ROCKPORT — When new Rockport Superintendent of Schools Susan King ascended the stairway to her office in the Middle/High School for the first time this summer, she was immediately put to ease by the dozens of colorful, student-painted murals gracing the hallway ceiling tiles; they were, after all, strikingly similar to murals she saw every day while at her former school in Montvale, N.J., and were the first of many things that have made her feel right at home in her new district.

"Everyone is just so open and welcoming here," King said, "the parallels between this district and the New Jersey district are amazing, it feels like home."

In many ways, King's move to Rockport is truly a homecoming. Though she grew up in New York and held her first teaching job in Maryland, King earned her master's degree at the University of New Hampshire and has roots in Massachusetts where she served as assistant superintendent of the Triton Regional School District in Byfield.

"Having all of my friends in this area has made it just that much more comfortable," King said, while sitting in her office yesterday. "It's a very inviting community. It's been a joy to be here."

King joked the adjustment to the new school has been a bit easier than has her adjustment to new living quarters. She has moved into an apartment in the center of Manchester while she waits for her home to sell in New Jersey. It is only because of local friends and family that she has any furniture right now, she said.

King was the superintendent of Montvale's public schools for the past 13 years, helping lead a system with 1,010 students and an annual school budget of $11 million.

King expressed excitement yesterday about the new opportunity presented by the Rockport job — the ability to get to know and follow her students' progression from kindergarten to their senior year of high school. Her former district was only through the eighth-grade.

King said Rockport's community pride is unmatched by many other places she's been. She credits the community's willingness to work together for the greater good as setting a fine example for Rockport's students.

"The pride in the school system and support provided to the schools you just don't find that everywhere," King said. "The children here are growing up absorbing from their environment that education is important."

King was signed to a four-year contract this summer, replacing outgoing superintendent Rosemary DiTullio. King will earn $140,000 annually, the maximum amount the School Committee was willing to pay.

Glowing references, keen financial skills and the ability to engage people certainly helped King land the job, but it was nearly 40 years of experience that made King the School Committee's choice for Rockport's next superintendent.

King has made it a priority this summer to introduce herself to as many town leaders and officials as possible. She has met with the town administrator, police chief, fire chief, library director, as well as Parent Teacher Organization and Rockport Education Foundation members, and has already joined the Rockport Rotary Club.

Since faculty and staff are largely absent from the schools during the summer break, King has taken the time to become familiar with the school district's capital needs, specifically the needs of each of the school buildings.

With students returning to classes Tuesday, Aug. 26, King said Rockport schools are in good shape pertaining to staff; the lone major position yet to be filled calls for a 60 percent middle school Spanish teacher.

King said she has not even begun to think retirement, but said she could see herself staying in Rockport until she decides to call it quits.

"I've been in school all my life," she said with a laugh. "When I wake up in the morning, I'm not going to work, I'm going to school; retirement is not even in the picture."

Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at jlecuyer@gloucestertimes.com.

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