WOOD RIVER JCT. — The Rhode Island Association of School Principals has named Chariho Regional High School Principal Craig MacKenzie the state’s Principal of the Year.
The award, presented to MacKenzie by RIASP Executive Director Robert Littlefield on May 6 at an early morning Chariho staff meeting, came as a surprise. Westerly High School Principal Michael Hobin, who also serves as president of the association, nominated MacKenzie for the honor.
“I felt he was a really good candidate this year,” Hobin said. “He had a number of pretty good increases in his statistics for the school and [is] continuously trying to improve and work hard on making great opportunities for kids. He seemed like he was the candidate in my mind, this year, that had set himself apart from the rest.”
In addition to improving standardized test scores, Hobin said MacKenzie had enhanced the district’s career and technical programs.
“He’s expanded those pathways,” he said. “Just providing opportunities for kids. That’s really what he’s about.”
During the selection process, the Providence-based RIASP, which represents about 500 principals and assistant principals, organized a virtual visit of the school. RIASP representatives also spoke with administrators, teachers, parents and students.
MacKenzie said he felt the timing of the award was appropriate, since it was announced during Teacher Appreciation Week.
“This award is really all about what we do as a school community, so it’s a good affirmation for the people,” he said. “I’ve been trying to message that and I hope everybody thinks about it that way. I’m just happy I’ve got a great job with a really short commute through a couple of beautiful back roads where I can fish and blueberry and I love the people that I work with.”
Interim Superintendent of Schools Jane Daly described MacKenzie as an administrator who was open to new ideas.
“I think he’s very innovative,” she said. “I think that he is very collaborative in how he works with the administrators at the high school, working with the director of Career and Tech and the assistant principal, Andrea Spas. One thing that’s changed under his leadership, in the past career and tech wasn’t a separate school, but it was a more distinct program. Now, it’s clearer that the students and the administrators and staff are fully included as part of the high school team.”
MacKenzie, 53, has served as Chariho’s principal for four years and before that, assistant principal, also for four years. He and his wife, Paige, have two adult sons, Colton and Luke.
Spas, who has worked with MacKenzie since she was the district’s director of special education, said she appreciated his ability to have fun while still working hard.
“He so deserves it,” she said. “I can’t ask for a greater guy to work with. What is so great about Craig is that he works really hard, he lifts those around him to work hard, you want to work hard with him, and then you also have fun. He keeps it real … He makes me laugh at least once a day, if not more than that, but we also take our work extremely seriously, so I think he provides the right balance in terms of getting results and then also, at the human level, establishing relationships and sustaining those relationships.”
MacKenzie described the balance between work and fun as the “make work play” philosophy.
“I think maybe it started when I was a teacher, a Spanish teacher,” he said. “If I wasn’t engaged in the activities I was creating for the students, I knew they weren’t going to be, and I feel that way about our school, too. I think one of my responsibilities is to promote what we do and exude positivity and I think that’s something that we worked really hard at, not only administratively but as a school community. Collectively, we don’t always all agree on everything, but I think we have that shared sense of purpose about making our school a really welcoming place for those who work there and for the students and guests as well.”