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New John Stark Regional High School principal brings military experience to post

  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery practices some vocal warm ups with a music class at the school on September 10, 2013. Stopping by classrooms and engaging with students is a priority for him. "Teachers have ideals," he said. "All kids can learn. I can help them learn. And we believe that." <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery practices some vocal warm ups with a music class at the school on September 10, 2013. Stopping by classrooms and engaging with students is a priority for him. "Teachers have ideals," he said. "All kids can learn. I can help them learn. And we believe that."

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery poses for a portrait outside of the school on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery poses for a portrait outside of the school on September 10, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery practices some vocal warm ups with a music class at the school on September 10, 2013. Stopping by classrooms and engaging with students is a priority for him. "Teachers have ideals," he said. "All kids can learn. I can help them learn. And we believe that." <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery poses for a portrait outside of the school on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • John Stark Regional High School's new principal Chris Corkery pauses while walking around the school to answer a call on his walkie talkie on September 10, 2013. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Chris Corkery is a military man.

Even without his uniform, you know it immediately. It’s something about his close-cropped hair, his firm handshake, his habit of unflinching eye contact, his steady and sure voice.

But the retired U.S. Army colonel is no longer flying planes over Germany or orchestrating supply shipments from a seaport in Kuwait. He is no longer in charge of soldiers in crisp uniforms.

Instead, his command is John Stark Regional High School, and his charges are Henniker and Weare teenagers.

Corkery, 49, is a veteran of three deployments and more than a decade of classroom experience, and he stepped into the role of principal at John Stark Regional on July 1.

“It plays off the military background a lot, working with other adults to make young people that much better,” Corkery said of high school administration. “It’s the same thing. How do you solve problems for them? How do you take care of them so you can teach them or train them? I think those skill sets blend between the two worlds nicely.”

Corkery earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York before heading to flight school and, eventually, Germany. He was also stationed in Korea and California in his first 11 years of military service. When he married his wife, Kathy, left the military and settled in New Hampshire, Corkery said he saw parallels between working at the head of a military operation and at the head of his math

classroom at Manchester High School Central.

“Teachers have ideals,” he said. “All kids can learn. I can help them learn. And we believe that.

“It’s the same structure in the military. This country needs some help and some peace. We can do that.”

Corkery, who has been decorated with two Bronze Star medals, deployed to Iraq in 2003 and to Kuwait in 2007. His final deployment was to Haiti on a humanitarian mission after the 2010 earthquake that rocked the island and destroyed much of its infrastructure. Throughout his service, Corkery developed a knack for making his operation more efficient and focused, whether it was when shipping supplies to Americans stationed throughout Iraq or redesigning the port system that connected Port-au-Prince with the outside world during its rebuilding.

“The teams seem to form around you,” he said. “If there’s something I brought from military, it’s just allow that to happen, allow the teams to bring out their best and go with that. Work with their ideas and empower them to do it.”

And after each deployment, Corkery has returned to school hallways and teacher meetings. He earned a master’s of education in administration and supervision from the University of New Hampshire and previously acted as an assistant principal at Campbell High School in Litchfield. At John Stark Regional, he succeeds former principal Chris Mosca.

This is his first post as a head principal, but Corkery speaks about his administrative style with that consistent focus and efficiency.

“To get everybody to graduate, to get everybody to be a learner, is to get to that model in your faculty where its team is focused,” Corkery said. “In years past, teachers would have their own little kingdom. ‘I’m in my classroom, leave me alone. They’re in the hallway, that’s your problem.’
. . . What I have to say is, ‘No, our students. They’re our students all day long.’ I’ve got to shift that mentality.

“Collaboration is the one thing that’s proven to work.”

And collaboration among teachers and staff is Corkery’s strategy to battle with what he sees as the high school’s biggest challenges in his first year of administration: adapting all curriculum to Common Core State Standards and making the transition to competency-based education and grading.

“I’ve got to map out a number of major milestones that everybody can say, ‘All these kids will hit these milestones over a four-year course of studies.’ . . . I’ve got a lot of the professional development time mapped out, the resources allocated, the expectations set,” Corkery said.

As Corkery sat in his office, lines of students filed past his window through the hallways. With the first game of kickball he played during freshman orientation, the school year officially began for the new principal.

“I love the freshness that comes about every year in school,” he said. “Every kid gets to remake their image in September – who they’re going to hang out with, what their attitude’s going to be, how much they love this teacher, how much they love this course, what they want to be. It changes all the time. There’s that rebirth idea that comes with education, because it’s very cyclical in nature. I love that.”

And Corkery begins his own cycle again, ready to lead as he has done in the past.

“I listened, I connected the right dots, I set expectations, I listened.”

A reception to greet Corkery will be held today from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the library of John Stark Regional High School and will be followed by a school board meeting.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@megan_e_doyle.)

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