Members of the Bangor School Committee are pictured during a Nov. 9 meeting at City Hall. Clockwise from left: Marwa Hassanien, Carin Sychterz, John Hiatt, Warren Caruso, Clare Mundell, Tim Surrette and Susan Sorg. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

The Bangor School Committee unanimously chose a new superintendent for Bangor schools on Wednesday night after a months-long search.

James Tager will serve as superintendent of the Bangor School Department beginning on July 1, 2021. Tager has been an educator for decades, having led school districts in Florida and Vermont.

Kathy Harris-Smedberg has served as interim superintendent since November, when longtime superintendent Betsy Webb left to become a professor at the University of Maine.

The superintendent announcement comes as Bangor educators begin to prepare for the coming school year. After more than a year of restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools, it remains unclear exactly what school will look like for Maine’s fourth largest school district.

Even if restrictions won’t be as prevalent, the pandemic will rear its head in other ways. The school department plans to limit new spending in its budget for the next school year because officials didn’t want to place too much of a burden on taxpayers during a pandemic economy

Committee chair Carin Sychterz said Tager’s record and devotion to closing the achievement gap and improving graduation rates made him a clear choice to lead the district.

“His track record of academic excellence, along with his passion for working with students and families, demonstrates his ability to succeed in this role,” Sychterz said.

Tager, who attended the meeting in person, said that he hopes to run a transparent and equitable administration. He said he would focus on enhancing student achievement and encouraging mentoring relationships between students and educators.

Parents in the district are yearning for a superintendent who will maintain the district’s academic standards, as well as address issues with racial inequity, a department survey of more than 600 parents found. Transparency was another priority for many parents.

An independent probe on racism at Bangor High School found that students at the schools used racial slurs, including the N-word, and were permitted to wear attire featuring Confederate symbols.

Many of the findings in the probe echoed a Bangor Daily News article published last June.

The board also voted 4-2-1 to appoint Christina Babin as the district’s director of pupil services for the next school year, replacing Patti Rapaport. Board members John Hiatt and Clare Mundell voted against Babin’s appointment, while Marwa Hassanien abstained.