typifies Cormier, even though he has a broadly collaborative style, says Raymond Glass, who retired from the Mt. Blue school board in July.

“When there’s been a need to put the foot down and say, ‘Look, this is going to cause pain but we’re going this way,’ he was able to do that,” Glass says.

Two of Cormier’s most impressive achievements were introducing foreign language instruction into the elementary schools and maintaining a first-class music department. He also led a $65 million renovation of the high school and technical center — a testament to his conviction that not every high school graduate should go to college, despite the steady drumbeat demanding otherwise.

“I think it denigrates the child who doesn’t wish to do that, that somehow there’s something wrong with you,” Cormier says.

Paul Riede is a staff writer with The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. E-mail: hoffried@twcny.rr.com

 

BIO STATS: MICHAEL CORMIER

Currently: interim superintendent, Maine School Administrative District 40, Union, Maine

Previously: superintendent, Mt. Blue Regional School District, Farmington, Maine

Age: 65

Greatest influence on career: Lawrence Lewis, my first superintendent, provided me with opportunities to have new experiences.

Best professional day: Opening day of school. The excitement and energy are electric.

Books at bedside: Drive by Daniel Pink; The One World School House: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan

Biggest blooper: I told a board member he didn’t need to escort the boys basketball coach out of the meeting because it wouldn’t increase his son’s playing time. Folks laughed. I should have crawled under the table. I apologized to the board member publicly and he laughed at it. The board chair said, “I don’t know why you are apologizing. We were all thinking it.”

Why I’m an AASA member: Quality of the information and representation on the scene in Washington, D.C.
 

 

 

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