Hollis Elementary School Principal Clay Gleason stands in the front hallway of the school on Wednesday after being named Maine’s National Association of Elementary School Principals National Distinguished Principal for 2019. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune

HOLLIS —  Principal Clay Gleason’s office at Hollis Elementary School is adorned with Star Wars collectibles and New England Patriots photos. The door is usually kept open, so he can see the goings on of the school.

He has a walk-in policy, and parents don’t need appointments to see him. When a parent has an issue that involves their child, he said, they want it addressed right away and don’t want to have to wait.

Gleason is fun, accessible and knows what goes on in his school and these are just some of the reasons that he’s been named Maine’s National Association of Elementary School Principals National Distinguished Principal for 2019.

He is scheduled to be honored Thursday night at the annual awards banquet at the Maine Principals’ Association spring conference Thursday night in Rockport.

The NAESP’s National Distinguished Principal program recognizes elementary and middle level principals who set high standards for instruction, student achievement, character, and climate for the students, families, and staffs in their learning communities.

Gleason will attend the National Distinguished Principal program’s annual event in October in Washington D.C.

Gleason decided at a young age to go into the field of education. His father, a teacher and later a principal, was his role model. And for 24 of his 46 years, Gleason, has followed his dream.

He began his career as a middle school science teacher in Mechanic Falls. He served as assistant principal at Bonny Eagle for 10 years and has been principal at Hollis Elementary School for seven years.

To get a sense of what has made Gleason a principal worthy of recognition, one only has to read a list the school’s Pre-K class made of reasons “Why we Love Mr. Gleason.” Reasons on the list include “so funny and takes care of the school,” “helps us be responsible,” “he’s so crazy” and “helps us know what to do and keeps us safe.”

Gleason said he likes the unpredictability of the job.

“There is a lot of juggling of different things. Every day is something new,” Gleason said.

He said he enjoys problem solving, such as, for example, finding substitute teacher coverage in a pinch.

Sometimes, the job entails some difficult conversations. However, Gleason said part of his platform as principal is being respectful to others, and said difficult conversations can be had while showing respect to the other person.

Gleason and his wife, Nicole, raised their two children, who are now adults, while living in the school district. He said he thought that this has made it easier for some students and parents to relate to him, as they might run into him at a grocery store or see one of his children on a local sports team.

“I’ve had the opportunity to go other places, but I’ve chosen to stay here because I like what we’re doing,” Gleason said. “There’s something to be said about committing to a place and a system.”

Gleason makes a point of learning the names and families of each of the students in the school that serves Pre-K through fifth grade. He said he feels the school of 285 students is more progressive than many other schools the same size.

“We think of kids as individual learners and not just a grade cohort,” he said.

Gleason has helped create a culture where there are outlets for students with different needs, such as experiential learning or the opportunity for some fifth graders to take math classes at the middle school. He said the school strives to tap into student’s strengths at a young age and keep them interested in learning.

“A principal needs to keep everyone on track and remove obstacles,” said Gleason.

In his spare time, Gleason enjoys doing home improvement work with his wife,  triathlons, and other types of physical activity, which he finds to be therapeutic.

Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be reached at 780-9015 or by email at [email protected].

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