2017-01-13 / Front Page

Dr. Crowley ready to call it a career

Principal has spent 28 years in education and will retire June 30
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Dr. Kevin Crowley, principal at the Mildred L. Day Elementary School in Arundel, stands at the entrance of the school’s new library. Crowley has announced he will retire June 30, shortly after the finishing touches to the building’s $8.56 million renovation project are complete. (Duke Harrington photo) Dr. Kevin Crowley, principal at the Mildred L. Day Elementary School in Arundel, stands at the entrance of the school’s new library. Crowley has announced he will retire June 30, shortly after the finishing touches to the building’s $8.56 million renovation project are complete. (Duke Harrington photo) After 28 years in education, including the past seven as principal of the Mildred L. Day Elementary School in Arundel, punctuated by a year as interim superintendent, Dr. Kevin Crowley says he will retire at the end of the current school year.

Crowley made the announcement in a Jan. 3 letter to parents, noting both the recent achievement of students — they placed No. 1 in the state in math and No. 2 in reading on standardized tests administered last spring — and the imminent completion of an $8.56 million renovation project to the school — the new parking lot and other finishing touches are due to be completed by mid-April.

“I am very proud of all we have accomplished as a school community. I will always treasure my fond memories of the staff, families and especially the children of this extraordinary school,” Crowley wrote. “I am eternally grateful to you all. Wherever my next journey in life takes me, my heart will always be with MLD.”

According to RSU 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes, the school board is slated to officially accept Crowley’s retirement at its Jan. 18 meeting.

“As you can imagine, this news is bittersweet,” she said. “Kevin has done incredible work for the staff and students at MLD and for the entire RSU 21 school community. We wish him all the best in retirement.”

Advertisements have already been placed for Crowley’s replacement. The deadline for applications is Monday, Feb. 6. A survey seeking community input on the attributes most desired in a new principal will be distributed electronically on Jan. 20, with answers due by Feb. 3, Hawes said.

A search committee, selected by Hawes and the MLD leadership team will review the survey data and meet on Feb. 8 to vet all resumes submitted for the job. Candidates selected for interviews will sit before the search committee March 1, with finalists scheduled to visit the school and meet various stakeholder groups March 6.

Hawes is expected to make her final choice March 8, followed by a school board vote on March 20.

Will all that pending, Crowley, 61, took time after school on Monday, Jan. 9, to talk to the Post about his career, his decision to retire, and what’s next on his docket.

Q: Where are you from, originally?

A: Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Q: What led you as a young man to want to go into education?

A: I worked at a day camp during my high school years and absolutely loved it. I went to Rollins College and got a B.A. in business and I got an elementary teaching certificate.

Q: And you went right into education?

A: No, actually. When I got out of school I ran my own electrical company for 13 years and then left that and picked up a teaching job.

Q: What precipitated that life change?

A: Well, I found that everything in business was about money. At that time in my life, it was just time to make that change. I went to the Memorial Elementary School in South Natick, Massachusetts, and the principal at the time let me go in for six weeks and just sit in the classroom and get reacquainted with it. I landed my first job right out of that. I taught fourth grade at Brown Elementary School in Natick for a year, then I went to Kennedy Middle School [in Natick] for four years. Then I landed at the principalship at Johnson Elementary School, also in Natick. That was a school very much like Mildred Day. It was a close community school. We only had about 20 kids get on a bus, the rest all walked.

Q: And you continued your education?

A: Yes, after starting in education I went for my masters degree and then to Boston College for my doctorate.

Q: Did you ever doubt your decision to jump career tracks?

A: No, I never looked back. This is just where I feel comfortable. I don’t feel like I go to work every day. This hasn’t ever been a chore. It’s always been a pleasure. I have always liked K-5 best. I’ve always preferred small schools. I also worked at Memorial Elementary School in Natick. That was almost 500 kids, and that just wasn’t the same experience.

Q: What is it you’ve liked about smaller schools, such as MLD?

A: It’s more intimate. You know the kids. You know their parents. You know their dog’s name. And you really get to know the teachers, as well, and I think that makes a difference. Everybody makes choices about what they want to do with their lives, and, in my case, smaller schools were just a better fit for me.

Q: What made you want to make the move up from classroom teacher to administrator?

A: I think it was one of those things where, you go where you think you can do the most good. I think at that point in time in Natick, that was a pretty good fit.

Q: And what brought you to Maine, and landing your first job here as principal of Sea Road Elementary School.

A: We had a house up here that we would come up to for the summers, and it got to where it was just easier to stay here than go home. Also, my wife’s family is from Maine — her mother and father actually live in Arundel. So, it was one of those things where it was just easier to stay here. I remember I got hired on a July 25, and I couldn’t tell Nadick at that point in time I was leaving, so they actually brought in an interim at Sea Road and held the position for me for a year. That was nice because I got the chance to come up and visit the school four or five times during that year, so I had a really idea of what I was walking into. And it was great. I was there for six years and them came over to Mildred Day when Arundel joined the RSU.

Q: How did your experience as a private business owner impact your school leadership, if at all?

A: I’m a pretty pragmatic person — a black and white person. I think my wife will tell you that. The teachers here at Mildred Day will tell you that. I think some things are just common sense. You just call it like you see it. Whether you’re leading 30 electricians, or 30 teachers, ed techs, and support staff, how that all works is pretty much the same. You want everybody moving in the same direction, looking at the same goals. If that happens, it’s really not that complicated. I will say, in my 13 years here in RSU 21, it’s been great, with just everybody on board and always looking to get better.

Q: So, the big question is, why retire?

A: It’s time. I think six or seven years is enough time at a school. That’s about when I typically move. And I think for right now, for where my wife Wendy and I are, we’re ready to just take it easy. I’m all set. My wife is worried because I’m going to be home all day, and I think that scares the heck out of her, quite frankly. [laughs] But it’s time. It’s a good time for both of us right now. Also, I had parents that had me working very early. I had paper routes, shoveled driveways, there was a work ethic instilled in all of us. It’s been a good run, but it’s one of those things where it’s finally time to take it easy and enjoy the time I have left.

Q: Do you have any immediate post-retirement plans?

A: I will stay with the high school building project until that’s complete, for whatever they need me to do with that. But, other than that, we’ll travel. I like to fish. I like to play golf. So, we’ll do those things. We plan to stay in Kennebunk where we live now — no plans to move anywhere else.

Q: What is your involvement with the high school renovation?

A: Rudy [RSU 21 Business Manager Bruce Rudolph] and I split the project coordinator position. That’s been a stipended job. It’ll last probably another year and a half, maybe two, by the time we get done with the “punch list” and everything else to do with the new high school.

Q: What has been your proudest accomplishment at MLD?

A: Two here. I’d say the increase in student achievement. Clearly, I’m very proud of that, as are the entire staff. And then the building project — getting a building in this community that matches the quality of the kids and teachers and residents, and one that is not sinking into the ground. This is a very important building and one that will get a lot of community use.

Q: What is your explanation for the increase in student test scores, because you haven’t had a big turnover in staff since the days when MLD finished in the bottom 40 percent of Maine elementary schools, have you?

A: Nope. Same teachers are here that were here before. It was simply about getting them the tools and resources they needed to do it. Joining the RSU was a really good move for the town of Arundel. I think it’s made the RSU stronger and the RSU has made MLD stronger.

Q: How so?

A: There’s just strength in numbers and economies of scale. When you put a finite number of teachers together, there are finite viewpoints available. When you put more people in the same room, talking about the same common objectives and goals, you get more viewpoints and you get better ways to do it. I think that’s proven out across the district.

Q: And what are some of the tools and resources in that time that made a difference?

A: Some of it was technology that’s easy to see — Smartboards in the classrooms, current laptops for the teachers, going to one-to-one computing for grades 2-5 with the Chrome Books. Those are the obvious things. Then I think it was an effort to unify the curriculum between all of our schools, and that’s something that Katie [Hawes] has preached since she got here — unifying the experience for kids regardless of which school they go to in the RSU. I think that when there is a commonality of purpose, and everyone is heading in the same direction with the same goal, it’s just an easier thing to accomplish. It defines the word “system” for the district. Q: What are the best parts of the building renovation?

A: The gym. We use it all day and then students are in there before and after school with the town parks and rec department. The building utilization on that room alone is probably close to 90 percent. So, that’s key. And then the library, without a doubt. But then there’s the HVAC system. Now, our heating system works. There are no longer hot and cold spots and it’s a comfortable building. You can tell just by the air you’re breathing, it is a healthier building for kids and adults.

Q: How important is the building itself to the learning experience?

A: I think it’s huge. There was great teaching and learning going on in the old building. It’s just easier in this building because of the climate.

Q: What has been the hardest part of your tenure at MLD? Was it the attempts of some residents to withdraw Arundel from the RSU?

A: Yeah, just staying out of the middle of that. We kind of chuckle about it now, but our goal at the time was to be Switzerland — we were not going anywhere near either one of the sides. Whatever happened, we still needed to deal with it and take care of their kids. I applaud the efforts of everyone in this building. They did that to a T, both the teachers and the support staff. They did just a great job of navigating that whole thing.

Q: What else would you like folks to know about MLD and where it’s going, as you head off into the sunset?

A: Well, it’s not just Mildred Day — I had a great six years over at Sea Road [Elementary]. It’s a very, very unique place, RSU 21. You have three different towns, three governing bodies in each of those towns, and then the RSU. But there’s just really, really talented people who make education come alive for these kids each and every day. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be a part of it.

Q: What kind of advice would you offer to your replacement?

A: Enjoy it. Whoever comes in is going to enjoy it. This is a great school. People come here and they don’t leave. They retire from here, but they tend not to leave. Teachers, ed techs, the front office, our food service people — there’s one woman who’s been serving lunch for 18 years — this is a very warm, very close-knit community. So, whoever comes here is going to be very lucky.

Q: And when July 1 comes and it’s all over, what do you think you’ll miss most about your time in public education?

A: The kids. It’s an obvious answer, I guess, but that’s it. That’s what made it feel like it wasn’t “work” every day. They’re what always made the job a good place to be.

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