Hayley Gommel Fenton '03, Principal, Cranberry Isles School
How many years have you been the principal of your school?
This is my first year as a principal!
What first sparked your interest in becoming a school leader?
I have been passionate about education since doing a summer internship on the South Side of Chicago and seeing the needs of students there. After teaching for ten years I was excited to pursue leadership to positively impact students, teachers, and families at a level broader than the classroom.
What was your education/career path from GSA graduation to your current job?
After GSA I majored in music education at Northern Illinois University and completed an internship and student teaching in inner-city Chicago. After graduation I taught for several years in New Orleans before returning to Maine. I then attended University of Southern Maine for a master's with a dual concentration in Elementary and Special Education while working in an early intervention program for young children with special needs. Once I had my master's I taught early elementary in Ellsworth and Cherryfield until this summer when I began my position at Cranberry Isles School as the K-8 principal. This spring I will complete my Certificate in Advanced Education Leadership from Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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 always loved school, and I had a wonderful experience at GSA. Mr. O and the music program were extremely formative in my development as a person and inspired me to study music education in college. When I witnessed the quality of schools, resources and overall education students were receiving in the impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago, the discrepancy between that and what I had experienced in grade school and GSA was extremely striking. It opened my eyes to education as the greatest potential our society has for social justice, and I became involved in the reform movement in New Orleans. Leadership beyond the classroom is the natural extension of my desire to create equitable educational opportunities for all students.
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?
My senior year of high school I never would have predicted that I would be a principal! I aspired to be a musician and music educator, and my independent study revolved around jazz performance and composition.
What educational, work, or life experience has best prepared you to take on the role of school principal?
I am new to this role but I have found that literally all my educational, work and life experiences contribute to my role as a principal. Leadership is all about connections, listening to others, appreciating diverse perspectives, making decisions, determining priorities and leaning on your values. These things are developed throughout all facets of life and experience.
What do you love about being a school principal? What is most rewarding about this job?
I love the variety in the work. My days fly by! It is extremely rewarding to be able to be involved in so many aspects of education on a daily basis.
What is challenging about being a school principal?
The variety is also challenging! Wearing many hats can be difficult, but I am lucky to have an incredible support system at MDIRSS including the Superintendent and others in the Central Office, the team of principals, a wonderful school board, dedicated teachers and fantastic families!
What is a source of pride in your school community?
I am so lucky to be a part of the Cranberry Isles community. It is a dynamic and unique place with incredible support for our school. Our school is a two-room school house on an unbridged island off the coast of MDI. We ride the Beal and Bunker mailboat to commute. We are creative and flexible. Every day is an adventure!