Fred Cole '88, Principal, Surry Elementary School
How many years have you been the principal of your school?
Four at Surry, and six previously at BHCS.
What first sparked your interest in becoming a school leader?
The first principal for whom I worked, Patrick Phillips, focused on creating leadership opportunities within the school. As a beginning teacher I modeled my own collaborative skills on the example he set.
What was your education/career path from GSA graduation to your current job?
Upon graduation from GSA I attended Colby College and graduated with a BA in Soviet Studies, as well as an art minor. While attending Colby I spent a semester in Moscow with the School for International Training. I then substitute taught everything from kindergarten through high school classes (at GSA) while taking courses at UMaine to become certified as a high school social studies teacher. I applied for a history opening at GSA but wasn't hired. Blue Hill hired me to teach 6th grade, which meant going back to UMaine to become K-8 certified as well. While teaching at BHCS I was accepted into the Maine School Leadership Network and earned my Masters in Educational Leadership.
In hindsight, can you draw any connection between your own school experience at GSA and the career path you chose? What was formative about your student experience at GSA?
I learned from the best teachers at GSA that if you employ humor, depth of content knowledge, and consistency of expectations, students will want to be in your classroom; specifically Roger Bennati embodied all of these attributes.
Looking back to your senior year of high school, what career/aspirations did you have for yourself at that time? What did you do as an Independent Study project?
I did not know what I wanted to do exactly, but my parents' belief in me, as well as the encouragement of GSA's guidance counselor Beulah Grant, prompted me to try Colby College. One of my IS projects was spent working with Gary Wilson, then a 6th-grade teacher at BHCS. I also spent an IS at the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.
What educational, work, or life experience has best prepared you to take on the role of school principal?
My parents' personal and work lives, as well as growing up in Blue Hill, brought me in contact with people of all "walks of life" socioeconomically, which I believe grew my capacity for empathy. Additionally, my 3 years spent at the Bay School prior to joining Surry helped me feel what I knew: There is no one best way to educate a child.
What do you love about being a school principal? What is most rewarding about this job?
I love working with teachers to solve problems. I love the energy and joy of being around children. The most rewarding part of my job is knowing our school provides a safe and inviting shelter for all children, where they can grow academically and behaviorally.
What is challenging about being a school principal?
When children leave the school our direct influence ends; many of our students' homes struggle with poverty, food insecurity, and substance use. Knowing the challenges children sometimes face is both emotionally exhausting and inspiring.
What is a source of pride in your school community?
As a small school sitting on the border between two towns with high schools, Surry has been able to create its own independent identity, implementing programming that is guided by best practice, but is unencumbered by heavy bureaucracy.