Franklin College alumni are serving as principals at three of five elementaries in the Franklin Community Schools District of Indiana. They bring varied experiences and leadership styles to their respective roles but share in common a deep commitment to student empowerment and achievement. Each sees their transition from teacher to principal as a way to engage beyond more than one classroom and make a greater impact on students’ school experience.
A love for education is as fundamental to their work as principals as the practical skills that were honed throughout their Franklin College academic and cocurricular opportunities. Their grounding in liberal arts skills supports the dynamic nature of their daily work, from communicating effectively with students, staff and other stakeholders and finding solutions to complex problems, to balancing needs and interests of the school community and making data-informed decisions. These principals handle new issues every day while also addressing budgets, teaching evaluations, student-disciplinary actions, facility maintenance and more. They are in a word, adaptable. More importantly, they are dedicated.
Keep reading to learn what shaped their desire to transition from teachers to principals and about the college experiences and relationships significant to their success as leaders.
Focusing on relationships.
Dylan Purlee ’04 is heading into his eighth year as the principal of Needham Elementary. His path to the administrative role included serving as a teacher, varsity golf coach, instructional coach and assistant principal. He strives never to forget what it’s like being in the classroom and to have meaningful interactions at the school every day.
“My goal is to be a servant leader, serving the needs of the school, the students and all the stakeholders. My leadership style focuses on developing and fostering opportunities for students and teachers to grow, and on helping remove obstacles that are distracting us from our job as educators,” Purlee said. It’s why he begins most conversations with the question, “How can I help you?”
“I probably use that phrase 100 times a day,” he said. Extending the same level of courtesy through communications to those outside the school can be difficult in our digital era, though.
“Email was already a popular means of communication when I began teaching in 2004, but today 95% of the information we share is electronic, whether it’s through an email, app or portal. The greatest pro is that as a school we can share important information rapidly, but the biggest challenge is ensuring that it stands out in the sea of communications in most people’s inboxes,” Purlee said.
Some might say that Purlee himself stands out. One of the lessons from the Franklin College Education Program that has guided Purlee since his student days is to “look and act the part.”
“I took that message to heart and decided education was such an important job that I would always be professional in appearance and attitude,” Purlee said. “I’ve been wearing a tie to school every day since I started working in education in 2004. I’ve only forgotten my tie once, and on that day someone on staff went and bought me one before the day was over! Ties are kind of my trademark.”
Franklin’s education program also gave Purlee great mentors, including his academic adviser Carole McKinney, now retired. “I probably wouldn’t have made it through without her caring for, guiding and advising me.”
Another mentor was James Halik, Ph.D., then the superintendent of Franklin Community Schools and an adjunct instructor at the College. Halik showed Purlee an example of “passion and enthusiasm for education” to which he aspired. Furthermore, Purlee credits Cindy Prather for setting the high expectations that kept him on track to become a competent, caring teacher and eventually principal. Today, she is the College’s director of teacher education and teacher licensing adviser.
“It’s been awesome to work with Mrs. Prather since graduating and build a relationship as colleagues. We share the goal of making sure as many good teachers are in our classrooms as possible,” Purlee said.
As principal, Purlee is dedicated to helping the students and teachers at Needham move forward, and he is proud to see Franklin Community Schools united in their commitment to making a positive impact. “My personal mission is to serve, encourage and support my family, my school and my friends to make today’s tomorrow better,” Purlee said.
Purlee and his spouse, Megan, an elementary teacher, have a son, Rilan. In addition to his bachelor’s degree from Franklin, Purlee earned a master’s degree from Indiana University. He is pursuing a doctorate from Indiana State University.
Cole Zook ’10 served as a teacher, athletic coach and assistant principal before making the switch to principal at Webb Elementary four years ago. He brings a coaching mentality to his leadership role and looks to help students and teachers be the most awesome versions of themselves.
“Being awesome the ‘Webb Way’ means: Working hard. Encouraging others. Being safe. Being positive. That mindset drives everything we try to do for students every day and encourages students to be their most awesome selves by doing these things in school and public,” Zook explained.
He takes seriously the role that schools can play in helping children recognize their self-worth. “There are multiple avenues a student can take for success in their life. It’s important to me to make sure they know what the awesome mindset means and what it can do for them lifelong. It’s about helping them make that connection and inspiring their desire to be their most awesome selves as students, family members and future employees.”
There’s an adage about parenting children that says, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Working in education has its parallels. For one, principals face making multiple key decisions in children’s best interests every day. As those decisions about academics, school programming, discipline and facility management intersect with the important work of supporting teachers in their classroom efforts and caring for students, the pressures mount.
“You always question if you’re doing the right things and making an impact because you might not see the positive outcomes right away. I’ve been in education long enough now that students I taught 10 to 15 years ago are starting to graduate, join the workforce and raise families. They’re showing some growth and doing well as adults, and it’s affirming to see how far-reaching their early education was. That’s the part that makes me really proud and keeps me motivated,” Zook said.
When it comes to leading the teachers and students at Webb, Zook draws upon the experiences he had at Franklin College. “The education program at Franklin enabled me to get into actual classrooms starting in my sophomore year, and that was a huge advantage. By the time I graduated, I had field experiences in elementary, middle and high schools, and I was involved in their classes ranging from math and music to art and PE. I had the chance to see how education worked in a variety of school settings and learn from educators with diverse backgrounds. Before that, I didn’t have much beyond my own student experiences for reference.”
Like many who attend Franklin College, Zook found mentors among the professors and athletic coaches. His four years playing football under then head coach Mike Leonard led to a yearlong assistant coaching appointment he relished. Zook admired Leonard’s coaching philosophy for emphasizing playing to the best of one’s ability and treating others right.
“To me, they were good guidelines for life. Beyond being a phenomenal coach, Mike is one of the best human beings I ever met, and it’s why I keep in touch with him to this day. I try to bring that same type of positivity into Webb.”
In addition to his bachelor’s degree in elementary education including a middle school mathematics endorsement, Zook earned his master’s degree in school administration from Indiana Wesleyan University. He and his spouse, Jessica (Pinnick) ’07, have three children, Landon, Lincoln and Logan.
Building on successes.
This spring, Franklin Community Schools announced that Karle (Schaefer) Hougland ’09 would be Northwood Elementary’s next principal at the start of the 2023–24 academic year. She is excited about returning to the school that made a significant impact during several stages of her life, beginning with her time there as a pupil, continuing into college through her student-teaching experiences and growing into a full-time teaching position after she earned her Franklin College degree.
“I’ve been really blessed in my lifetime to be surrounded by inspirational teachers and have wonderful experiences in education. That’s what guided me toward wanting to become an educator,” Hougland said.
The Franklin College Education Program was an easy choice for Hougland. “The program itself had a really strong reputation for training teachers well,” she said. “There are some college programs that wait until your senior year to give you field experiences, but that wasn’t the case at FC. I had a number of different school placements and made connections with seasoned educators throughout my college experience. Those things were very helpful when it was time to find a job.”
Her background in education includes previous roles as an assistant administrator and instructional coach in addition to eight years of combined teaching experience at two elementary schools. “It was hard to leave the classroom because I love teaching, but I got to a point where I knew I wanted to make a bigger impact,” she said.
Transitioning from teacher to principal is not an overnight process. Hougland has served in a variety of roles in recent years to gain perspectives on multiple aspects of the school experience for staff, students and families. For one, her time as an instructional coach included supporting teachers with professional development opportunities and the latest technologies for instruction. “That was a step toward seeing how I could help teachers and, thereby, have an effect on many more students than in one classroom,” she said.
The chance to broaden that impact further still is a dream come true for Principal Hougland.
“I’m excited about leading the school forward. My vision is that we continue the great work that’s already happened and build upon it so that Northwood is a school with high achievement in the building and a place where staff, families and children want to come,” Hougland said.
Hougland’s leadership style centers around two core values, service and lifelong learning. “My approach to servant leadership starts with teamwork and collaboration. It’s really important to me that we value the input of everyone in the building, and also that I’m able to keep learning so that our school keeps moving forward and student success continues growing.”
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Franklin and a Master of Science in educational leadership from Butler University. She and her spouse, Joe ’02, have two sons, Henry and Graham.
(Previously published: Franklin College Magazine, Summer 2023)
POSTED Sep 8, 2023