Principal Quits EHS
Witham Leaving to Take
Superintendent’s Job In Western Maine
By Jennifer Osborn
ELLSWORTH—High School Principal Martha
Witham has resigned after one year to take the job as
superintendent of School Administrative District 13 in western
Witham said a July 2 letter addressed to the school committee
and signed by almost 200 citizens criticizing her performance had
"very little" to do with her decision.
"I just viewed the petition as part of the job," Witham said.
The letter listed expectations for the high school and included
comments about the atmosphere at the school.
Two parents—Nancy Mayo and Nancy Hardison—with a group called
Many Concerned Citizens helped write the letter. On Aug. 14, they
addressed the School Committee asking for "positive change."
Mayo said they were concerned about the drop in tuition
students from outlying towns, the lack of a substance abuse
counselor and the presence of a police officer in the corridors.
"Currently, there is a lack of trust within the walls of EHS.
Students don’t know where to go for help. They feel powerless,"
Mayo said at the Aug. 14 meeting.
Mayo suggested rewriting the school handbook to generate school
spirit, give resources and avenues for grievances and provide for
due process. She suggested a reward program for positive
Nancy Hardison suggested adopting a school code of ethics to
which every student would be held.
"It’s been no secret the last few weeks there’s been
controversy," said Jack Turcotte, Ellsworth superintendent of
schools, on Monday. "I hope this has nothing to do with her
decision to leave."
Turcotte said he had mixed feelings about Witham’s decision.
"In today’s world, it’s very hard to please all people," said
The timing of Witham’s announcement could have been better.
"It’s a huge issue for any superintendent of schools if you’re
a week away from opening school."
Coping with that critical vacancy at EHS is going to be a
formidable challenge, putting pressure on the staff and the
superintendent, he said.
"On a happy note, I’m delighted for Martha," Turcotte said.
"She’s talked to me many times about her interest in
superintendency. I knew she was toying with the idea of being a
superintendent," he said.
Turcotte said Witham’s vision was to strengthen the academic
opportunities at Ellsworth High School. "It’s going to be a real
loss to lose that momentum," Turcotte said. "I’m really
disappointed that we’ll lose her expertise."
He said he understood there had been concerns about the mood at
the school, but he stood by Witham.
"I understand the importance of school climate...but primarily
the reason that school exists is for teaching kids," said
Before coming to Ellsworth, Witham was principal for three
years in School Administrative District 11 in Gardner. This fall
would have been her tenth year as principal.
Witham does not know when her last day will be.
"We’re trying to make the transition as smooth as possible,"
The SAD 13 School Committee began looking for a superintendent
the beginning of August, according to Sharon Flannery, committee
chairman. The district’s current superintendent will leave Sept.
The Ellsworth School Committee will convene an emergency
meeting tonight, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m. to discuss candidates for
interim principal. Turcotte will nominate retired superintendent
William Ziemer of Dedham.
Reaction in the community about Witham’s resignation was mixed.
If the city doesn’t have the right priorities, no one is going
to succeed in the principal’s role, said Joe Niemczura, father of
student Amy Niemczura. "It’s a difficult job," he said.
"We all need to make sure we invest in the schools," Niemczura
said. The success or failure of a school is more the measure of
the town than a principal, he said.
"The goal was not to have her resign but to have her change,"
said Mary Fleming, member of Many Concerned Citizens, the group
that Nancy Mayo and Nancy Hardison represented at the Aug. 14
School Committee meeting.
"We are happy to hear of Ms. Witham’s resignation, but we
presented other concerns that still need to be addressed," stated
an Aug. 28 letter from Many Concerned Citizens to the Ellsworth
School Committee. "How long do you plan to ’digest’ before
responding to and acting on our presentation?
"We have no problem with hiring someone to do a job and
maintain discipline but the manner in which discipline has been
handed down, by her and under her direction, has not been
equitable nor in keeping with accepted standards of discipline."
In a conversation with Nancy Mayo on Aug. 29, she said she
could not comment on specific examples of discipline because she
was not directly involved.
"It was the way in which she did things," said Mayo. "She
antagonized so many people because of the manner in which she
conducted the matters. Teenagers do need boundaries but she was
often high-handed about it."
Witham is looking forward to her new position.
"I’m excited," Witham said. She said she has had a
superintendent’s certificate for 10 years and was waiting for the
right opportunity. Witham will commute to her new office from her
camp in Carabasset Valley.
School Administrative District 13 is composed of Quimby
Elementary School, Upper Kennebec Valley Junior-Senior High
School, Caratunk School, and Moscow Elementary.
According to Witham, SAD 13 is small enough—approximately 400
students—for her to be involved with curriculum and children.
Witham earned about $65,000 as principal.