Scrolling through Yarmouth Elementary School’s website, photos show children reading books while wearing tall paper hats constructed with red and white stripes in honor of Dr. Seuss for Read Across America Day. They show children touching sea creatures一hard-shelled crabs and slimy mollusks一during a lesson on tide pools. They are typing code on iPads, navigating trombone slide positions for school band performances, and sporting brightly colored, funky stockings for Wacky Sock Day.
“It’s a time of wonder and excitement,” explains Principal Ryan Gleason MSEd ’14. “That’s what I love about this age cohort.”
Principal Gleason joined Yarmouth Elementary in 2017 with 25 years of Maine educational experience, having previously served Falmouth Elementary School, Durham Community School, and Saint Dominic’s Academy in Lewiston. His passion for supporting social and emotional development through educational experiences guided his career as he transitioned from teacher to administrator.
“I enjoy serving as a change agent for students. I also want to make a positive impact on as many people as possible,” he says. This recognition of personal goals led him, in 2010, to enroll in the online Master of Science in Education (MSEd)一School Leadership Concentration at Saint Joseph’s College. This concentration is designed for principals, headmasters, teacher-leaders, and other professionals seeking leadership positions in educational administration. Coursework covers a range of managerial topics such as organizational theory, school finance, community relations, and laws pertaining to civil rights and education. The Professional Standards for Educational Leaders frame the degree. These standards are recognized by many states and include what all school leaders, regardless of grade level or context, can do to strengthen organizations, support teachers, lead instruction, and advance student learning.
“I was attracted to the Saint Joseph’s program because of the flexibility that allowed me to juggle my work and home schedule,” Principal Gleason says. “The professors were very responsive and helped me map out a plan for my course of study.” Setting his own pace at one course per semester, including summer sessions, he finished in four years.
Principal Gleason has lived in Yarmouth for 20 years with his wife Sheila. Their two children graduated from the Yarmouth school system, so he acknowledges that his current position is truly a “dream job.” In just his second year in this role, Yarmouth Elementary was honored as a National Blue Ribbon School, one of only 300 public schools (alongside 49 private schools) selected in the country by the Department of Education for “standards of excellence evidenced by student achievement measures.” Yarmouth Elementary underwent an audit of its academics, school culture, professional development, and achievement gap, with the results earning it an Exemplary High Performing School. In November 2018, Principal Gleason traveled to Washington D.C. with Yarmouth Superintendent Dr. Andrew Dolloff, former Yarmouth Elementary Principal Betsy Lane, and Yarmouth Elementary Tech Integrator Cathy Wolinsky to accept the honor. “It has been validating for staff to be recognized for many years of great work,” Principal Gleason says. “An important part of leadership is building capacity. It’s essential to have a collaborative team and to mobilize strength in others.”
Located on the Maine coast, about twelve miles north of Portland, Yarmouth’s school system has earned a strong reputation for its achievements, garnering recognitions in areas such as college preparedness. Over at the high school, students delegate at Model United Nations conferences, debate at regional competitions, and compete for state athletic championships. In 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked Yarmouth High School first in the state of Maine and 209 overall in the country, based on assessments, college prep, and graduation rates.
Yarmouth High School Principal Eric Klein MSEd ’18 joined the district in 2015 and echoes much of what Principal Gleason lists as positives of the master’s program at Saint Joseph’s. “The flexibility was exceptional一it allowed me to work around all my other responsibilities一whether chaperoning Prom or late night administrative meetings.” He also acknowledges that the fall and spring are the busiest times of the year for him so it was helpful to focus some of his coursework during summer and winter breaks.
In 2018, U.S. News & World Report ranked Yarmouth High School first in the state of Maine and 209 overall in the country. Photo: Emma Joyce.
Principal Klein began his MSEd一School Leadership at Saint Joseph’s while serving as principal at Gray-New Gloucester High School. Previous to that, he taught English at Scarborough and Bonny Eagle, having already earned a master’s in teaching from the University of Rochester.
“One of the biggest differences between teaching and serving as a principal is that on any given day, I never know what’s going to come through that door,” he says, referring to the varied administrative responsibilities that arise. “You have to be willing to adapt.”
He learned about Saint Joseph’s through his wife, alum Danielle Waterman Klein ’94, who studied business and marketing and was inducted into the Saint Joseph’s Hall of Fame in 2000 for her outstanding career as a pitcher for the softball program. She works as the director of Long Term Disability Claims for Reliance Standard Life in South Portland. They have two sons and reside in Buxton.
A large challenge一and opportunity一currently facing Yarmouth is increasing enrollment. In November 2018, the voters of Yarmouth approved a $52 million bond for the expansion of all four Yarmouth schools, and a complete renovation of the Elementary School. Both Principal Klein and Principal Gleason have been poring over architectural plans, acquiring permits, and envisioning the future of education for their community as it grows.
This kind of detailed planning requires patience, foresight, and a concept that Principal Gleason identifies as a “culture of continuous improvement.” Both principals are constantly asking and identifying how to best elevate programming, resources, and outcomes as they uphold Yarmouth’s mission statement: “Empowering all students to create fulfilling lives in a changing world.”