ROCKPORT — On the wall adjacent to Robert Liebow’s desk hangs the captain’s license he has held since age 14.
The walls of the superintendent’s office, newly Liebow’s domain, are decorated with paintings of oceanside landscapes, his signature etched in their corners.
Liebow, who comes from a coast a bit further north in Maine’s Mount Desert Island region, enjoys another similarity between his old hometown and his new home. A strong community is crucial to the man who strives to know the students around him and keeps his doorway to the hallway, not just figuratively, but literally, open at almost all times.
Connecting with those around you, Liebow says, is a way of life on Cranberry Island, the 42-square-foot isle he spent his childhood summers on, and called home as an adult.
“It’s just part of the values. You have to be part of the community up there. I sense that here too,” Liebow said. “These values are still alive and well here.”
Neighborhood visits could help connect the new superintendent with Rockport families. Liebow said the organized visits, hosted by community members and attended by their neighbors, have, in his former districts, been a comfortable forum for people to talk about their hopes, dreams and issues with the school district.
By spending time in and around the hallways and attending events, Liebow plans to set a positive example for kids, as well as find out what the students think of their education.
“Kids are the consumers,” Liebow said. “They’re the ones who know if they’re getting a good education.”
Liebow hopes to incorporate hands-on learning and education based on enduring understanding in the schools. This means classes would teach concepts based on issues and lessons that will still matter to kids down the road. In gym, kids might learn a lifelong sport. In math, geometric proofs would be more about problem solving than formulas.
Grading, Liebow said, should be more centered around learning concepts and raw ability, with side notes to identify behavior issues, lateness of assignments or uncompleted work. And, he said, kids should be able to complete courses at their own pace, some taking longer than the generally allotted quarter and some finishing a course and moving onto the next before the quarter’s completion.
Pamela Brindamour, co-chairwoman of Rockport’s superintendent search committee, said Wednesday that Liebow has a great combination of experience, reason and values. She was not surprised to hear that Liebow has already taken a ride on a Rockport school bus.
“Most of all, he just seemed to have what they call ‘character’,” Brindamour said. “I remember writing down ‘this is a great man’.”
Liebow was born in Connecticut and later moved to California. But when he finished his undergraduate education, Liebow loaded up his lime green Volkswagon Karmann Ghia, and set out, sans career plans, for home: Maine.
A teaching job came his way, and Liebow earned his certification at night. As Liebow progressed up the career ladder, to principal positions, then superintendent jobs, he spent nights taking college courses and days working in schools.
Liebow has spent the last 21 years as a superintendent in Maine, often driving his boat to visit the 11 communities within the district and using the same boat to teach a navigation course to “at-risk” students.
This summer, since he began working in Rockport on July 1 — first alongside retired Superintendent Susan King, then alone — Liebow has been living on the moored boat, a painting of which hangs on his wall. In the fall, Liebow and his wife will find a land-bound residence. But for now, he cooks, eats and sleeps on the boat.
The large piece of art, the only one not painted by Liebow, was a gift from one of his Maine students, the artist Felicia Teach.
After more than two decades at the coastal Maine community, Liebow has relocated to Rockport to be closer to his 19-month-old granddaughter in Hamilton, but also to prevent himself from becoming complacent at work, he said.
“I could have stayed and gone through the motions, but that’s just not me,” Liebow said. “I don’t want to be a slacker. I don’t want to slide out.”
Liebow said it would be silly to come into an unfamiliar district with an agenda of absolute changes; he is cautious and measured, but focused on leaving his mark on the Rockport schools.
“I have no plans to do anything else besides this,” Liebow said. “I have no more next jobs.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.