PARIS — Incoming Oxford Hills superintendent Monica Henson, EdD, studied law, French and education. She has worked in rural and urban settings, from Sunday School to juvenile justice. She has managed different administrative levels in school systems in the southeast and northeast.
She has been a volleyball and basketball referee, and notably the first woman to referee a varsity boys’ basketball game in the state of Georgia. Interspersed with her 35-year career she was a stay-at-home mom, raising a family of five children. She understands the importance of strong mentorship.
Effective July 1, she will lead the Oxford Hills school district as it emerges from its long and frustrating COVID-19 era.
In her own words, Henson’s work experience in education has not been traditional at all. Her career started in 1985, in Dacula, GA as a high school English teacher. It was not long before she began embracing the benefits of nontraditional education for students who learn differently.
“I got an assignment to teach Communications Labs – a class with all four grades of failed [English] students,” Henson said. “It was my first exposure to students who for different reasons the regular [class] configuration wasn’t working. It lit a fire in me, on how to get through to these kinds of students.
“Any teacher can teach an advanced placement class and do reasonably well. I recognized early on it takes a different kind of teacher to connect with students that are nontraditional.”
By 1995 she found herself remarried and living in Leominster, MA. It was there where the superintendent she worked under started coaxing her to become a principal, encouraging her to look beyond her current life of a teacher raising a brood of five.
Henson began working toward a master’s degree in school administration during the late 1990s. She found the traditional avenue was not going to work for her, as many working mothers still encounter.
“It took me five tries to finally get my master’s degree,” Henson declared. “And it was usually due to child care issues that blocked it.”
Eventually she found a way to move forward when she enrolled at Seton Hall University, which had introduced a hybrid master’s degree program that was primarily online. From there she achieved her doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University and then became involved with the concept of establishing charter schools to serve communities and families with at-risk or non-traditional student populations.
After roles as school principal, curriculum dean, and charter organizations, Henson became superintendent of an 11-campus, Georgia-based charter high school district where the focus was on virtual- and hybrid-model education. Foreshadowing the current environment brought on by COVID-19, she spent eight years in the role, amassing practical experience within new, non-traditional learning models.
With her family raised and three of them settling in Massachusetts with their own children, it was the pull of Henson’s grandchildren that brought her back north in 2020. She moved to New Hampshire and took interim leadership of a three-town district as it transitioned through a process of one community separating to form its own district.
This year, as Oxford Hills prepared to hire a new superintendent for the first time in more than 10 years, Henson threw her hat in the ring for that job and was named SAD 17 superintendent on May 17.
By the time Henson makes her official start in July, she will have presented SAD 17’s board of directors with a 90-day entry plan that will see her establishing relationships with district staff, community government officials, families and other stakeholders.
One of the most critical challenges Henson will face is learning loss within the district due to the pandemic.
“There is an estimate that students have lost anywhere from seven to 12 months of learning,” she said. “When you dig into those reports, it tends to be concentrated in high needs and high poverty school systems.
“Districts have struggled, not just in the pandemic. The only way to know is to assess the kids. I will start working with Superintendent Colpitts right away to study student assessments and understand their needs.”
Henson plans to settle in the Lewiston area by the time she reports for duty on July 1.