New principals ready to ring in new year Marblehead elementary schools

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Brown School Principal Mary Maxfield, left, and Glover School Principal Hope Doran

The members of the incoming pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes at Marblehead’s Brown and Glover schools will not be the only ones beginning a new adventure when the school year starts Sept. 6. Welcoming them will be two principals who are new to Marblehead, too.

Brown School’s Mary Maxfield and Glover School’s Hope Doran recently took a brief break from settling into their new professional homes to discuss with Marblehead News their backgrounds, their thoughts on the impact COVID-19 continues to have on education, and the most interesting items in their offices.

Q: Tell me a little bit about who you are and where you are coming to Marblehead from.

Hope Doran: I’ve been in education for about 23 years. My most recent position was as an assistant principal for the Penn Brook School in Georgetown, which is a K-6 school. I was the assistant principal there for the last eight years. Prior to that, I was an assistant principal at the middle school level in Wilmington and an interim principal there for a bit, as well as a former teacher. I’ve also worked in special education as well for CASE Collaborative. I’m really excited to take that next step and be principal here at Glover.

Mary Maxfield: I started out as a paraprofessional and got bitten by the bug of education and then became a teacher and then a guidance counselor, an assistant principal and then principal. So, I’ve been doing the public ed thing for about 35 years. I was a principal for 15 years in Barrington, New Hampshire, and I’m very proud of the work that I did there. We actually were elementary school of the year [in the state in 2019]. I like to tell people that we are the longest running elementary school of the year ever. Because of COVID they haven’t had an elementary school of the year since. So, we’re still reigning.

Q: What interested you in coming to Marblehead?

Hope Doran: It’s a really nice community that values education, and it’s small – for me, Glover is a nice small community, where everyone knows each other. The kids walk to school and it just has a really nice feel.

Mary Maxfield: I would say ditto on all counts, that I love a neighborhood school, for sure. I love that they value education.

I’m very, very fortunate to be in this beautiful new school here at the Brown School. I’m still learning the ins and outs and trying to make sure that I hold onto this [holds up ID], so I can make sure I can get in everywhere.

But also, I have family here in Marblehead, and I am excited to be closer to family. I fell in love with the North Shore area when my oldest son went to Endicott years ago.

Everybody’s been incredibly welcoming and supportive. Even throughout the interview process, you could see how interested people were in being supportive of the new person coming in.

Q. You said you had family in Marblehead?

Mary Maxfield: My son lives here…  and he’s excited to have me here. That’s a plus. They’re not always excited to have you around. (Laughs.)

Q. The arrival of both of you means that every student in pre-K through grade three will be coming into a building with a new leader in it. What kind of opportunities does that present?

Hope Doran. It’s a sort of a reset. We can work together across the town between Glover and Brown and make things consistent for students. Mary and I have already been working closely together this summer, which is really nice to have that partner across town and trying to bring the two schools together so students get a similar experience at both buildings.

Mary Maxfield: I would echo those sentiments. We are the only population in Marblehead that goes to two different schools – grades four to six go to the same school and middle school is at the same school and the high school, so it’s easy for parents to get a little more anxious about that. I think it behooves us to work even closer together than some of the other administrators, just because we want to make sure that, with regard to curriculum and communication, parents know what they’re learning when they’re learning it and how they can support that learning.

Hope Doran: We already made a video for parents, and our plan is to do that throughout the year together and give parents updates about what’s happening in the schools, pre-K to three.

Mary Maxfield: I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re not going to be lockstep. People are people and humans are humans, and we want to make sure, with teachers, we still honor their style and the way that they bring the curriculum and the learning to the children. But we also want to make sure that what they’re learning is consistent.

Q: And it does seem like you genuinely like one another.

Mary Maxfield: We actually do! We clicked right away, and we’re able to have really open, honest, great conversations. We’ve agreed, we’ve disagreed, and that’s good. I think it’s already started to be a great working relationship now.

Hope Doran: Right, I think we connect every day at some point.

Mary Maxfield: We do. We see each other as both a colleague and a resource and a teammate. If we’ve got that, I think we’re going to do just fine.

Hope Doran: I already emailed Mary this morning about something that she had done in a previous district that I want to set up for Glover.

Q. Why did you decide to do a video, rather than just email parents?

Hope Doran: People can see us, which I think is important. It’s nice to have the visual and the audio for parents. But we’re also going to communicate in written form. We’ll do both.

Mary Maxfield: Our vision is certainly we will communicate with our families independently, but at least trimesterly, we will do like a recap: Here’s what all first graders have learned this first trimester. Here’s where we are across the district. Here’s where we are Brown; here’s where we are Glover – we’re very close to that. That will also provide some accountability for us, to make sure that we’re delivering on what we hope to do.

Both of us are enthusiastic, but we’re also highly communicative people – that’s a nice way of saying we both like to talk a lot.

Hope Doran: That’s true. (Laughs.)

Mary Maxfield: But I think we are both really good listeners, too, and I think that’s important for the parents and community to know: that we’re willing to listen, and please reach out to us.

With the video piece, I developed a YouTube channel over COVID because I needed to communicate so often with parents and would read stories to kids and all of those kinds of things. The feedback that I received was that that was so helpful for them because we weren’t seeing each other, so we needed that. That was a void that was filled.

But there will be newsletters and print as well.

Q: From watching your video, I know Glover’s newsletter is called the Glover Gazette, and the Brown one is… to be determined?

Hope Doran: She’ll come up with a good one.

Mary Maxfield: I’ve always called it “The Max Facts.” 

Hope Doran: I like that.

Mary Maxfield: I liked it, too, but it doesn’t have the word “Brown” in it, so I’m considering other names.

Q: COVID has already come up a couple of times in our conversation. I imagine with this youngest student population, it has been a particular challenge. What have been some of the effects of the pandemic on this group of students, and to what extent will COVID still impact how education is delivered next year?

Hope Doran: Second- and third-graders really didn’t have a regular school experience for two years. I noticed it in students last year, socially and emotionally, they needed support. Students always need support in that way, and they need to be taught those skills, but especially because they were isolated for so long that they’re lagging in those skills, where they weren’t before. So, they’re going to need support in that, and we do have a Second Step curriculum that the teachers use to help students with those social emotional skills.

Any skills that they’re lagging in, we will use our assessment data to see where they’re at and put in interventions to meet their needs. But these kids didn’t have a regular school experience, and we are going to see the fallout from that and have to provide supports to help them.

Mary Maxfield: I think I think we’re getting there. I certainly think that a lot of schools did a lot of things last year to try to address both. We often talk about “social emotional,” but those can be two very different things. We have some kids who had some emotional needs that needed to be addressed, but also social skills that are related to just being a student.

I often like thinking about our incoming third-graders. They were halfway through kindergarten when we shut down. When we think about that, the second part of kindergarten is really about independence; it’s about getting your own pencil when it breaks or hanging up your coat and providing those expectations, so those kids become a student and ready for first grade.

Well, not only did they not get that experience, they went back into their parents’ laps. They went backwards. They may have been on Zoom, but they were literally sitting in the laps of their parents and not at a desk and not learning those independent skills.

There are some kids who really struggle emotionally coming back and making that separation, particularly our youngest, but there’s also those social skills associated with working with 20 other students in a room.

I also believe that the curriculum has taken a hit. We’re still identifying those gaps that kids may have missed.

But I think the future looks bright. I like to look on the positive side. I think we’ve learned a whole lot, and I think moving forward we’re going to know what to do so that we don’t have as many gaps moving forward, while we are backfilling those gaps.

But we certainly can’t take for granted that students have the knowledge and skills that they need to move on to a particular unit lesson because they all didn’t have the same experience, where we used to be able to count on that.

Q: Paint me a picture of what it looks like to be a principal coming into a new school. How have you been spending your time? How crazy has it been for you?

Hope Doran: We’re busy for sure. It’s been meeting with teachers, and getting to know the community has been a huge part of that. Mary and I both had calendars we sent out to teachers to sign up and meet with us, so that’s been wonderful getting to meet different members of the community.

I’ve met with some members of the PTO, the members of our Harvest of the Month program that we’re going to be incorporating to bring different foods from local farms into our cafeterias for students.

The other part of that has been hitting the ground running with hiring. That’s been a lot of the work. We have some new teachers and staff members to hire for the fall.

That’s been something that we’ve both been doing and communicating about who we’re interviewing and getting to know our leadership team. We just had some training, the last couple days with the Marblehead leadership team, which was wonderful. So, we’ve been really busy.

Mary Maxfield: Yes, we have been busy. Meeting the staff has been the most valuable piece, just putting out the schedule and asking people to come in and spend a few minutes chatting and getting to know them.

I’m spending a lot of time learning about security and alarms and keys and how to get from one place to another, meeting with facilities people, the food service people, parents who have a concern, learning all the new programs.

At least once a day I spend some time walking through the building, on the playground, through the gardens, just getting a sense of everything.

We’ve also had a significant amount of hiring to do so, we spent a lot of time interviewing new folks. We had some open teaching positions, some special education positions, and counseling positions. We’re still looking for lunch monitors.

Hope Doran: Yes, at both schools!

Mary Maxfield: Yes, exactly, please put that in there. Lunch and recess monitors, we need two.

Hope Doran: And we need two as well.

Mary Maxfield: We still need a secretary, too. So, lots going on. Yesterday, we had a phenomenal morning with our leadership team. That was just a great morning for us.

Hope Doran: It was wonderful. It’s a really nice team, and it felt great to all sit down and get together and get to know one another. We did some team building, and we’ve been talking about mission and visions for the year. It’s been really exciting work.

Mary Maxfield: From parents to staff members to the leadership team to my head of facilities who just checks in and says, “What can I do? Are you all set? How can I help?” It’s just been very supportive.

Q: Sell me on the position of lunch and recess monitor.

Mary Maxfield: Do you love spending time with smiling, joyful children?

Hope Doran: It is a joyful position, for sure. 

Mary Maxfield: Would you like a free lunch? I’ll pay for their lunch every day.

Hope Doran: If you love children, it’s a really great job. You get to spend a lot of time with kids and have conversations with kids. You’ll be smiling the whole time. It’s just a couple hours in the middle of the day.

Q. What’s the most interesting item you have in your office?

Hope Doran: I have lots of lobsters in my office because our mascot is Rocky the Lobster over here at Glover. So I have hats with lobster claws coming off of them that I can wear, lobster necklaces, and lobster temporary tattoos.

I think that’s really neat, and I’m going to try when I decorate my office to incorporate that theme.

Mary Maxfield: I have this bell [holds up brass bell with wooden handle]. It is a real school bell that [belonged to] my great uncle. He was a schoolmaster at a one-room schoolhouse in New Hampshire, and it was his school bell. So, it travels with me.

Q. What sort of the biggest change you’ve seen in education in the time you’ve been in it?

Hope Doran: When I started in education, there wasn’t as much of a focus on data.

Now, it’s something that’s just what we do. We look at students, we see what they need individually and drill down deep into that data and design what they need.

Mary Maxfield: You’re absolutely right. It has been an enormous shift for teachers. They have become diagnosticians. I forget who said it, but [someone said,] “Teaching reading is not rocket science; it’s harder than rocket science.” It’s complex, and what works for one just doesn’t always work for another, and what’s holding one up is different than what’s holding another one up.

We’ve learned a lot about how the brain works in terms of phonemic awareness and phonological awareness and how students learn – literacy acquisition, as well as math. We’ve become scientists, and all for good reasons.

Kids have been kids for years, and by and large the same. I do think – and this is not necessarily a Marblehead thing, because I wouldn’t know this for sure – but what I have seen is the more technology that students have access to at a younger age, the pros and cons of that, and how we are needing to manage it. That has been a challenge.

Technology is a double-edged sword, for sure. There are some children who have vocabulary deficits and communication deficits because they’re not verbalizing as much. They’re watching a lot; they’re listening a lot.

Then there are others for whom it’s been a lifesaver. We have assistive technologies that, for some of our more needy students, it’s a lifesaver for them, it’s a lifeline for them.

Q.  Suppose we’re talking next June. What are a couple of things you hope to be able to say as you look back on the year to call it a success.

Hope Doran: That students have progressed and learned in a safe environment. They’re happy to come to school every day and we’ve built a strong community. We want to work on the curriculum and make sure that it’s consistent and that students are learning what they need to learn. I think those are all good markers for this first year.

Mary Maxfield: I think you covered it. Kids are healthy, happy, and learning in a safe, respectful environment. All students make a minimum of one year’s growth, and all teachers and staff members feel good about getting up and coming to a place that supports them and that is just a happy place to be. When we’re happy, kids are happy.

This school, particularly, has not had a beginning of the year. We did not open until October last year, so they have not had a true beginning of the year together. So, I’m really looking forward to ringing this bell [holds up great uncle’s bell] on the first day, which I always do.

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