Monday, December 9, 2013
AUGUSTA — Making a lap of Farrington Elementary School last week, Principal Lori Smail exchanged waves with kindergarteners choosing picture books in the library, ducked into a second grade classroom to talk with two boys about their reading and exhorted a class passing her in the hallway to “Work hard, guys!”
Farrington Elementary School principal Lori Smail will be going to Washington D.C. soon to receive an award,
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Principal Lori Smail chats with student Sam Goldey during a classroom visit Wednesday at Farrington School in Augusta.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
When students arrive in the morning and leave in the afternoon, Smail escorts them where they need to go and tries to greet as many as possible by name.
“Some principals come into school and go in their office, and they’re swamped with paperwork and swamped with everything that they have to get done,” fourth grade teacher Jessica Walling said. “Lori saves all that stuff for after school hours so she can be in the hallways and in the classrooms. She walks into every classroom I’d say two or three times a week.”
Smail’s hands-on leadership and accessibility were among the reasons the Maine Principals Association named her the state’s elementary principal of the year.
“I was honored, I was thrilled, and I had no idea I would even be in contention,” Smail said. “I see so many outstanding administrators in my field.”
She received recognition for the award at Farrington and at a statewide banquet in the spring. This week, she and other top principals from around the country will be celebrated in Washington, D.C.
A Maine Principals Association committee interviewed parents and staff about Smail and reviewed recommendation letters. In naming her principal of the year, they cited her enthusiasm, her efforts to welcome community involvement and a visibility in the school that helped her bring about a school culture of pride and respect.
Smail has led Farrington for two years, after working the previous two years as principal of Augusta’s Lincoln Elementary. Prior to a period of working in schools in Sabattus and Wales, Smail taught special education at Lincoln.
Tamara Blair Kirk, the treasurer for Farrington’s Parent-Teacher Committee, said she was excited when Smail came to Farrington, her family’s neighborhood school. Blair Kirk’s daughters, twins who are now in fourth grade, had attended prekindergarten at Lincoln, and they were impressed that Smail could tell them apart and remember their names from three years earlier.
Farrington’s staff averages nearly 20 years of experience, but Blair Kirk said there’s a new energy at the school, and the climate of the place has changed.
“When we tried to volunteer with our son several years ago, we were told thanks but no thanks,” Blair Kirk said. “It seemed very closed, and now the school just feels a lot more open. They want parents to be there, and a lot of the focus is how they can better communicate with parents.”
Blair Kirk attributed that openness to the leadership of Smail, who organized an open house before school began, instead of a week or two into the school year as had been traditional.
At that first open house two years ago, Smail said that school staff had work to do — Farrington was not meeting targets set by federal education law — and parents needed to do their part, as well. Blair Kirk said she found that refreshing.
“Changing culture’s a really difficult thing to do, and she just isn’t afraid to get in there, roll up her sleeves and make clear what the expectations are,” Blair Kirk said, “and then help everyone to meet those expectations.”
Smail said her goal when she arrived at Farrington was to create a united school community with a clear concept of what it means to be at Farrington. The core idea is respect. Signs hanging around the building advise: “Respect yourself. Respect others. Respect your school.”
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