Roughly a decade after winning Teacher of the Year honors, Cranston resident Maryann Crudale has been named the state’s First-Year Principal of the Year by the Rhode Island Association of School Principals, or RIASP.
Crudale currently serves as principal of Frenchtown Elementary School in East Greenwich, a Title I school that houses students from kindergarten through grade two.
“When I was named Teacher of the Year in 2010, I was teaching second grade here at Frenchtown Elementary School,” she said. “I loved teaching second grade and I thought that was the end-all and be-all, but then I went over to Eldredge Elementary and taught fifth-grade for five years, and I realized that both age levels have so much to offer … If you just tap into where they are at, great things can happen.”
Crudale took part in the Principal Residency Network, or PRN, an intensive, two-year administrator certification program through which aspiring administrators are trained and mentored under their current administrators.
She began her training under the leadership of Frenchtown’s administrator at the time, but after reflection decided she needed to expand her horizons further and gain experience in the intermediate grades in order to have the qualifications needed for the majority of the elementary schools in the state. She asked Domenic Giusti, then principal of Eldredge Elementary, if he would assume the second year of her mentorship, and he readily agreed.
“I stayed there for four years and I truly felt that I now had the experience that I needed,” Crudale said.
Between her background in business and accounting – which helped prepare her for budgeting, management, inventory control and other aspects of a principal’s job – and the training she received through PRN, Crudale felt prepared to lead a school. As luck would have it, an administrative position became available at Frenchtown Elementary.
“I was loving what I was doing in the classroom, but I was always looking at opportunities,” she said. “I never even expected that out of the blue, this opportunity would open up.”
The 2017-2018 year was Crudale’s first year as an elementary school principal, and it was a busy one. She recently found out that two of her staff members had nominated her for First-Year Principal of the Year honors.
As a member of RIASP since the days of her internship, Crudale said she values the support the organization provides.
“Learning does not take place in a vacuum,” she said. “We need to constantly be talking and reflecting and using what we’ve talked about and reflecting again, and RIASP really helps us with that professional learning.”
Crudale attributes her success to the staff and community at Frenchtown Elementary.
“Frenchtown is a phenomenal place,” she said. “I have a large cohort of veteran teachers. We received five stars on the recent [Rhode Island Department of Education] ratings, but I believe that a growth mindset is not just for children. I believe that we always have more room for growth, more room to learn. Lifelong learning is not just for children, it’s for all of us, and here at Frenchtown, we’re doing a phenomenal job of embodying that.”
Crudale said she and the school’s staff have worked to adapt to the ways in which students’ strengths and needs have evolved over the years.
“Our teaching strategies are our tools for dealing with those differences,” she said. “[Students] come in now with less self-regulation, less self-control, but yet they are coming in with more adventurousness, more ready to try new things.”
Crudale said she placed an emphasis on culture, climate and community during her first year as Frenchtown’s principal.
“It’s all about working hard and being kind to one another,” she said. “It’s that for children, for faculty and staff, and for families who are coming in. There is no problem that we can’t solve together, but we can’t do it if we’re not working hard and being kind to one another.”
Crudale also found that she had to strike a balance during her first year between pursuing changes and recognize what was already working.
“I had to find that balance,” she said. “I didn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Some of the changes Crudale oversaw included updating the building’s classroom layout in an effort to foster collaboration among educators and instituting mindfulness practices for students early in the day.
“We had morning arrival, and then from 9 to 9:08 every morning our students were engaging in mindfulness practices,” she said. “They were singing and dancing in kindergarten and they were stretching and deep breathing or doing calisthenics in the classrooms. We went from free play to a focused environment and that really made the students ready to start their day and start their learning.”
She added, “I found that teachers were more willing to feel that they could stop a lesson that was going awry and do a few minutes of deep breathing and decompressing. We are getting back to the whole child and restoring our mindsets and getting back on learning.”
In reflecting on her first year, Crudale said she sees a positive difference already.
“I see a difference in the openness that exists here,” she said. “I tried to establish an open-door policy. I’ve tried to listen before I respond. I like communicating with people and letting them know that their perspective is important. I can’t be everywhere all the time, and it’s our collective work that creates the environment. Trust is critical.”
She added, “I truly love what I do, and I love working with all of the stakeholders. I truly see the positive impact we’re having on the children, and that’s what we want for the children, to grow and to learn. It’s not always going to be perfect, but we’ll address it and redirect, and we’ll make sure we’re all rowing the boat in the same direction.”