June’s joy: 34 years of inspiring children

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(Pictured: Songo Locks School Principal June Conley)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Kissing a cow and dressing up as Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz” might not sound like the typical duties of a school principal.

Yet, those are a smidgen of the memories that Principal June Conley will take away from her time at Songo Locks School.

After 34 years as both an instructor and an administrator in two different school districts, Conley will retire next month from the job she has had for the past 12 years.

In fact, Lake Region High School’s 2014 graduating class is comprised of students who were in kindergarten when Conley stepped into her role as principal at Songo Locks.

“It’s all about the children. I have always enjoyed the children, working with children,” she said.

“I was a Girl Scout leader for years and years. It is always rewarding to work with children — in whatever capacity, inside of school, outside of school,” she said.

On Monday morning, Conley was momentarily sitting in her office. Her attire was stately yet simple — a black and white floral dress accessorized by her staff ID which was worn like a necklace. Later in the day, she would don the outfit of Dorothy — right down to the ruby red slippers, and join other employees dressed as characters from the “Wizard of Oz” during a themed lunch to celebrate Pride in School Day.

On one of the walls in Conley’s office, a few drawings done by young children are displayed. Written in crayon are the words, “You are my best principal ever.”

Over the years, one of her biggest joys has been witnessing the children who walk through the elementary school’s doors as kindergarteners starting out their educational journey.

“The most rewarding thing is watching our kindergarteners come in. Then, watching them grow and learn and mature and change,” she said.

“The change is vast. They learn to read. They learn all of those preskills that they need to be successful in school,” she said.

“As fifth-graders, they share their writings with me, and they get involved in community service projects. They come to the realization that there is a lot more out there than them,” she said.

“It’s rewarding to be able to have the conversation with them, ‘I remember when you were in kindergarten,’ ” Conley said.

“The nice part about my job is that I do have former students from Naples Elementary and Crooked River Elementary who are parents now with kids in this school, and part of that community,” Conley said.

“It’s a great area, a great community. I have had the opportunities to go to other places; and, I haven’t because I feel a connection here,” she said.

Conley was hired as the principal nine days before school started in 2001. In fact, she had already set up her sixth-grade room in preparation for incoming students at Crooked River Elementary when she got the news.

“It was an interesting interview process,” she said.

Conley was excited and nervous when she received the phone call that same afternoon informing her she was hired.

“I was nervous, but it was a lot of fun.

I am always nervous on the first day of school,” she said.

At the beginning of her career as Songo Lock’s principal, the building housed approximately 300 students in kindergarten through third grade.

One year, Conley inspired those students to read as many pages as possible during the month of March. She promised to kiss a cow. Wow, that did the trick because students did not stop reading until the cows came home.

“They knew that I like cows. They read way more pages during this reading challenge,” she said.

Conley kept her vow, and has a photo of the event that inspired a whole lot of reading and involved an entire community. A local farmer produced the cow for her to kiss.

Conley’s love of cows formed when she was raising her children in Norway. Her daily walks brought her to a nearby farm. She discovered the cows were gentle and calming. Then, she started amassing Holstein cow memorabilia, which is also displayed in her office. Her collection currently numbers 100 items.

While collecting cows might have started out by chance, plans to become a teacher were well laid-out in Conley’s life.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher,” Conley said.

“I was probably 10 years old when I decided I wanted to be a nurse or a teacher,” she said.

Conley could not stomach the sight of blood, so nursing was not the best career choice.

Becoming a teacher seemed like the natural path to take. After all, her father worked as a teacher and her mother was employed in the school cafeteria.

“So, I grew up in and around the school,” she said.

As is the case with a school principal, Conley is constantly in the limelight. That is something she was aware of growing up as the daughter of a teacher in Windham in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

“I grew up in Windham, during a time when everyone knew everyone. My dad taught industrial arts and drafting classes at the high school level. With my dad as a teacher in the house, people let him know what my brother and I were doing,” she said.

“I took a class with him. He treated me like any other student. If I needed help with a project, I had to stay after school, or make an appointment,” she said.

After high school, Conley attended University of Maine, Gorham, where she earned her bachelor’s of science in Elementary Education with minors in Special Education and Communication.

Her teaching career began in 1979 in Standish, and she spent five years with School Administrative District (SAD) 6 before transferring to the Lake Region district. She taught fifth grade for two years at Naples Elementary before taking off a few years to start her own family.

The Crooked River Elementary school building was only a year old when Conley joined the staff. The school off Route 11 was her second home for 15 years. That is where she began the transition from teacher to administrator.

“I got into leadership roles within the building. I enjoyed working with my colleagues in leadership roles,” she said.

“I am a life-long learner. I wanted to expand my knowledge of this career,” she said, adding that pursuing an administrative degree was a step in that direction.

Taking classes on nights and weekends and during the summers, Conley earned her Master’s Degree in Alternative Education.

On Monday, Conley discussed the difference between teaching and being a principal.

“In a classroom, being a teacher, you have control of your day,” she said.

“As a building administrator, every day is different. Every day allows me to work with children, adults, parents, and community members. Being an administrator has a broader perspective,” she said.

“There are times, to this day, that I will drive to work and I think I will get ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C’ done. Then at end of the day, other things came up and I never got to ‘A,’ ‘B,’ or ‘C,’ ” she said.

Being the school principal “is a huge responsibility because the safety and well-being of everyone in this school is upon my shoulders,” she said.

Upon retiring, Conley has no curriculum, no concrete plans, no pending to-do list, except to spend time with her husband and her dog.

“I will take it a day at a time when I retire. I will take it easy and figure out what it is I want to do. I don’t know what it will be,” she said, adding she is “excited about my next journey in Virginia.”

Conley views her departure from the school with bittersweet emotions.

“I have very mixed feelings about leaving Songo Locks School. There are many wonderful families that I have had relationships with since they were students in my classrooms. I have been a part of this community for many, many years. For this reason I feel sad about leaving this school,” Conley said.

“I have a fantastic staff who will continue all of the great work that we have been doing for the last several years. Songo Locks School will continue to grow and (to) be a great place for students to receive their education,” she said.

 

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