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Gerald S. Clockedile

A Quick Study in a Rapidly Changing Field by JAY P. GOLDMAN


Little more than a year after earning his bachelor’s degree from Aroostook State Teachers College in northern Maine, 24-year-old Gerald Clockedile found himself working as a teaching principal of a 100-student grammar school.

He candidly admits: "I knew absolutely nothing about being a principal beyond what I had observed during my first year of teaching."

A few years later, again without warning or training, Clockedile was appointed special education director for a school district in Mars Hill, Maine, that served four towns. This meant building a program from scratch since it came shortly after the adoption of Public Law 94-142, the federal guarantee for equal access to a quality education for students with disabilities.

Now about to start his 13th year as a superintendent, Clockedile, better known by his boyhood nickname of Jake, points to those career twists as pivotal moments for sparking his personal commitment to professional development and support for special education teachers. For any rural school administrator, these are lofty challenges, but he has shown himself to be a quick study.

Since that time, Clockedile has immersed himself in the tangle of federal regulations and attended workshops on special education services to arise as an authority on the subject. He was one of the founders in 1985 of the Maine Support Network for Rural Special Educators, which through its collegial connections continues today to provide skills training to overtaxed educators.

During his first year as superintendent of School Union 7 in Maine’s southernmost county of York, where he’s been since 1996, Clockedile had to tackle 11 formal special education complaints awaiting resolution amidst criticism from the state about the district’s sub par performance in that area. Nine complaints were resolved without hearings, and one of the remaining two was decided in favor of the district. The district has fielded only one complaint in each of the last two years.

Because he has worked mostly in districts with fewer than 2,000 students, Clockedile has had plenty of opportunities to affect teaching and learning. During the last three years, he has empowered a 23-member professional development team to oversee the revamping of the district’s curriculum in eight content areas and to make decisions about staff training that support instructional reforms. The superintendent approved the team’s decision to send every K-8 teacher through summer training institutes for Education By Design, an experiential-learning approach that he believes will have a significant impact on student achievement.

In Clockedile’s view, the new teaching method will help students as the district strives to attain the newly adopted standards of Maine’s Learning Results, which will be fully in place in 2002. He expects all students will be fit by then to demonstrate problem-solving and analytical skills, acumen in research and an ability to work in groups.

In an odd arrangement, though, the superintendent is directly responsible only for the 2,200 students in kindergarten through 8th grade because the 900 older students attend a nearby private high school on a paid-tuition basis. He plays a limited advisory role there.

Constance Lambert, an elementary school principal in School Union 7 for 12 years, credits Clockedile for giving the district a clear direction, empowering staff to make key decisions and standing behind those decisions. "He doesn’t lead by getting in front of the staff and giving a tremendously inspirational speech," she says. "He doesn’t crave the limelight."

Professional peers have been piling on the praise, too. The Maine Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development earlier this year honored Clockedile with its Educator of the Year award, and he is Maine’s reigning state superintendent of the year. He also has served as president of both the statewide superintendents and elementary principals associations.

Clockedile, who grew up on a potato farm in Aroostook County, admits that in some ways he finds himself on no more firm footing today than he did as a fledgling principal and special education director.

"I’m trying to prepare students for a world I don’t know what’s going to be," he says. "I can’t imagine what today’s 2nd and 3rd graders’ lives will be like. What kind of learning they’ll need is the critical issue."

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org