Retiring principal championed outdoor learningHails Common Core as major development of last 30 years
Appleton — In his 32 years in public education, Gary Bosk has been a sort of Johnny Appleseed, establishing greenhouses in many of the schools where he has worked.
Bosk, who is retiring after four years as principal of Appleton Village School, began his career in education somewhat by chance. In 1981, he helped his father move from California to East Machias, then stayed to help his dad make repairs on his house. He took advantage of the opportunity to finish his bachelor's degree at the University of Maine's campus nearby, majoring in environmental science. With few jobs available in his field at the time, he took a position teaching special education to students in sixth through 12th grades in East Machias, and did outdoor education with them, starting a greenhouse.
He was also behind the well-regarded greenhouse program at Belfast's Troy Howard Middle School during his tenure as assistant principal and principal there. In addition, he helped establish walking trails on the school's 80-acre campus, a cross-country track and a ropes course.
And as principal of Trenton Elementary School, his last position before Appleton, he got a greenhouse going as well. “They had a greenhouse that somebody had donated to the school, but they just didn't know what to do with it. I said, 'Let's put it up'.”
Appleton had already started its Appleton Roots Garden before he arrived, but he has supported it, he said, and has also encouraged his staff to use the school grounds for science study. The school had a ropes course as well when Bosk came, which he has made available to other schools and veterans' groups.
“It's a good way to get kids outdoors,” and gives them training in both leadership and teamwork, he said.
After teaching for a while, Bosk got his master's in education at Machias, and went on to teach high school math in Lubec before going into administration as principal of Rose Gaffney Elementary School in East Machias, and subsequently to Troy Howard. He has also taught advanced math at Belfast High School and served as principal of Edna Drinkwater Elementary in Northport.
Looking back, he said the thing he has enjoyed most about his career has been working with the children. “That's what it's all about,” he said. He feels it is important students have the opportunity to see school as a place where they can succeed and do something remarkable.
For that reason, he is particularly proud that during his time at Appleton the school has developed “a good, solid RTI [Response to Intervention] program.” The program incorporates a period into each child's schedule called “flex-time,” which is used to give students who need it extra instruction so they can meet the Common Core Standards without holding their classmates back. The time also allows accelerated students to do more challenging work, he said.
“Creating an education program that meets the needs of all children means that we have to be very flexible,” Bosk said.
As part of that flexible approach, teachers target lessons to different learning styles and “orchestrate” their students' instruction. “They have to be on-target with every kid,” the principal said.
Teachers work in teams, and have authority to make decisions about instruction. For example, first-grade teacher Linda Blackler and second-grade teacher Jared Todd teach reading and math, respectively, to both classes combined, Bosk said, allowing them to spend extra time with those who need it.
While that kind of teaching is demanding, the Appleton teachers are excited to see children growing as a result, he said.
Bosk said his school has reversed the traditional positions of three elements of education: instruction, time and learning. It used to be that instruction and time were constants and students learned whatever they could in the time allotted and with the instruction method chosen by the teacher.
Under his leadership, Appleton works to tailor instruction and time so that all students can learn at high levels, Bosk explained. “Learning must always be the constant for children, and instruction and time become the variables,” he said.
Bosk said the biggest change he has seen in his career is the development of the Common Core Standards and support for implementing it, a development he has been glad to see. “Here's something we believe all kids need to know in order to be successful,” he said.
He added that what children are being prepared for has changed a lot in the last 30 years, too. Today, it is critical to be able to learn, unlearn and relearn throughout one's life, he said.
As a result, it is more important than ever to support art, music and language programs in schools, Bosk believes, because “those are the things where you see kids begin to blossom in their creativity. We are by nature creative.” One such program he has been enthusiastic about is Stories of the Land and Its People, developed by the Farnsworth Art Museum with area elementary and middle schools.
He would like to see arts made a part of the core curriculum, rather than being treated as extras, and he said he thinks that is beginning to happen.
His advice to his successor is "Rely on the staff, because they're very knowledgeable, and they can teach you a lot."
Bosk's retirement will be partly dedicated to continuing his own education. Having played the guitar since his early teens, he wants to devote more time to his music. Bosk played professionally as a young man and has written more than 250 songs over the years in a variety of styles, and looks forward to playing and composing more. In the last two or three years, he has started learning to build stringed instruments, he said, and will use some of his newly available time to pursue that as well.
He also has family in Belfast, Castine, the Portland area and the western mountains of Maine, as well as around the country and abroad.
And, perhaps predictably for a man as passionate about education as Bosk, he will not leave the field entirely, but will stay connected through educational consulting.
“Education has given me so much, it's an opportunity for me to give back,” he said.