Back to school: New Yarmouth principal promises focus on teaching, learning

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YARMOUTH — Joan Adler has been promoted to principal of Frank H. Harrison Middle School after 14 years at the school.

Adler, who started at HMS in 2002 as an instructional strategist and became assistant principal in 2008, was appointed to the post in March by the School Committee. She started in the position on July 1.

Other changes taking place at the middle school include hiring of Tom McDowell as the new assistant principal. McDowell previously worked at Yarmouth High School as a special education teacher.

Being a school principal wasn’t always the dream for Adler, who began her career in education in 1985 in Portland. Working in Yarmouth made her want to hold a higher position, though, and principal “seems like the natural progression,” she said.

“It took this place, this community, these students, to make it clear that I would want to take on that challenge,” Adler said.

Former HMS Principal Bruce Brann, who had been at the school for 22 years, retired June 30. In total, he spent 26 years working in the Yarmouth School District.

More than 20 applications were received to fill Brann’s role and a 14-member search committee consisting of teachers, parents, administrators, and school committee members picked Adler.

Superintendent of Schools Andrew Dolloff in a press release said Adler is the perfect fit for the position.

“She is intelligent, enthusiastic, and experienced, and she has a genuine interest in the development of each student,” Dolloff said. “We are thrilled to be the beneficiaries of her professional advancement.”

Adler received her bachelor’s degree in family and community services from Syracuse University, and received her master’s degree in education from Temple University.

Brann provided Adler with many training tools over the years, for which Adler said she’s grateful. Transitioning from assistant principal to principal, though, will come with some changes.

“It’ll be a great balance to figure out which traditions we want to hold on to and where we want to be moving forward, which we’re always doing with our instruction,” she said.

Adler said she wants to “promote change that feels useful,” and that it’s important to always provide quality education that keeps students interested in learning.

“I think the biggest piece is keeping the focus on teaching and learning,” she said. “We’re here to create the most engaging learning environment we can.”

When students return to school on Sept. 6, Adler said she’ll be excited “to see how they’ve grown and changed.” Middle school is an interesting time of change in young people’s lives, she said, and the goal is to guide them through the process.

Being a good principal, Adler said, is about “really nurturing what their passions are. My role is helping them figure out what that is and keeping the excitement of learning alive.”

Adler said being aware of students’ social needs can be as important as being aware of their academic needs because middle school students are learning who they are as people, not just as students.

HMS staff are always “keeping our fingers on the pulse of the needs of the students,” Adler said.

One need that’s already been addressed is the need for sleep. The School Committee on May 26 decided to start and end the school day 20 minutes later at all four Yarmouth schools.

School will begin at HMS at 8:10 a.m. and the day will end at 2:45 p.m.

“We’re really hoping it’ll make a positive impact on our students and they’ll get the sleep they need,” Adler said. “We’ll continue seeking feedback throughout the year.”

Adler said she’s excited about the upcoming school year and said her plan for being a good principal will be “to listen and really be aware of the issues that affect our students developmentally as they move through the grades, to stay connected with parents and the community, and to work with the educators.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Joan Adler, the former assistant principal of Frank Harrison Middle School, is now the new principal of the Yarmouth school.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.