WINSLOW — When Eric Haley was reading cover letters from applicants for the Winslow High School principal opening earlier this year, there was one in particular he couldn’t get past.

That one was all about students, according to Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes the Winslow schools.

“It’s my responsibility to place the students at the heart of all decisions,” according to the letter. “I got into administration to make an impact on all students — not just in my classroom — and that I hope to leave a lasting impression on the students.”

Four months later, Haley hired the writer, Chad Bell, 35, Van Buren’s kindergarten-through-grade 12 school principal at the time.

“He was a completely new name to me,” Haley said, and since then he’s become confident he found the right guy.

“He has lots of energy,” Haley said. “He’s going to bring a small-school approach with high visibility.”

Haley hired Bell on May 20 after screening 20 applicants and interviewing four.  In January, Doug Carville announced that he would retire as the Winslow school’s principal.  

A committee helped create a list of qualifications important to the position and the hiring process.

“Some things we were looking for were strong communication skills, high visibility within the school, lots of energy, balancing tradition with the need to change and someone who’s comfortable with technology,” Haley said. “Between already being an administrator and leading a technology department, he had two eggs in a nest right there.”

One of the qualities Haley stressed was the need to put students first. In terms of a principal, that means that any changes in the system have to benefit students foremost. If something needs implementation or removal, it’s done with the students’ interests in mind, rather than that of the faculty, administration or anyone else.

“Some people want to go in with their own agenda, and you can’t do that,” Bell said. “You need to find what they hold near and dear.”

One of the things that attracted Bell to his new position was how much attention it appeared Winslow put on its students.

“Looking at their website, all you see is pictures of students and their accomplishments,” Bell said.

“Seeing how student-focused they appear to be stuck out to me.”

Bell brings 10 years of teaching and administration experience. He taught eighth-grade science in Millinocket from 2003 to 2008 while also leading the school’s technology department. In 2008, he was assistant principal at Stearns High School in Millinocket for a year before taking the K-12 principal position in Van Buren.

“The transition from classroom to principal is interesting,” Bell said. “You have to build those relationships. Any young administrator probably realizes that being open and honest with people will pay dividends in the end. If you try to skirt around the issues or smooth the waters too much, people can think you’re hiding something.”

Bell said the move was mostly arranged to better suit his family.

“I was looking to relocate for my family’s benefit,” Bell said Tuesday morning. “I wanted more opportunities for my kids. My father-in-law lives in the Auburn area, so my wife will be closer to him.”

Van Buren is on the Canadian border, more than a four-hour drive from Auburn.

While at Van Buren, Bell helped institute a sense of community in a school that varies greatly in student demographics.

“I inherited separate schools in the same building,” Bell said of Van Buren’s K-12 school. “The staff was clearly divided between elementary and high school. We worked together to build that community feel. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kindergarten teacher or a high school teacher; we all have the same goals.

“When I told my staff I was resigning, I told them we were one big family. I really believe that.”

It’s these goals and ideas that Bell is looking forward implement at his new position in Winslow. While still finishing end-of-the-school-year responsibilities in Van Buren, Bell said he’ll officially be an employee of Winslow starting in July, and plans to move into the area then to find out what the needs are.

“I’m immediately going to start having conversations with people, get a better feel for the culture of the community,” Bell said. “I want to talk to staff about things near and dear to their heart and things they’re concerned about.”

One sphere in which Bell will have influence is the school’s technology initiatives. Haley stressed the importance of a principal having sound technological development in administration positions.

“Technology has become so integrated in what schools do,” Haley said. “You can’t do the basic requirements anymore, let alone advance the department, if you’re technology-illiterate.”

Bell’s technology experience includes leading that department in  Millinocket to working closely with the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. While in Millinocket, Bell was the teacher leader for the initiative, making sure all the computers and networks were working, helping with professional development and encouraging the staff to participate.

As an administrator, he sees his role as supplying teachers and students with the resources needed to use technology to enhance learning while offering the opportunity for professional development.

“It’s one thing to have a laptop, but if the teacher can’t coordinate that into the program, it doesn’t really help,” Bell said. “If teachers need something, whether it’s brief assistance or professional development, it’s my responsibility to find and provide that for them.” Bell said that can range from school-wide professional development down to isolated help for specific teachers.

“You don’t have to know everything about a piece of software to be able to operate it and implement it in your class,” Bell said. “What I try to get across to teachers is that the students don’t want to be taught how to use each aspect of every program. They want to explore it and learn it on their own.”

Haley, who was a longtime principal, said one of the most important qualities for a principal is to be highly visible and accessible not just for teachers, but for students and their families as well.

“The biggest reason you want high visibility with your principal is to build relationships with staff and students. You can’t do that behind closed doors,” Haley said. “In a lot of instances, the high school principal is iconic. You need those relationships with the public.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239
[email protected]

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