Retired School Superintendent Becomes Marconi Center President

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Education , Historic preservation

Carolyn Cragin and outgoing CMMC President Richard Kraycir, who was honored for 15 years of service in a host of different roles. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAMPORT In helping shape the fledgling Monomoy Regional School District, former Superintendent Carolyn Cragin focused on improving education, building partnerships and enhancing the district’s long-term sustainability. As the new board president of the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center, her to-do list isn’t that different.

Even though she retired as a public school administrator in 2013, Cragin hasn’t left the field of education. She is a lecturer at Curry College in Milton, where she teaches school administration to prospective principals and special education directors. And she remains passionate about the Marconi Center, where she he has helped shape the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, curriculum.

As the Harwich school superintendent, Cragin had a meeting with Marconi Center representatives, including former Chatham Superintendent Mary Ann Lanzo, who directed the Marconi STEM program then. School administrators are used to hearing from community members with suggestions about how the district should be run, “but you rarely encounter people who are interested in making it happen, and have found the funding to do it,” Cragin quipped. The Marconi Center had done so, and asked Cragin to join the board. This year, the board elected her its president, taking the place most recently held by Dick Kraycir.

“It’s kind of a daunting task just to be president, given the people who’ve preceded me,” she said. The Marconi Center already offers a summer science program and a winter STEM camp, and regularly provides volunteer engineers and wireless operators for special presentations in the schools. But the organization is now seeking even closer collaboration with area districts, bringing STEM lessons into the classrooms.

“We’ll need staff who can be available to do that on a regular, full-time basis,” Cragin said. “That’s a lot more expensive than what we’re doing at the moment.” Likely seeking a combination of private donations and corporate partnerships, the Marconi Center will be looking for additional revenue to bring that plan to fruition.

“Everyone is really at a moment of, how do we best move forward having accomplished so much so quickly,” she said. Nobody on the Marconi Center board anticipated how quickly the organization would grow, having just a few years ago been a small group of volunteers who were focused on saving the abandoned Marconi buildings at the Chathamport campus.

The Marconi Center’s success is thanks to volunteers who came together for a common purpose, despite having different interests: some were interested in historic preservation, some were radio operators, and others were focused on teaching science and engineering, but all “wanted to do something significant,” she said. Early on, CMMC began to focus on educational programs and the creation of a wireless museum. “Some people weren’t certain how those two things fit together,” Cragin said. As a former high school teacher who knew the value of field trips, Cragin was among those who immediately saw the connection.

In the years ahead, the challenge for the Marconi Center is to continue to be effective and sustainable, she said. The board is now working on the creation of a strategic plan.

“It’s become an organization that is vibrant, but that’s costly,” she said. “CMMC runs on the energy of many wonderful volunteers and the generosity of committed donors. There are many ways to become involved, and we're always looking for people who'd like to join us.”

Cragin admits that she misses being a superintendent, and follows news about the Monomoy district – and the Sharks sports teams – even though she lives in Sandwich.

“There’s just something irresistible about being in a position where you can impact the lives of that many people. And it’s hard to walk away,” she said. Cragin said she was pleased when Monomoy High School Principal Bill Burkhead was named Principal of the Year by the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

“That’s a really good sign,” and consistent with the image that Chatham and Harwich had when they decided to combine their school systems. “Somebody like that was a really good choice to make that happen,” she said.

Cragin said that interesting initiatives are planned at the Marconi Center, along with new ways people can take part. There are also some new leaders in the group; Vice President Bob Fishback has taken on the role of executive director, and the board has welcomed some new members: Elizabeth McCarte of Chatham, Carla Blanchard of Harwich, and James Sullivan of Chatham and Houston, Texas. Like other groups – think of Pleasant Bay Community Boating, which has some founders in common with the Marconi Center – CMMC has grown quickly because of the vision of great volunteers.

“It’s such a cool place. And the people are so open and enthusiastic about the possibilities of greater engagement of the schools and families,” Cragin said. “I know it’s a cliché, but the sky’s the limit.”