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King Middle School’s Transformative Longtime Principal To Retire

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King Middle School’s Transformative Longtime Principal To Retire
Posted on 07/21/2015
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Michael McCarthy, the award-winning, transformative principal who has led King Middle School for nearly three decades, plans to retire as of Sept. 1, 2015. A search for a replacement is underway.

“Mike came in with a vision for King Middle School and the work he did there with staff really transformed not only King but also has made a lasting impact on public education, not just in our district but nationally,” said Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. “Mike is an outstanding educational leader who will be missed.”

“King Middle School is a great place and I have been honored to serve there for 27 years. We have an outstanding faculty, great kids, and supportive parents,” McCarthy said. “The time to step aside is not when a ship is sinking but when it is functioning at full steam. We have all the solid teacher leadership and great vision for the best for kids in place. I am very proud of what we have accomplished at King.”

He became principal of King in 1988. That school on Deering Avenue serves the most racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhoods in the state of Maine. More than 120 of King's approximately 500 students speak 28 languages among them and come from 17 countries.

When McCarthy started at the school, many parents didn’t want to send their children to King, because it had a reputation for violence and low expectations for students, McCarthy has said. He said he knew he had to dramatically change things.

Today, King is a nationally renowned Expeditionary Learning school dedicated to the idea that all kids can succeed at a high level. Students engage in eight- to 12-week experiential learning expeditions that are in-depth and interdisciplinary in nature. They require students to engage in sophisticated research, use the community in authentic ways, and represent their knowledge with high quality products presented to legitimate audiences.

The school is a beacon for other schools across the country that have adopted the Expeditionary Learning model. McCarthy and King staff and students in May hosted the 18th Annual Site Seminar, attended by educators from across the country, and shared their journey on such topics as the transition to standards-based grading, and authentic student-engaged assessments.

McCarthy has received numerous awards and honors.

This past spring, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from The University of New England. In July 2014, he was named by “Maine” magazine as one of 50 Mainers who have made a difference in the state. The magazine praised him as creating a “truly a school for all, where all kids, regardless of abilities or backgrounds, are challenged and engaged by their schoolwork.”

Four years earlier, McCarthy was selected as Maine’s 2010 Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Maine Principals’ Association. McCarthy received the award based on his accomplishments as an educational leader in the areas of personal excellence, collaborative leadership, curriculum, instruction, assessment and personalization. He was also a finalist for National Principal of the Year in 2010.

Other recognitions include his being named Maine’s Principal of the Year in 1996 – the award was then for principals of grades 6-12. The following year, he was one of four finalists for the National Association of Secondary School Principals’ National Principal of the Year award. And in 2008, he received the Maine Public Health Association’s Access to Health Care Award.

McCarthy has authored numerous articles on school reform, and given presentations throughout the United States and internationally. Additionally, he is a national faculty member for Expeditionary Learning.

Before joining the Portland Public Schools, McCarthy was principal of Bonny Eagle Middle School in West Buxton from 1980 to 1988 and assistant principal at Waterville High School from 1977 to 1980. From 1973 to 1977, he taught at Roberts Junior High School in Medford, Mass.

To replace McCarthy, the district is seeking another outstanding school leader who will embrace the Expeditionary Learning philosophy and lead the school further with that type of experiential learning.