GOULDSBORO — Heather Dorr enjoys the smell of the fresh air when she arrives for work at the Peninsula School. It’s a fine ending to a commute that takes her to a place she loves.
“My favorite part of the morning [drive] is when I turn right on Pond Road and see that view,” said the Ellsworth resident, who took over July 1 for retiring Principal Sally Leighton.
Dorr sees herself staying at the Peninsula School long term, saying, “This place has my heart.”
Dorr’s first teaching job was at Dixon Elementary School in Sneads Ferry, N.C., which had a student population of about 750 kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. Her time there reinforced her love of small communities.
“I really, really value things in the small schools. I feel like I’m making a bigger difference and that feels good,” said Dorr, who grew up in Trenton, where she attended kindergarten with only five classmates. “A smaller student population really allows all the teachers to get to know the students well.”
After leaving North Carolina, she returned to Maine to work at Trenton Elementary School, where she spent 13 years working alongside the teachers she had known as a student.
She spent the last three years as a teacher at Ella Lewis Elementary School. Former Ella Lewis Principal Joanne Harriman — who is now principal at Hancock Elementary — nominated her for the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She accepted the award in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
In order to qualify, Dorr said, she had to accept the nomination and then go through an application process that included making a video discussing her curriculum and methods. The application is reviewed by a state panel, which selects finalists. One math teacher and one science teacher are selected from each state. Dorr was selected for math.
“I really didn’t set out to win an award,” she said, adding the application process allowed her to examine her own work and hold herself to a more rigorous standard. “I really appreciated that challenge where I could look critically and reflect on my own practice.”
In addition to the trip to Washington, D.C., she and other winners receive a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and $10,000 from the National Science Foundation, which administers the awards.
“Awardees also join an active network of outstanding educators from throughout the nation,” says a press release about the awards. “Awardees reflect the expertise and dedication of the nation’s teaching corps, and they demonstrate the positive impact of excellent teachers on student achievement.”
Dorr, who earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine at Farmington, never planned to leave the classroom to become an administrator. She had the chance, however, to complete her master’s degree in Ellsworth through the University of Maine at Orono, an opportunity she said was too good to pass up.
“I wanted to have a broader impact on student learning,” she said. She completed her studies in 2017 with a focus on becoming a curriculum director. The biggest drawback of that goal would be working outside of a school building.
“As principal I can still spend time with students,” she said.
Dorr’s goal for her first year is to get better acquainted with the community and build relationships with staff, parents and families. Long term, she hopes to build on the success of her predecessors while nurturing a positive school culture. Any changes will be made with careful consideration.
“I am very reflective. My decisions are always evidence-based,” she said. “How do I know this is working? How do I know this is not working?”
She said she considers herself lucky to be in a beautiful building set in a beautiful location and to work with Regional School Unit 24’s dedicated administration.
“I really appreciate and value how focused the district is on student needs,” she said.
Dorr enjoys her position so much she said she couldn’t wait to get back from Washington, D.C.
“I missed my students when I was gone.”