ROCKPORT — Minutes after being unanimously chosen by Rockport School Committee members to lead the town's schools, a Maine regional school district superintendent accepted the job.
"I think I might have hesitated for about two seconds — just to catch my breath," Robert Liebow said in a telephone interview Thursday. "Then I said 'yes."
Liebow, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island regional schools system in Maine, told the Times on Thursday he spoke with Rockport school officials shortly after they selected him Wednesday night over the other finalist — North Reading High School principal John Bernard. He says he's very much looking forward to coming to Cape Ann.
"I see this as a great opportunity, and it's one that's been a target of mine to keep in mind for some time," said Liebow, who said he's impressed by Rockport's school district and the community's support for its schools.
Liebow, who has a son and a grandson living in Hamilton, said he's confident that he and Rockport School Committee officials will work out a contract in the coming days. He is due to succeed Superintendent Susan King when she retires at the end of this school year, though Rockport school officials hope the two can work side by side for at least a few weeks this spring to ease the transition.
"I'm very much looking forward to coming on board," he said.
That feeling came across as mutual among Rockport School Committee members Wednesday night.
"I think Rob would be the better choice for us at this moment," said School Committee Chairman Michael Kelley.
Liebow has worked in the Mount Desert Island schools for 21 years, having served as principal of the district's high school before stepping into the superintendent's seat.
Rockport School Committee members who visited the district Tuesday said that it is clear he made his presence felt.
"Clearly Rob is an institution up there," said Kelley, and the other committee members remarked that they were looking forward to Liebow becoming part of the community in Rockport.
Liebow's ability to reach out to the community at large was noted approvingly at the Rockport School Committee meeting, with members citing the way Liebow was able to explain the budget to the diverse communities in the school system, which comprises 11 towns.
Those sentiments were echoed Thursday in Maine, where the managing editor of the local Mount Desert Islander newspaper said Liebow's outreach to those 11 towns has earned him immense respect.
"Some of these communities are just little islands, and schools with just maybe six kids in them," said the Islander's Earl Brecklin. "But he would take his own boat to go out there to visit the schools, meet with the different school committees ... He's very well-respected."
In his Rockport public interview two weeks ago, Liebow had impressed the people who came to observe, Kelley said, noting that nearly all of the comments he heard afterward were of good things about Liebow, though many were also supportive of Bernard.
"Rob was clearly the crowd favorite," said Kelley.
Liebow had also been named a finalist for superintendent of schools in Ashland, but Ashland firmed up its search and announced the selection of another candidate Tuesday. The Mount Desert Islander reported that Liebow informed the school committee there on Tuesday that he was withdrawing from consideration, choosing to remain in the mix for the Rockport job.
The Rockport School Committee took a straw vote Wednesday night that turned out to be unanimous, though all of the members said both candidates were exceptionally strong. Committee members thanked the 15-member search committee for their efforts.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.