The Wildness of Compromise

 Monologue By Gorham Maine Schools Superintendent, Heather Perry 


Shortly after our move to Maine this past spring, I began receiving emails from the Town of Gorham Superintendent of Schools, Heather Perry. An ambitious school budget had been proposed and the rate of new spending was testing the resolve of taxpayers. Community members were steadily being drawn into a contentious debate, and families with children had important interests at stake. Having spent the previous 18 months serving on Common Council in Ithaca New York, I was politically trained to observe campaign signs and conversations arising among neighbors and business owners. As I resigned my Council Seat in Ithaca, I’d had an opportunity to reflect on the stressors undermining the stability of my childhood home. Amid the disarray of COVID, there had been a vacuum of oversight at City Hall.  A controversial Police Reform endeavor initiated by the city’s former mayor was mired in ethical violations. This had polarized the community terribly. Civility had eroded, casting a chill over the public discourse. It was a lonely moment, and yet, one I feel fortunate to have experienced; when compromise felt the most out of reach and every comment cut personal, I’d found myself reciting, “I have faith that I am good.” We dishonor ourselves as we spurn public servants. I didn’t finish my term, but I feel confident I left a complete and honest record of dissent that has helped awaken many residents to complex issues. In my parting remarks I questioned whether an empowered faction so wedded to a divisive ideology had the capacity to preside over real and meaningful community healing.   

In light of this experience, one can understand how Heather’s informational emails became a breath of fresh air. She was welcoming families to participate in a pragmatic, holistic conversation without resorting to intimidating rhetoric to force her view of the issue. From the onset, Heather conveyed the patience to go extra innings, highlight the intricacies of the spending proposals, and a unique capability to grasp and reiterate opposed perspectives so that everyone involved with the budget debate felt heard. While in the end, I didn’t feel qualified to vote on the matter, (having not yet experienced the schools directly through my children), I wrote to Heather afterward expressing how grateful I was for the thoughtful messaging she had put forth and her stewardship delivering compromise. The question had dawned on me, is it wildness to compromise? What is the emotional yet rational foundation underlying every leap of faith parties must make if they’re to agree to moderate their principles? Providing an eye-opening window into a very challenging profession, Heather offers the following monologue in response…

– Jeffrey F. Barken


Heather J. Perry is Superintendent of Schools for the Gorham School Department, Gorham, ME. where she has served the community for the past 9 years. The Gorham School Department serves approximately 2,800 students in Cumberland County, ME. In her 29 years of experience as a Maine public school employee, she has worked her way up from the role of an educational technician, to middle school social studies teacher, to building principal, and now serves as a passionate Superintendent of Schools for the past 18 years in Maine. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern Maine in Public Policy, her Masters of Educational Leadership from the University of Maine and her Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Maine at Machias. She currently serves as a member of MSSA’s Executive Board at the state level as well as a member of AASA’s Executive Committee at the national level. She is a graduate of Educate Maine’s Educational Leaders Experience, Alpha class. She volunteers her time mentoring for young women in the Olympia Snowe’s Women’s Leadership Program and is a proud wife, mother, and grandmother!