A Conversation with Chris
From the GAzette Winter/Spring 2019
Photography by M. Dirk MacKnight
A Conversations with Head of School Chris Gorycki
How are you finding life at Gould?
This a remarkable community, that is incredibly positive. I’ve been impressed by the almost spiritual connection the community has with the outdoors. The ability to get out and enjoy our local surroundings provides a magnificent balance to the challenging work we do on campus. Almost every day someone in my family comments on how beautiful it is here in Bethel, Maine!
In the summer and fall, when I had a few more hours of daylight to work with, I really enjoyed the hiking and swimming that I’ve done. Jumping in at Frenchman’s Hole was unlike anything I have ever done before. It’s amazing to be able to drive off campus for less than 20 minutes, hike for maybe half a mile, and then really be immersed in nature, far from everything. Relaxing in the cold, clean water of Step Falls is quite a treat. Escaping to a location like that keeps everything in perspective.
Winter came to Bethel a little early this year, which was wonderful. Our On Snow athletes were able to get on the mountain in October! I will probably regret saying this, but it’s not as cold as I thought it would be. The wind can make it a little rough at times, but even that doesn’t slow anybody in our community down.
Hear a snippet of the conversation with Chris!
Tell us about your first Mountain Day?
I was impressed by the sense of community and the very natural engagements people had on the trail. There was no intensity about it; it was just members of a community enjoying the day together and getting up to the top — which had a great view. My first “Mountain Day” was actually my second day on the mountain, because I made a video on the trail as my way of announcing the official day. What I didn’t realize on my first hike, was that I hadn’t actually reached the summit.
What are your impressions of Gould students?
Our students are all pretty active and fit. As a collection of adolescents, they are in better physical shape than most. They’re also respectful and accepting, easy going and fun to be around. They can get excited by things, and make mistakes as teenagers do, but they possess a palpable comfort level with themselves and others. We also have some exceptionally talented athletes, and it’s great fun to watch them compete. Eating in the dining hall is always enjoyable. Waiting in line provides an excellent opportunity for a short chat to find out how things are going from a student’s perspective.
One night at formal dinner I asked the students at my table about the amount of homework they have. I expected them to say, “Well actually, teachers do pile it on a little.” But they said, “We’ve pretty much got it under control,” adding that “you can figure out how to get the work done.” I have to believe that the amount of exercise they get during the day helps them focus on their studies in the evening.
This is your first time working at a boarding school. What has that transition been like?
I really appreciate and respect our administrators on duty for the amazing work they do. The rhythm of life at a boarding school is different. At a day school, you can use your weekends to get caught up; that time isn’t available in a boarding school. We have games, concerts, talent shows, community service events or many other wonderful activities going on. The weekends may be time away from the office, but there is always something going on. It therefore is important to recognize and take advantage of unscheduled time.
Lastly, I would have to say that our family feels blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful house on campus.
What are some of your goals?
My first goal is to ensure that we always remain true to our mission—to prepare academically motivated students for college and to help them to become independent-minded, ethical citizens who will lead lives of purpose, action, excellence, and compassion in a dynamic world. I would also aim to have Gould always be a learning community that provides a healthy balance between interacting with our local environment and becoming our best selves.
Another personal goal is that I would like us all to appreciate that there may be more than one correct answer to a problem and that we should all be open to different perspectives.
Developing these skills in our students and ourselves, through work in the IDEAS Center, or by participating in the arts, or by engaging in quiet time of reflection. It is important to remember whether it’s hiking, or kayaking, or mountain biking, or Nordic skiing, all of those activities provide a primary function, the activity itself, but they also create that vital time and space to think. We do that really well here.
Seeing Gould with a fresh perspective, what are you seeing as the school’s greatest strengths?
I would say the sense of community is our greatest strength. Our school is a very comfortable place to be. As one 11th grade boy said to me, “Gould does not turn you into somebody else. It turns you into yourself.”
Our approach to the academic program is also a significant strength. Our faculty make an effort to meet the students where they are and take them as far as they can. We truly are committed to guiding our students on their journey to being their best selves.
The location of our campus is perfect. It’s far enough away so that you are able to feel a strong connection to the natural world, and yet we are a lot closer to urban areas than many people think. Portland has a fantastic, small airport that is incredibly easy to fly in and out of.
What would you like to see the school improve on?
I think as a school, we’re better than we think we are, and I believe we’re better than most people realize we are. That’s our first hurdle, getting perception closer to reality. There are some really amazing things that are part of the Gould experience.
We are more academically inclined than many people understand. I think the perception is that we are a great community that enjoys being together and being outside. I don’t think people fully appreciate the academic rigor of our program. I think what has been termed “blended learning” is a real strength. We do a lot of things well here. There is a willingness on the community’s part to make it work for kids. I also think people like each other here, which makes it a nice place to be.