Safety and COVID were his biggest challenges, Aroostook superintendent says

As Tim Doak prepares for his biggest career move yet, he credits close-knit relationships with students, colleagues and families for showing him what is most important.

Doak is one of The County’s longest-serving educators and administrators. After 33 years working with students in the St. John Valley and central Aroostook, he will take on a new challenge this fall leading the York School Department. He chose York in part to be closer to family.

The York school committee officially voted to hire Doak as superintendent on Wednesday. The school districts he currently serves — RSU 39 in Caribou and Stockholm and SAD 20 in Fort Fairfield — will vote to accept his resignation next week.

Doak has been superintendent in Caribou for eight years and in Fort Fairfield for seven. He was one of two finalists for the position, along with Coastal Ridge Elementary School Principal Sean Murphy.

“The extensive search process leaves us confident Mr. Doak will be a visionary leader of York School Department and a wonderful addition to our community,” said York School Committee Chair Tom Martine.

During his career, Doak, who currently lives in Fort Kent, has led schools through immense challenges and helped pioneer educational strategies that are now more common throughout Aroostook.

School safety and COVID-19 have caused the most profound changes to education since he entered the field, he said.

While Aroostook has not experienced a school shooting, the deadly attacks across U.S. schools have prompted schools in northern Maine to lock entrances and exits during the day and install cameras that notify front desk staff of visitors. 

That’s something Doak never had to think about earlier in his career, but schools in Aroostook and around the state now focus on preparing for such a scenario. The last experience was in November, when a series of false reports claimed active shooters were targeting students across Maine — including in Fort Fairfield and Houlton. 

COVID-19 ushered in the ideas of Zoom classes and remote learning. The pandemic also gave his schools a renewed focus on outdoor learning, taking care of student mental health and better preparing students for jobs and secondary education before they graduate, Doak said.

“Students have more choices now in how they learn and that’s a good thing,” Doak said.

Doak began his career in 1990 as a social studies teacher at Madawaska Middle/High School. He became the school’s assistant principal in 1998 and principal two years later.

In 2002, Doak became the superintendent at both the Madawaska and Grand Isle school districts, the latter of which has since closed. He was the first superintendent in Aroostook to have two districts share services to reduce costs.

Doak said that even back then his reasons for becoming an administrator were the same as why he became a teacher.

“I wanted to improve the lives of others and be a positive role model for the younger generations,” he said.

Some of Doak’s best memories come from his time as principal of Fort Kent Community High School, a role he took on after leaving Madawaska and Grand Isle in 2004.

Fort Kent had just received a $1 million Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to fund innovative changes within the school district. Doak spearheaded the creation of a homeschool program, Maine’s first Early College program and a leadership team that allowed teachers to attend conferences and visit schools throughout the country.

“To this day, I think Fort Kent is one of the most amazing school districts in Maine,” Doak said. “There’s this leadership mentality today that has helped them succeed. It was a true honor to be part of those changes.”

In 2011, Doak became superintendent for both the Fort Kent and Allagash school districts. Allagash has since disbanded. 

Four years later, he stepped into that same role in Caribou when RSU 39 was looking to consolidate its elementary and middle schools into one building. The $50 million project concluded during the pandemic and the new pre-K to grade 8 Caribou Community School opened in November 2020. 

Throughout the uncertainty of the past few years, Doak has been proud to lead the schools in Fort Fairfield, the same town where he grew up.

His father, Larry Doak, was the town’s postmaster, and his grandfather, Cecil Doak, was the highway foreman and fire chief for 40 years. To this day, Doak keeps an old photograph of his grandfather plowing people’s driveways near Monson Pond in Fort Fairfield.

“‘Here comes Red Doak,’ they would say,” Doak said. “I’ve heard so many stories about what he did for the town, from plowing the roads to putting out fires at the potato houses.”

York County’s focus on community and local history drew him there, he said. He is impressed with the school district’s commitment to students and hopes his Aroostook experiences have prepared him well.

“When I think of leaving Aroostook County, I think of the people and the relationships,” Doak said. “The families and staff at York really want the best for their students, so I’m looking forward to making those relationships with people.”

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