New Hope principal likes 'everything' about job
Hope — Danielle Fagonde wants students to have more fun.
“Learning should be fun,” said the new principal of Hope Elementary School, adding that too often, students who are excited about school in kindergarten lose that enthusiasm after a few years.
Her goal, she said is to “bring creativity back into public education,” and instill renewed passion for learning in Hope students.
Hired in April, Fagonde moved to Hope, along with her husband, Peter, and their sons, Eben, 9, and Micah, 5, July 1.
“I feel very comfortable here,” she said. “It’s a really good fit.”
She added that her family is happy about the move from Jonesport as well. Peter, who was a self-employed builder is now working for Pine Ridge Carpentry based in Hope, and the boys regard the Pen Bay Y as their “home away from home.”
She has enjoyed gardening and going out on her stand-up paddleboard, with Micah sitting on the board in front of her, Eben has been playing soccer, and both boys are eager to get into the Y’s wrestling program.
Both boys will attend Hope Elementary, which is one of the reasons Fagonde sought the principal’s job. While the chance to lead a National Blue Ribbon school was attractive in itself, she also felt there would be more opportunities for her children. And it didn’t hurt that they would be just a few miles from the Camden Snow Bowl, where the family likes to go snowboarding.
The family has planned a camping trip for Labor Day weekend.
For the last two years, Fagonde has been the principal of Jonesport Elementary School, where she taught first grade for nine years and special education for sixth through eighth grades for a year. Prior to that, she worked for two years on a quahog dragger, changing career paths, she said, when her husband remarked, “Your arms are getting bigger than mine.”
She has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science from the University of Maine at Machias, a master’s of education in school administration from the University of Maine at Orono, and is now in the Certified Advanced Graduate Study program at Orono. She plans to suspend her studies for this year, while she settles into her new position, she said.
Fagonde grew up in the Hudson Valley town of Newburgh, N.Y., and vacationed in Jonesport. After her parents divorced, her mother moved to Maine, which gave Fagonde another tie to the state. Peter Fagonde is from Beals Island, and his parents still live there, Danielle said.
Neither of her parents was a teacher, but her stepmother had taught first grade before Fagonde knew her, and her mother-in-law is a teacher as well, and was an important influence on her choice of career. She said she went into teaching because it fit well with her family and allowed her to work where she lived, rather than commuting a long way.
Saying, “I love everything about being a principal,” Fagonde added that “public education is very exciting,” and part of that excitement is because of the challenges educators face. In Jonesport, she said, she was used to “a bare-bones budget,” and learned how to find funding outside of tax dollars and provide programs at little or no cost to the town.
She stressed that it is important for teachers to do the most with the resources they have, and said that’s where new technology can be very helpful, for example, by bringing speakers into their classrooms via Skype. Fagonde said teachers also can use smart boards and noted that the school is now using electronic textbooks and students in sixth through eighth grades will have MacBook Air laptops this year.
Fagonde called her predecessor, Carol Hathorne, “amazing,” and said she did not plan any big changes for the coming year. One thing she hopes to institute is FISH Philosophy, so called because it was pioneered by the employees of the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle almost 30 years ago. It has four principles: Be there; Play; Make their day; Choose your attitude.
The approach can help reduce bullying, increase acceptance of difference and encourage students and teachers to give their best attention and have fun in class, she said.
She is also aware of the pressure on towns when it comes to funding schools. She said it is important for those responsible for school budgets to “take it into consideration that every dollar that we spend is coming from someone’s pocket.” Fagonde said she thought new School Union 69 Superintendent Nancy Weed would be more involved in the budgeting process than her predecessor had been, and that, like Weed, she expects to work with the town on that process. Regarding the school budget, she said, “It takes a team … we all have our own set of expertise.”
Fagonde is looking forward to the start of school Sept. 3.
“I believe that all students want to do well,” she said, adding that they will get that chance at Hope Elementary.
Sarah E. Reynolds is a reporter for the Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, hike and play word games.
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