Bangor School Committee chair Marwa Hassanien votes shortly after being elected committee chair on Monday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

Marwa Hassanien didn’t expect to stay in Bangor for long when she and her husband moved to the city more than 15 years ago. But they stayed because of the schools.

Now, after a unanimous vote on Monday, Hassanien will lead the seven-member Bangor School Committee overseeing the city’s public school system for the next year.

She’ll lead the panel as a new superintendent completes his first school year on the job, the school department decides how to spend millions in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress and the city’s schools continue to address diversity and equity following revelations and an investigation last year that confirmed Black students at the predominantly white Bangor High School had experienced racism.

Hassanien’s ascension to the position of the committee’s chair also marks a rapid rise for the School Committee member first elected in 2019, and increasing diversity in the ranks of city leadership.

“I want to be the chair that bridges gaps and brings people together,” Hassanien said.

Hassanien has advocated for devoting more resources to suicide prevention and social services since her election to the school board. She has also been one of the more vocal committee members when it comes to addressing racism at the high school.

Superintendent James Tager said last month that he hopes to hire a more diverse workforce for the city’s school system. And Hassanien said her position as committee chair can send a message to students of color that Bangor values diversity.

“Representation matters,” Hassanien said. “If they see someone of a diverse background, they know we’re all valued the same.”

The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Hassanien became the first Muslim elected to the Bangor School Committee two years ago, becoming one of the first three women of color elected to office in the Bangor area that year.

A native of Oklahoma, Hassanien moved to Bangor with her husband in 2005. While she didn’t initially expect to stay beyond three years, she fell in love with the community, including its well-regarded school system.

“We chose to live here because of the schools,” she told the BDN in 2019.

Following her election to the school committee in 2019, she became the committee’s vice chair last year, edging out Susan Sorg in a 4-3 vote that reflected a change in a body that traditionally went out of its way to avoid public disagreements.  

Last year, she also became Northern Light Health’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. She had been serving as an adjunct professor of English at Eastern Maine Community College at the time of her election in 2019.

In terms of her priorities as committee chair, Hassanien said she wants to make sure that every voice on the panel is heard. She praised Carin Sychterz, who has served as committee chair for the past year, for her efforts to make the committee more collaborative.

Hassanien said she hopes to build on those efforts.