The Mt. Ararat Schools (MSAD 75) are once again leaderless following the resignation of Superintendent Steven B. Connolly, which will take effect at the end of the school year, but there appears to be some confusion as to why he’s resigned.
Connolly, 64, took the job last July and lives in Gorham. He becomes the sixth superintendent to resign the job in the past six years.
In his resignation letter, Connolly said political and ideological divisions within the community prevented him from doing his job effectively.
“I find I have not been effective at managing the implicit divisions that exist based on political, personal, and ideological beliefs which, in my view, are stagnating the opportunity for systemic educational progress,” Connolly wrote in his Feb. 9 resignation letter.
Frank Wright, the chairman of MSAD 75’s school board, lamented Connolly’s resignation.
“You moved us forward and you made a huge difference in our district because you allowed us to focus on the important things,” Wright said during a board meeting. “We’re really sorry to see you go.”
In interviews with the media, Wright characterized Connolly’s letter as applying to right-leaning parents rights activists in the district.
In comments to WGME, Wright pinned blame for political divisions in the school community on the national non-profit Parents Rights in Education (PRIE), a 501(c)3 non-profit.
But Eric Lusk, another MSAD 75 board member, disputed Wright’s characterization of the issues facing the outgoing superintendent and the school system.
“The board chair needs to distinguish between personal sentiments as opposed to speaking on behalf of the full board,” said Lusk.
Lusk said the pushback Connolly received over the past seven months is light in comparison to what has occurred over the past three years.
“To try to pin [the resignation] on Parental Rights in Education is the tail wagging the dog,” said Lusk.
Allen Sarvinas, the Maine director for PRIE, said his group has used public records requests and public comment opportunities to defend the rights of parents to know what is happening in public schools.
“In 2018, we watched our school district become targeted with official union and political party endorsements,” said Sarvinas.
“We watched balance disappear, jeopardizing our student’s education and safety,” he said.
PRIE has often pushed back on hyper-sexualized curriculum content and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, but Sarvinas said he always maintained a cordial relationship with Connolly.
Although Wright attempted to blame PRIE for Connolly’s decision, Sarvinas said he wanted Connolly to remain in the position and told him as much.
Instead, Sarvinas said the political divisions in the community have been driven by left-wing school officials and teachers stridently pushing a progressive agenda that left the school district lurching from one crisis to another.
Sarvinas pointed to a surprise vote the left-leaning board members took at a recent meeting to force Connolly to implement a controversial gender identity policy, as well as what he considered overreactions to incidents involving student conflicts and “bias incidents.”
He said the progressive board members’ ultimate goal was to create an “unmanageable environment” that would result in MSAD 75 getting a superintendent who would rubber stamp their agenda.
A phone message left with Connolly was not returned.