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New RES principal greeting students today
Chris Decker, the incoming principal at Rumford Elementary School, chats with his secretary, Penny Carrier. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
RUMFORD -- When the K-5 Rumford Elementary School opens it's doors today to some 300 students, they will be greeted by new principal, Chris Decker, who moves over here from the nearby high school, where he served as assistant principal.
"I'm very excited. I'm apprehensive only because it's a new job. Anne has raised a pretty high bar because this school has done remarkably well academically. My goal is to continue to do that," he noted.
Decker has a message for his students:
"I'm Mr. Decker. I'm different than Mrs. Chamberlin (Anne, retired longtime principal) was. I have different likes and dislikes. But my goal, as was hers, will be very similar. We want you to do well academically. We want you to enjoy learning. We want you to come to school on a regular basis and be on time."
And another difference. "If you want to talk about the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, that's fine," he noted.
"Make no bones about it. Anne and I lead totally different. But we both have the same objective. We want to reach every kid and have them be successful," noted Decker.
Another difference is that while Chamberlin had an elaborate hat collection she shared with her students, Decker will become known for his collection of ties. "A lot of them I haven't worn. I could wear them in the middle school but the high school, I just couldn't. Now, there's no limit! I have a tie for every day of the year, if I could find a shirt to match."
He also collects coffee mugs from all different universities, colleges and the military, adding that he wouldn't mind adding to his collection with logos from local businesses.
"One thing is I want to be out there where the kids are. I want to see them at lunch time. My goal is to sit down and have lunch with every kid, five or six at a time. Maybe invite them in here for lunch or maybe go into a classroom. But I want them to see me," said Decker.
Decker is new in his role, but has served in the school district for 14 years.
"Except for the first couple years, when I was new to the system and the people, although I was shocked at the connections to the Jay-Livermore area (where Decker was raised). So even though I was new, I found I wasn't as new as I thought. Besides being mill towns, many people here have cousins and other relatives living in Jay-Livermore. And several of my friends I went to high school who live up here now. Having that connection makes a huge difference."
Decker's time with the Mountain Valley region began by serving for seven years as assistant principal at the Mountain Valley Middle School under Charles Lever. "Then when I went from the middle school to the high school, I didn't know the staff very well, but I knew the kids."
"Here, I know the staff a little bit better. Not great; it's going to take me some time to get to know them. But in the fall (2011), when Anne Chamberlin (retired principal) was having her health issues, I was coming over. A lot of teachers over here I knew as parents because I had their kids come through my school. There was already a personal connection with the staff, which has helped tremendously."
Before coming to work at the middle school in Mexico, Decker taught for 18 years at the elementary level in Turner. "Most of the teachers don't realize I was an elementary teacher before here," said Decker.
"I firmly believe that everyone can learn and it needs to be fun, not be confused with hard work, because hard work can be fun. To plant the seed that they want to learn more. It's going to be different with every kid, depending on where their interests lie. I think that's the key," he noted.
"For the kids around here, the one common denominator is this, RES. That's part of my goal. I want kids to welcomed and that this is the place they want to come to. For some youngsters, it's become almost a year round hub when you include the summer meals and activity programs. This community definitely supports this school, and that's a big plus," said Decker.
"Being open all the time really made it difficult for the custodial staff as they worked around the youngsters in the whole downstairs area while in the process of getting the building ready to begin the new school year. Kudos to Tom Sinclair as they've worked their butts off trying to get this building ready for school," he added.
"The hardest piece, as far as really having to work at it, and other professionals in this area have helped me on this, is that connection with the family, how important that is," said Decker.
He recalled when Rick Greene worked as a social worker, "we made some home visits. Initially, it was at his suggestion. It worked so well, when we got to the high school, we did the same thing. Once I got and met the parents; you get to see their life struggles, too. And I think it helps if they see you in a light that you're trying to help them."
Decker, who has an older sister who teaches elementary school in Lewiston, attributes to how he is today to his upbringing.
"Single parent, which back in the '60's and '70's was the exception, not the rule. I was fortunate enough to live near a lot of families. I think of the old adage, 'It takes a village to raise a child.'"
And as what will be readily apparent by his office, Decker is a lifelong sports fanatic.
"Early in my life, I grew up as a Yankee fan. I was a Mickey Mantle, Joe Pepitone, Bobby Mercer, Therman Munson fan, the old Yankees. At least while in their career, they had a very positive message to give to our youth. But I was also a Yastrzemski, Petrocelli, Luis Tiant fan. So I really liked the Red Sox and Yankees," he said.
"So, certainly with the kids, I could speak about both those teams," adding that today, he is more a Red Sox fan than a Yankee. "But my true love is in football. I've been a Patriot fan..." said Decker.
And as he and his staff work to begin the school year, the pending issue involving future building use in RSU 10 is always a topic of conversation.
"I know right now there are some issues at the RSU level, with the rumors that when and if we close any buildings, which ones. And this is an old building, which makes it difficult not to look at this. Having said that, it's a pretty big hub to the people that go to school here, to the parents of the neighborhood," said Decker.
Having been involved in education for 31 years, he said that typically when they look at closing a building, two things play a role. One is the age of the building, which, if that's the only issue, they look at rebuilding. And the other one is the population.
"We do have an older building. I wouldn't say it's obsolete, but it was built in '56, which puts it at that 50-year mark. Going forward here, I think one of my challenges will be to keep the morale high, which will be difficult when they read the paper and see that buildings are mentioned (for closure). This is one that always mentioned, along with others. This is not the only one," said Decker.
"Oddly enough, that second piece that plays a role is the numbers. Our numbers aren't down, but they're down in other buildings. The middle school and high school are declining in numbers; can they get by on one building. That seems to be the prevailing winds right now," he said.
"I tell the teachers that we're in the early stages of exploring this. There's a lot of things that can happen. UMA seems to be the wild card here. There's some talk of UMA going to the high school (Mountain Valley)," said Decker.
When it comes to education, "I truly want everyone to be successful," he said, stressing how important it is for students to get to school on time and be at school.
"I want to get kids who, by the time they reach middle school, they just want to keep on learning. I don't expect every kid to be prepared to go to a four-year college. I do expect them to say, 'If this interests me, I'm going to learn about it and I have the ability to learn about it,'" said Decker.
He said that education doesn't stop in 12th grade. "My job as an elementary principal is, one, to prepare them for the next level, but to prepare them for lifelong learning, which goes well beyond 12th grade. It's important to note that often times, people, particularly outside of education, hear us talk about college. Unfortunately, that's a misconstued word. Most of us don't think of college as a four-year institution anymore, like some people on the outside do. College we often use as a generic term for learning after high school. There's a huge difference."
"We want kids prepared to continue to learn throughout life, and to enjoy learning," said Decker.
"When a child moves on to sixth grade, I want the girl or guy to say, 'Know what? I think Chris Decker cared about how well I did down here.' They might say, 'I want to do well because people at the elementary school wanted me to do well. But my ultimate goal is, I want them to do well at the next level because 'I want to do well at the next level as a student.'" he noted.
The public is invited to meet Decker by attending the first RES Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting for the year, to be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the cafeteria.