EAST MACHIAS – The past month has been a busy one for Klaus-Peter Voss as he settles into his job as superintendent of SAD 77.
The veteran Maine educator was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and taught there for 10 years before coming to Maine on a Fulbright scholarship in 1981.
He has worked in Maine schools for 18 years and began his job as superintendent of the four-town school district Nov. 3.
Voss said Tuesday he has met with members of the Machiasport and Whiting withdrawal committees and is talking with selectmen from the district towns: Cutler, East Machias, Machiasport and Whiting.
“I’m in an outreach mode to hear what people think,” Voss said. “I’m hopeful that all of us can work together to build the trust that is necessary to do this job.”
Trust has been in short supply in SAD 77 in recent years.
A failed plan to restructure the district’s four elementary schools by consolidating sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grades in a new middle school was widely unpopular and led both Whiting and Machiasport to begin withdrawal efforts.
And last spring, just before Superintendent Ashley LeBlanc left to take another position, district voters learned that the 1999-2000 budget had been overspent by $250,000.
An inspection team appointed by state Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese found that the overdraft was unintentional, but indicated “a significant weakness in financial controls.”
Voss said he understands why people are angry about a reorganization plan he describes as “ill-conceived and poorly researched.”
The new superintendent said he has no intention of closing the Whiting Village School and no plans or intentions for a consolidated middle school.
Voss said he also understands why people would be distrustful of a school district that ran such a large deficit within five years of another incident in which a former bookkeeper was charged with embezzling more than $300,000.
“But I want to look to the future,” he said. “And I will be uncompromising and relentless about the fact that kids come first. They have not, I think. Sometimes adult stuff gets in the way.
In his opinion, district children will be best served if the four towns remain a district.
“I think the resources we have, if applied correctly, would be used better and more economically if we worked together,” Voss said. “But we have to have a good plan in place and we have to develop a responsible budget.”
What SAD 77 needs is stability, Voss said, adding that he takes the “public” in public education very seriously.
“Anyone should be able to walk in here and see what I do,” he said. “My leadership style is transparent and open. What you see is what you get.”
And while the controversies in Whiting and Machiasport are closest to home, there are many challenges facing SAD 77 and school systems throughout the state as a result of Maine’s Learning Results program, he said.
“By 2006, we have to certify that our students meet or exceed the standards,” he said. “What do we do with kids who don’t meet the standards? We can’t let them fall through the cracks.”
Voss said he believes the time is approaching when Maine schools will have to change the length of the school year, holding classes on Saturdays and developing summer academies.
“We have to believe that all children can meet or exceed standards,” Voss said. “Right now, I don’t think we do.”
Voss said he fell in love with Maine and rural life in 1981 when he spent his Fulbright year at Maranacook Community School in Readfield. He bought property at China Lake as an incentive to return to the state, he said.
He moved back to Maine from Germany in 1983 and taught English, French, Latin and German at Winslow High School for six years.
Voss moved on to become assistant principal at South Portland High School, but left there after half a year because he was “sick and tired” of disciplining students rather than teaching, he said.
After his experience in Portland, he took an elementary school principalship at the Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan, where he worked for five years.
From there he went to Cumberland North Yarmouth, where he served as an elementary-level principal for three schools and completed his internship as a superintendent.
“I think my experience has given me the tools I need for this job,” he said.
In addition to his passion for education, Voss said, he has loved the ocean since his childhood in Hamburg.
“I can’t be without water,” he said.
He is living in Harrington and likes to spend weekends at China Lake, where he keeps a sailboat for use in the summer months. Voss said he travels extensively in his off time and plays soccer and tennis whenever he has a chance.
He plays guitar and banjo and likes to garden, cook and listen to music.