As the faculty and staff of the Wiscasset School Department pack boxes to move to a new two-school-building district, the transition to a new superintendent is already complete. Heather Wilmot assumed the role of superintendent of schools on July 1 and is embracing the changes in the school system as a positive step into the future.
Soon to be armed with a doctorate in education focused on transformational leadership from the University of New England, Wilmot named getting to know and understand the heartbeat of Wiscasset as one of her primary goals.
Meeting the department’s administrators, faculty, staff, and students, in addition to Wiscasset government and community leaders, has been Wilmot’s immediate focus in her new role as the department’s first long-term superintendent.
The Wiscasset School Committee voted to award Wilmot a three-year contract as superintendent in February.
The support and welcome Wilmot has already received in her first two weeks has made her feel right at home, she said.
“You become very emotionally connected to where you work,” Wilmot said. “I really want to acknowledge how supportive and welcoming the community has been. It’s been really gratifying. I already feel like I have a new home here.”
For the last 10 years, Wilmot has worked with the Lisbon School Department as a classroom teacher, literacy coach, and more recently as an assistant superintendent. The students of Lisbon’s class of 2015 were the ones Wilmot began her teaching career at Lisbon with.
With the class graduated, it was the perfect time for Wilmot to satisfy the itch she had been feeling to assume a greater leadership position, she said. Wilmot was attracted to the position at Wiscasset due to the size of the school department, which offered the opportunity to truly engage with students and be mindful of their needs.
Student interaction is something Wilmot hopes to build into her daily routine as superintendent. “It helps ground me,” Wilmot said. “It keeps things in perspective and reminds us why we’re here.”
Wilmot’s own career in education was shaped by a former teacher. On a tough day, when Wilmot was struggling as a learner, her science teacher held up one of her completed assignments and praised it. “He expressed pride in my work on a difficult day,” Wilmot said. “It really solidified what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a difference in public education.”
Thoughtfulness about student learning and meaningful attention given to students are lessons Wilmot intends to apply to her new role as superintendent. Wilmot also hopes to apply the lessons learned from her doctorate in education to Wiscasset.
Wilmot is currently in the final edits of her dissertation, which focuses on cultivating positive change in a school system. Wilmot has already had the opportunity to combine her learning with real-world experience. She helped the Lisbon School Department develop a strategic educational plan to guide it into the future.
Through intensive conversations with the community, the Lisbon School Department was able to identify its strengths and areas in need of growth and establish a system to monitor the department’s progress toward its short- and long-term goals. Different from the comprehensive educational plan required by the state, a strategic educational plan clearly states a mission and vision for the school system and defines goals which are responsive to the needs of the community and are monitored to ensure they are achieved, Wilmot said.
School departments are increasingly adopting strategic educational plans as independent initiatives, Wilmot said. Developing such a plan for Wiscasset is an undertaking to be done in conjunction with the school committee and will require the involvement of the community, Wilmot said.
While a long-term goal, Wilmot is more immediately focused on getting to know both the school and the larger community. She is reaching out to the town manager and the Wiscasset Community Center to understand the resources available to students and ensure open communication with town government.
Wilmot has arranged to ride the bus routes with Wiscasset’s transportation and maintenance director, John Merry, to fully understand where students are coming from. Meeting members of student government at an ice cream social and getting to know the staff, faculty, and administrators at the department were some of the highlights of Wilmot’s first days as superintendent, she said.
With new names and designated grades for the schools that will house Wiscasset’s student body, the department is in many ways new, Wilmot said. Wilmot said she is excited to contribute to the development of a new culture for the new two-school system, which will hone in on the department’s positive energy and help guide it into the future.