BEACON FALLS — Everybody at Woodland Regional High School knew someday the time would come. That didn’t help mask the emotions after the school’s first and only principal, Arnold Frank, announced his retirement last week.
Frank first told teachers at a meeting June 19 before formally submitting his retirement to the Region 16 Board of Education that evening. The board approved his retirement with “deep regret and sincere appreciation.”
Frank presided over his last of 10 Woodland graduations Monday. He will end his 33-year career as a high school principal at the end of June. However he won’t be gone immediately. The school board on Wednesday night named Frank interim principal until his successor is in place.
“My last and next most important job is to ensure a smooth transition,” Frank said. “Whatever the board needs me to do, I’m willing to do.”
Teachers and board members alike shed tears at Frank’s announcement. Board Chair Priscilla Cretella thanked Frank for helping the region create and fulfill the dream of a high school.
“Your guidance has given us the Woodland Way,” Cretella said. “For us to have this school as our crowning glory — we can never thank you enough.”
Frank called his decision to retire a tough one, but one he had been thinking about for the better part of two years.
“I just feel like I’m tired,” Frank said. “I love this place with my heart and soul. It’s like saying goodbye to one of my kids, but I feel like it’s time. There wasn’t any moment — it’s not because of any issue or instance, and this place has been great for me — but it’s just about after 33 years doing something else. I’m not going to do nothing. I don’t have the personality for that.”
Frank’s alma maters include American University and the University of Wisconsin, from which he graduated with his Ph.D. It was during his time at American in Washington, D.C., though, when he had his career epiphany.
“I can remember the day,” Frank said. “I did a volunteer assignment when I was in college at a high school in Washington, D.C. That was the first time I had been in a high school since I had graduated, and I remember seeing the kids and talking to the principal and it excited me.”
After earning his doctorate in Madison, Wisc., he spent seven years as principal of a small school in Wisconsin. He moved back to the east coast to become the principal at Narragansett (R.I.) High School for six years before settling in Bethany for a seven-year stint at Amity Regional High.
When Beacon Falls and Prospect voters in 1998 approved the creation of Region 16’s high school, Frank knew his career goal was within his grasp.
“It was always a dream of mine to be able to start a high school,” Frank said. “To be in the position that I lived in Bethany, worked at Amity and knew this place was coming, it was almost like fate. I vigorously applied for this and was incredibly lucky to get it.”
He helped build Woodland from scratch, implementing new ideas such as block scheduling and the advisory program, and hired every employee at the school. That freedom was a perk for Frank, and a reason he thinks the school grew so quickly.
“I’ve hired every single person who works in this school, and that was one of the beauties of coming here and starting a school,” Frank said. “We could choose people who knew what the mission was, knew the block scheduling and knew the advisory program. I’ve worked at other high schools and I’ve never worked with such a group of hard-working individuals.”
It wasn’t just that Frank needed to help create a new high school — it had to validate a decision decades in the making.
“We had to prove to the communities that we were going to be a viable high school and that our kids were going to be successful,” Frank said. “There was some doubt about that, and I felt that — not that I ever doubted we would do it, but I knew how important it was to prove that.”
Frank said he will “never forget” the day Woodland earned its accreditation, which stands out among accomplishments such as being named to Newsweek’s list of top high schools, the Advanced Placement Honor Roll and winning two state football championships as his favorites.
“They validated so much of what we said we were doing, and how they thought this was a wonderful school with a great climate and it was a place they wished they could work,” Frank said of the evaluation. “It proved to the community that we were worthy. It was a turning point for us.”
Woodland has never gotten too big for Frank’s liking. In fact, he calls it the “perfect size” for a high school.
“It’s big enough to offer all kinds of options but small enough to get to know everybody,” Frank said. “This is a perfect sized high school and it’s exactly my style because I like to know everybody. There’s a sense of community and family here. The teachers know what the mission is here and buy into the mission.”
With 10 graduating classes in the books, Woodland alumni have begun to take hold in the community. Frank often spends time and runs errands in Prospect and Beacon Falls, and he said running into alumni reminds him of what he’s accomplished.
“It’s such a rewarding feeling to meet young people who are being so successful and are happy to see me,” Frank said. “It’s so rewarding for me to know that I’ve had some role in so many lives.”
The role is probably bigger than a simple “some.” Frank received several standing ovations during Monday’s graduation and his retirement — whenever it finally comes — has students, staff, alumni and community members looking back fondly on their time with Woodland’s only principal.
“I’ve worked for a lot of people, this is the greatest man I’ve ever worked for,” said Woodland security guard Fred Smith, who stood with his arm around Frank he submitted his retirement to the school board. “I don’t know how he does it, and I’m going to miss him.”
As Frank helped the region fulfill its dream, Woodland has made his dream a reality.
“Part of the reason that I’m able to say goodbye now is that this school has done everything we set out to do,” Frank said. “These 13 years have been incredible. It was a dream come true.”
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.