Hall-Dale Elementary School Principal Kristie Clark poses for a portrait Wednesday at her school in Hallowell. She was recently named Maine Principals’ Association National Distinguished Principal of the Year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — Kristie Clark has always known she wanted to be an educator.

When she was little, she would play pretend in a classroom with her sister and always knew it was “in her.”

After being an educator for the past 20 years, the Hall-Dale Elementary School principal has been named the 2021 Maine Principals’ Association National Distinguished Principal of the Year.

“I lead with a teacher heart,” Clark said. “I’ve done the work they do; I know the work they do. I’m not one that stays in the office; I’m out in the building.”

A 1991 graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington, Clark began her career in education as a first and second-grade teacher at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, where she stayed for about 12 years.

It wasn’t until she received the Milken National Educator Award in 2010 she realized she wanted to be a principal.

“I was flown to California with all of these other educators. It was life changing; it gave me a bigger purpose,” Clark said, holding back tears. “When you accept that award, you know in your heart you have to bring a message and a larger impact to the kids and schools.”

She continued as a classroom teacher for another year after that, but when there was an assistant principal opening at Geiger Elementary School, Clark applied for and got the job. She followed that position by becoming the English language director for the Lewiston School Department, and then principal at James B. Longley Elementary School.

After looking to be closer to home, Clark started as Hall-Dale Elementary School’s principal in 2018.

“She lives and breathes education in her heart,” Stacia Duncklee, Hall-Dale teacher and parent, said. “She cares for all of the kids. You can tell when she interacts with them, through her smiles and conversation to students that she is genuinely interested in making a difference and a connection with them.”

When the school participated in the Read-A-Thon, her son made it his goal to raise $250 so he could have lunch with “Mrs. Clark.”

“My son was so excited,” Duncklee said. “He was so motivated, as so many students were. She’s so special to them, they all adore her.”

Clark has had lunch with 46 students — with 11 lunches left to go. She said it has been fun to get to know the students on a more personal level, especially since she isn’t able to walk around and interact with the students as much as she used to because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another teacher and parent, Ashley Lawrence, said Clark was quick to think of every family and every possible situation when the coronavirus first impacted school. She brainstormed ways children who chose to be fully remote could have the same experience as those learning in person.

“She has strong leadership skills,” Lawrence said. “When COVID hit, her first thought went to their needs in terms of providing food and making sure food is available, and making sure the kids have internet access and devices.”

Clark and her secretary, Katie Putnam, visited each staff member’s house to check on them and to bring them a goodie bag to keep their spirits up while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“They were small, but they meant a lot,” Lawrence said. “It showed that she cared.”

Clark also created “Marvelous Mondays” for the school — encouraging staff and students to either wear jeans on a Monday — or take advantage of a hot chocolate bar.

As both a parent and an educator under Clark, Lawrence said she and her husband chose to stay in the district when they had kids so they could attend Hall-Dale Elementary.

“One thing that distinguishes her from others is she is passionate,” Lawrence said. “I don’t think it’s just a job for her, she has a passion for education and the communities she worked in. She looks beyond the school; she cares about the community and families and makes it clear in her actions.”

Principal Kristie Clark had a basket of masks ready in case any student coming for first day of school needed one Sept. 8, 2020 at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell. She was recently named Maine Principals’ Association National Distinguished Principal of the Year. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

Jessica Gilbert, another teacher at Hall-Dale, described Clark as the “sun in a bright blue sky.”

Before the coronavirus, she recalled, students would run up to Clark and hug her whenever they saw her. Gilbert said she thinks the hardest part of the pandemic has been seeing both the students and Clark resist being able to interact with each other in that way.

The “sense of family” is Clark’s goal as an educator, and it pushed her to work even harder during the pandemic to make sure her staff felt that way, during what she called, “the hardest year for every educator in the state.”

“One of my goals is to make sure everyone feels connected to each other,” Clark said, “and I do believe in order to lead an institution, the people that work with you have to have that sense of belonging and whether they are staff or support staff, everyone on board has to feel connected to each other and have that sense of community.”

Superintendent Tonya Arnold has only worked in the school district for a year, but said she knew Clark would be memorable upon their meeting.

“Mrs. Clark is continuously learning,” Arnold said. “She spends hours brainstorming ideas to further staff and students. Her work ensures a comfortable, welcoming, positive climate for everyone.”

Clark will accept the award at a virtual banquet on April 29.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.