Medomak Middle School students returned from summer vacation to new administration for the first time in eight years. Principal Michael Harris and Assistant Principal Joshua Snyder said they plan to focus on communication, connection, and involvement with their teachers, students, and families.
“We’re in the business of helping kids figure out who they are and what they want to do,” Snyder said.
Former Principal Kate Race started at the school in 2013 and former Assistant Principal Beth Anholm was hired full time in 2015. Both departed at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
Harris has 22 years of experience in education, working as a private school system’s assistant director in Pennsylvania, an assistant director of special education, a public high school teacher, and a K-12 principal.
Snyder has worked in education for 20 years, teaching middle and high school math and science in western Massachusetts. This is his fourth year in administration.
“Middle school is an exciting level,” Harris said, noting the many changes students face at that time in their lives. “It’s challenging for everyone.”
Harris, now of Harpswell, and Snyder, now of Newcastle, both said they were drawn to MMS by the district’s motto of “inspiring students to achieve lifelong success.”
“It’s been fantastic,” Snyder said. “You couldn’t ask for a more positive or welcoming community, both in terms of what we’re trying to create for students, but also in terms of welcoming us as new people to the district.”
Increasing behavioral challenges for middle school students were discussed at numerous meetings of the district’s board of directors last year, a subject both administrators said they feel prepared to address.
“So far, so good,” Harris said.
Harris said he spent the day with Race after his hire was approved by the board in June. He noted the school’s Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports Committee, which works to set expectations before school and “address small problems before they become big problems.”
The committee developed mini workshops for the first two days of school for students, according to Harris.
After his hiring, Harris was involved in hiring Snyder and a number of teachers, bringing MMS to full classroom staff.
“We have big shoes to fill,” Harris said.
Both Harris and Snyder said they appreciated the staff and systems they inherited from previous administrators, systems they plan to learn from as they settle into their roles.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for us to be learning leaders and leaders who learn,” Snyder said. “It’s just been very dynamic, and I think it’s worked really well.”
On the student level, they will focus on rebooting the PBIS program and find ways to connect with each student. Snyder said the high point of the new year was his first high-five from a student.
“We look to spend the bulk of our time out on the floor with students, developing rapport,” Harris said.
The administrators are focused on learning the district and its systems, rather than coming in with big plans for change.
“I’d like to think we’re all in the continuum model,” Harris said.
As part of that continuation, they continued the back-to-school hot dog cookout this year, putting on aprons and grilling for students and their families.
“I want … support for knowing the community’s expectations,” Harris said he told district Superintendent Steve Nolan. “People expect us to be accessible. Connecting with people electronically, face-to-face, going to a game – those are all important pieces.”
Though the two have backgrounds elsewhere, they said working in schools is similar in every state.
“When you focus on kids and you work with staff that focuses on kids, things are far more similar than different,” Harris said.