YORK, Maine — Michael Bennett and Amanda Suttie, co-principals of York High School, say the new dual leadership model at York High School is going well.
“Seamless,” is how Bennett described the transition to the new format on Wednesday, a week into the 2022-23 school year. He said the new approach required thinking earlier in the year about how the system would work. They quickly learned to make the most of each other’s qualities in a way that he felt improved York High School administratively.
“Amanda brings strengths that I don’t have and vice versa,” Bennett said. “We said, ‘Oh yeah, it could work, and it could work very well for York High School. “”
Suttie and Bennett were both vice principals last year under principal Karl Francis, who resigned in April to take up a new job at Greeley High School in Cumberland, Maine.
They were promoted later that month to co-managers, Suttie entering his second year with the district, Bennett his eighth.
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York School District Superintendent Lou Goscinski said in June that the co-principal model was intended to be permanent. He said it’s less common but has been seen at other schools, such as Westbrook High School in Westbrook, Maine.
“It fell into place very quickly for us,” Bennett said. “We are totally on the same wavelength.”
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Together, the duo say they will lead the school with a mission of community engagement as York returns to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic. They said their theme this year is “Engage York” as they gear up for events like Return of the Activities Fair and Normal Homecoming and Spirit Day. Last year, Spirit Day had two separate school assemblies, while the homecoming dance took place in an outdoor tent.
“We didn’t have a dance floor, so it got really dusty,” Suttie said. “It just didn’t feel like a spiritual week the kids were used to.”
This year, Suttie said she and Bennett are excited that students can engage with peers and teachers in person more than last year as COVID-19 guidelines were relaxed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the first year since the pandemic to begin without mandatory masking, this policy is no longer recommended by the CDC.
Suttie said the auditorium was buzzing on the first day of class when the school held its first assembly with the entire student body since the pandemic began.
“It was the first time we had our full school together, and you could feel it,” Suttie said. “It was a really cool experience to have.”
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Community is also central to the Co-Principals’ overall approach to education and management at York High School. Bennett said he would like to see the school develop more internship opportunities that connect students and the school to the community.
Some students have done internships for credits at the York Water District, for example or working with their father’s construction company, but Bennett said the school could do more to facilitate connections. He said students might be better guided to internship opportunities when thinking about how to plan their high school schedules.
“We try to connect with places outside, especially here in York, that can help children,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who has a science background, said he would like to see York develop opportunities for STEM honors that are granted by colleges like the University of New England and the University of New Hampshire. York offers STEM courses, but he said the school has yet to provide a set of courses that students can take to gain endorsements.
“Building more lanes for kids is extremely important,” Bennett said. “What we’re trying to do is create more ways for children to access their education.”