Great Salt Bay Community School Principal Jeff Boston, who wrapped up his five-year tenure at the school at the end of June, says a great school requires a team effort.
Great Salt Bay is regularly the subject of praise from parents for its strong academics and unique programs, and its students score well above average on state assessments.
An academic research team selected Great Salt Bay as one of a handful of Maine schools to participate in a 2011 study of efficient, high-performing schools.
As the team put it, Great Salt Bay is a school where students regularly beat the odds by performing better than “student and community characteristics,” such as the economic status of students and education spending, would seem to predict.
Boston credits the faculty and staff of the school, who “truly care about the kids,” along with active and supportive parents and community members, for the school’s success.
A great school requires a partnership with parents who have “high expectations for their children” and for the school and its employees, Boston said.
A great school also needs faculty and staff who “find ways to motivate their students and make learning enjoyable for all,” he said.
“You have to have good leadership with a vision for the school,” he said. Boston benefits at Great Salt Bay from the assistance of “excellent” Vice Principal Kim Schaff, who he works with “to provide direction and support to our teachers and students.”
“I think when you put all those factors together, that helps contribute to a great school,” he said.
Boston points to the addition of a literacy specialist and adoption of the Lucy Calkins writing program as important changes at the school during his tenure.
The literacy specialist works with struggling students and helps teachers analyze data and improve reading instruction.
Boston holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Southern Maine.
He was a social studies teacher at Stratford Public School in Stratford, N.H. for four years and Woolwich Central School for another four years before going into administration.
He was the assistant principal at Cony High School in Augusta for two years and principal of Hodgkins Middle School, also in Augusta, for six years before he became principal of Great Salt Bay Community School in 2008.
He came into a challenging situation at Great Salt Bay, following Dick Marchi, the principal of the school for 29 years, and Marchi’s immediate successor, who resigned after just a year.
The report by the University of Southern Maine research team responsible for the 2011 study applauded Boston’s expert handling of the transition.
The school continues to benefit from Marchi’s legacy, Boston said. The longtime principal “established a structure here that I helped build upon to make this an excellent school,” Boston said.
He offered a few words of advice for the next principal of Great Salt Bay.
“Provide the staff a voice in the decision-making process,” Boston said. “Get to know the kids. Get into the classrooms. Get to know the students and the parents.”
“Enjoy this opportunity, because it is a unique one,” he said. “This school is a special school to work and learn in and there’s a tremendous amount of support in different venues for this person to be successful.”
Boston is leaving for a position with Maranacook Area Schools as principal of Readfield Elementary School and Wayne Elementary School.
Readfield Elementary and Wayne Elementary are primary schools, with students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade and kindergarten through fifth grade, respectively.
Boston will notice some significant differences at his new post. “This will be the first time in my career I won’t be working with middle school staff and students,” he said.
The other major difference is size. Readfield has about 175 students and Wayne about 60 for a total of 235 – barely half of Great Salt Bay’s current enrollment of 420.
The important things – the culture, the curriculum, the positive learning environment and the strong commitment “to the best interests of the students and providing a great education” – are all in place in the Kennebec County towns, Boston said.
The job will allow Boston to spend more time with his family, the main reason for the change. He and his family live in Augusta.
Jenny Mayher is the co-president of the Friends of Great Salt Bay, a nonprofit that supports school activities, and the Great Salt Bay parent-teacher organization.
Boston always had an open-door policy, Mayher said. “He makes himself extremely accessible to parents and I think he truly respects what parents have to say and takes parents’ concerns seriously,” she said.
“One thing about Jeff is, if you have a concern and you call or email him, he always calls right back to deal with the problem,” Mayher said.
“He’s a warm and approachable presence in the principal’s office and I’ll miss that,” she said.
Boston, in parting, said he owes “a huge thank you to the GSB community, teachers and staff and students.”
“It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be a part of this community and organization and I’ll miss it,” he said.
Central Lincoln County School System Superintendent Steve Bailey will host a meeting in the Great Salt Bay Community School library Wednesday, July 3 at 5:30 p.m.
Bailey hopes to hear from parents about the qualities they would like to see in the school’s next principal.