One might wonder what would prompt a teacher from New York City to accept a job on a Maine island. For Timothy Devaney, the new principal of the Peaks Island and Cliff Island schools, the answer lies in the well-known tourist slogan, “Maine: The way life should be.”
“My wife and I wanted to relocate to Maine,” said Devaney. “We wanted a change of scenery. The Maine way of life was attractive to us.” Devaney mentioned the slower pace of life in Maine, compared with that in Manhattan, as a draw. He and his wife are expecting their first child and they felt Maine was a good place to raise a family. Devaney began work on October 8, replacing Gwen Smith who is now the principal at the Leeds Central School.
Before coming to Maine, Devaney was a teacher with administrative duties at De La Salle Academy, a small, independent middle school in Manhattan. A school with about 150 students, De La Salle serves academically talented children who come from working class families. Devaney was part of a team that focused on “getting to know the kids on a personal level” and “creating a community feel” within the school, he said. “That experience in a small, intimate setting translates well to a small island school.”
Devaney also brings considerable experience as an instructor for Outward Bound to his job. He began with Outward Bound Ascent in Newry, Maine in 1993. After that he worked with urban youth at the New York City Outward Bound Center. There, Devaney also led programs for corporations and schools such as the Stern Business School at New York University and the Yale School of Management. Later he worked with a program at the Rio Grande near Big Bend National Park in Texas, and spent several summers with Outward Bound Thailand.
According to Jill Blackwood, assistant superintendent of Portland Schools, previous to advertising this position, the Portland School District held a meeting for Peaks Island and Cliff Island communities to describe the kind of principal they wanted.
The islanders were clear that they wanted someone who would help their schools use the “enormous natural beauty and natural resources of the islands” as a teaching tool. “They had a vision of using the islands as a science lab,” said Blackwood. “We listened very carefully at the meeting,” she said. The result of that meeting was a list of “must-haves” for a future principal that the hiring committee used as a grid when looking over the applications, and later as talking points during interviews. “We went about it very methodically,” said Blackwood. “We tried our very best to find a good match for them.”
Blackwood cited Devaney’s experience as an outdoor educator through Outward Bound as one indication that he had the same appreciation of the outdoors as the islanders. The hiring committee “saw him to be extremely well-rounded,” said Blackwood, pointing out that Devaney knows five foreign languages (French, German, Spanish, Italian and Thai) and has a love for science and history as well. Blackwood also said the parents on the hiring committee “could tell he was a very good listener.”
It appears Devaney is making a smooth transition into his new job. “It was great to find a warm welcome from the community,” he said. “Things are going great. There’s a great staff, the kids are fantastic. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and spending time with them at recess.” He has also spent time visiting as many classrooms as he can. Devaney is “proud to be part of a Maine tradition of island schools,” he said.
Kris Osgood is a freelance writer who lives on Vinalhaven.