Seasoned educator takes helm at Starksboro’s Robinson Elementary
STARKSBORO — “I love being a principal,” says new Robinson Elementary School Principal Edorah Frazer. “It’s kaleidoscopic. It changes every single day.”
Frazer took the helm at the Starksboro primary school July 1, and has been preparing for the start of classes next week. She took a breather last week to introduce herself to the community and discuss her background.
“There’s always a combination of the long-term things you want to work on (as a principal) and build in the school and the daily things that come up, the problem solving,” she said.
Frazer is clearly a people person.
“I love teachers,” she said. “People come into education for the right reasons. It’s just a great group of people to spend your life with.
“There’s also a constant flow of people from different constituent groups, but all there on behalf of kids. So you have parents and families, you have teachers, other administrators, community members all there in service to the kids. And what a great reason to come together! What a great reason for anyone to come together: to serve kids. It’s just a fun endeavor.”
Frazer began her tenure by interviewing “every member of the staff who was available.” In all, she conducted some 25 interviews to gain a first-hand impression of the staff and faculty who together will serve the 165 or so children Robinson expects to welcome through its doors beginning Aug. 26. Frazer said the interviews confirmed her notion that one of the school’s greatest strengths is the professionalism and longevity of its staff and faculty.
“It’s a great group of people, a very committed and forward-looking group of people,” Frazer said.
Although conducting those interviewing was one of Frazer’s first official tasks, unofficially she began her work by accompanying outgoing Principal Pat Hartnett on his June 30 rounds on the Starksboro Project READ BookWagon. She and Hartnett drove site to site, ringing a bell just like a Good Humor ice cream truck to draw each neighborhood’s children. Frazer got to see first-hand the different neighborhoods that make up Starksboro and to get Hartnett’s two cents on the highlights of the community. As she read stories out loud and gave out free children’s books on the BookWagon stops, she also got to meet the town’s kids, parents, grandparents, caregivers and even some pets.
As warm as Frazer is toward kids and families and as willing as she is to engage with children in the kinds of fun and games that make kids happy — she got in there and played a kind of kinder, gentler dodgeball known as gaga ball as part of her interview for the Robinson principal’s position — Frazer is a highly accomplished professional with over three decades in public education.
Frazer, now 53, began her career in K-12 education as an environmental educator for Nature’s Classroom, in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. That experience confirmed her love of working with young people and led her to work as a science and an English teacher at secondary schools in New Hampshire and elsewhere. At her very first high school position, Frazer was fortunate to work with then principal Dennis Littky, whose dramatic turnaround of a troubled school and visionary ideas about education have since made him the subject of books and even a made-for-TV movie. Almost immediately, Littky — who most recently founded a college aimed at first-generation college students and is widely seen as one of the country’s leading school reformers — tapped Frazer for leadership positions, a common theme in her work experience.
A nationally recognized educational consultant and facilitator, Frazer began that work when she and her husband came to Vermont over 20 years ago. She also taught in the Education departments at St. Michael’s College and at the University of Vermont, and until recently was a senior faculty member in the school leadership program at the Upper Valley Educators Institute in Lebanon, N.H.
“She’s a ringer,” said Robinson Elementary School Board chair Louis Dupont. “She’s been around, and she’s been sought after for her insights into working collaboratively with teachers, and those are valuable skills. The fact that she’s worked as a consultant just gives her that much broader an experience to work from. We were very delighted to be able to secure Edorah’s services for our school.”
Frazer’s aha! moment for becoming a principal came in 2010 when Evelyn Howard, who was then superintendent of the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, tapped her to step in as interim principal at Monkton Central School. A doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at UVM at the time, Frazer knew that she eventually wanted to be a principal but wasn’t quite sure she was ready.
“Evelyn said, ‘I need a principal for a few months in Monkton; would you consider that?’ and I had not been a principal,” Frazer said. “I thought that someday I might be a principal, but I didn’t think it would be then. I didn’t feel that I was ready. But I thought, ‘Sure, three months, how bad can it be? It’s an experiment.’ I went in there, and it was the best job I ever had. Within days I said, ‘This is the job I should have always had,’ and I still feel that way.”
After completing her doctorate at UVM, Frazer was hired as principal at the Isle La Motte Elementary School, where she’s been the past four years. A small school even by Vermont standards (ILMES has five teachers and about 30 children), Isle La Motte Elementary has also faced some big challenges, such as a high poverty rate, with close to 75 percent of its student body qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch.
Frazer is especially committed to working with schools in smaller rural communities, like Starksboro, and she is especially happy to be returning to ANeSU and to Robinson, where she worked as substitute principal for a few months in 2010, replacing then-principal Dan Noel while he was on paternity leave.
“I’ve worked in and around Addison Northeast Supervisory Union for many years, since I first arrived in Vermont, really,” Frazer said. “So I’m coming home in that regard. I’ve worked with all the schools in one capacity or another, I knew most of the principals, I knew teachers all over the district, and I knew that I liked them and I thought they were doing good work.
“I also knew Robinson to be a special place,” continued Frazer. “It has an especially talented faculty, and the community is really committed to education. To me, there’s also a real sweet spot in terms of scale. There are enough teachers in the building so that everyone has a colleague at the same grade level they can work with, which is great, it’s really helpful to have that; there are people working in all the roles in the school; but you can really create a warm kind of intimate community of staff who know each other well, support each other well. That’s very appealing to me. And at a school this size, you know every child, you know every family.”
Frazer, her husband and 12-year-old daughter, Molly, live in a straw-bale house in Charlotte, with cat Mei and pug Munchy Bear.
Asked how she fared in the round of gaga ball during her interview, Frazer admits that she got out almost immediately. She then laughs:
“I’ll play basketball or kickball — whatever the kids are doing, I’m happy to do. There aren’t that many jobs where you get to jump rope in the middle of the day.”
Gaen Murphree is at [email protected]