Carrie Ricker School Principal Christine Lajoie-Cameron, center, is surrounded by students in the last fifth grade class she will see graduate. She is retiring this year. Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

As a child, Christine Lajoie-Cameron loved school. She admired her teachers and thought it would be great to become one herself, but she was shy. So shy that she didn’t think she’d ever get over it enough to become an educator.

Spoiler alert: She did.

“Those who know me now are amazed that I was ever shy!” Lajoie-Cameron said.

She worked as an educational technician in Augusta, where a mentor encouraged her to become a teacher. She went on teach special education and then second grade for 17 years. However, Lajoie-Cameron found herself often frustrated with the way things were handled. Teachers, she thought, should have a greater voice in school decisions.

She could do that as an administrator. And as an administrator, she could better influence school culture, how decisions were made and how children should be treated.

For the past 15 years, she’s done just that as an elementary school principal in RSU 4. She called it “the best gig ever.”

Soon, though, that gig will pass to someone else. After 35 years in education, Lajoie-Cameron is retiring.

Name: Christine Lajoie-Cameron

Age:  60

Town:  Manchester

Family:  Husband, Jack Cameron; a huge extended family of Lajoies and Camerons; and, she says “a garden filled with our beloved departed beagles.”

Job: Elementary school principal at Carrie Ricker School in Litchfield

Tell me about Carrie Ricker School: The “Home of the Owls” is a warm, friendly and student-centered community. Our staff has created a very welcoming and pleasing environment for the children and for each other. I never cease to be amazed at the lengths the staff will take to help kids and what the kids will do to help the staff. We also use a lot of humor here, with each other and with the kids. Laughing helps us all to relieve stress and feel connected to each other, students and staff alike.

How long have you been principal there? I have been a principal in RSU4 for 15 years. My first position was at the now-closed Wales Central School. I then moved to Litchfield, where I was the principal for both Libby-Tozier (grades pre-K through 2) and Carrie Ricker (grades 3 through 8). In 2009, RSU4 reconfigured schools and I became the principal of our current grade 3-5 school. This has been the best gig ever!

What’s the best part of being principal? Every day is different. Even though I have a daily schedule, surprises, good and bad, happen every day. Facing problems as new challenges can be very rewarding. Mostly though, spending time with children and knowing that you are making a difference in their lives, is the best reward of all.

The most challenging part? Students who have experienced trauma and struggle in school, changing family structures that impact the security of the children, the cycle of poverty that affects student success, and mandates from the Department of Education and the feds clearly made by people who are not practitioners.

Funniest personal story of your career? There are so many, but these two come to mind: A third-grade girl very seriously said, “I mean this as a compliment but your hair reminds me of ramen noodles.” Another very upset student was being advised by our counselor about a recess issue when he said, “I demand to speak with someone with authority – bring me to Mrs. Cameron!”

Carrie Ricker School Principal Christine Lajoie-Cameron Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham

How have the kids reacted when they hear you won’t be back next year? I have been impressed with their maturity! The children are saying so many kind things about how they will miss me. I will miss them more.

How do you think you’ll feel handing over the keys to your school? It’s the moment I am dreading the most as those keys represent “my school” and my life for so long. I am sure it’s going to be one of the most significant days of my life.

Plans for retirement? I am excited to really enjoy fall in Maine, to travel, to spend more time in the garden and to savor long walks. My husband and I are so lonesome without our dogs so I am sure we will have a new canine friend as well.

Any advice for new principals? You are surrounded by young learners who are keen on love, attention and kindness. Try to put yourself in their shoes and remember that they haven’t been around all that long. Every day is a new opportunity for you and for them to become better human beings. If you can choose compassion over control, you will have much more success with children. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to have fun. Kids are hilarious!

Advice for Carrie Ricker’s new principal? Value the teachers and support staff, office staff, bus drivers, etc. Encourage, nurture and celebrate the folks who encourage, nurture and celebrate the kids. Author Nelia Connors uses food analogies and writes, “If you don’t feed the teachers, they will eat the students!”

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