I’ve been meaning for a long time to write something, anything, but haven’t had any ideas collected enough to put them down here. For that, I blame work more than anything else. This past year has been very busy. I haven’t often had the time or will during weekends to write, much less go for bike rides as I had the year before.

Having flown out of Kurdistan a few days earlier, I’m decompressing from the past year of work and trying to be a recluse for two days on the Croatian island of Mljet.

A cabin overlooking Veliki Jezera ‘Big Lake’ in Mljet National Park My phone camera has deteriorated quickly, giving all of my photos a washed out, old-school look. Or at least that’s how I try to justify that my camera now barely works.

In May last year, as I was finishing my first year in Duhok, I decided to do another year in Kurdistan. And also that it would be my third and final year in Kurdistan.

I was up to that point getting myself ready to leave despite my bosses trying to convince me to stay for another year. What ultimately changed my mind was the news that our school was expanding into secondary, which for myself has always been more rewarding and exciting than primary school.

My bosses were already certain that my departure was a foregone conclusion- as I’d long already decided- but I made a bold move and told my immediate boss that I’d stay for one more year under the condition that I was given administrative oversight and control of the new secondary as the head teacher. Effectively the role of VP for middle school, with the power to effect the new middle school’s direction. I told them that I’d create a strong foundation, a consistent, clear approach, and that in a year’s time I’d definitely leave. To my surprise, they agreed to my suggestion, and re-shuffled new hires to give me the position I demanded.

This past year as the “Middle School Coordinator” has been equally tiring and rewarding. I’ve had to constantly revise new policies I created for the middle school, find continually different ways to help support teachers that struggled with our new, challenging students, and have had to build a middle school Science department from scratch… even swinging a deal with UNICEF to procure invaluable classroom equipment that we would have otherwise not had.

This past year has been a whirlwind. Never easy, rarely monotonous, and most exciting when behavior issues (that invariably pop up in middle schools) happen. And those issues have done so in force even with our relatively small group of children, forcing me and our middle school staff to take many different strategies of behavior management to keep things in order.

This past year has been a tremendous learning experience for me. In a very controlled sense, I was given the power to build a new school from scratch with all the minutiae that goes with it attached.  And, I’m proud to say, it didn’t go unnoticed. An inspector with the British Council, one of the world’s largest educational organizations, remarked that our secondary was among the best organized that she’d seen in the country.

By April/May this year, the conversation with my bosses had once again turned to what offer it would take to bring me back. This time, I told them that the offer didn’t exist.

Among all the new things I’d learned this past year, probably the clearest thing was that I didn’t want to work in a classroom. The sooner out of a classroom for me, the better. I didn’t hesitate or diplomatically re-phrase that idea to my superiors, feeling that saying anything else might give them false hope that there were still potential classroom-based opportunities I’d be interested in.

On a small island in Veliki Jezera sits a 12th century Benedictine Monastery. The Benedicts were famous for building their monasteries in reclusive and stunningly beautiful locations where they felt they could appreciate god through nature. The island and monastery both are named Sveti Marija, “Saint Mary”.

Last year I made a bold move in asking for the new secondary, and this time around it was my bosses turn. In a move I didn’t expect, they offered me the only non-teaching position that was an advancement from my position; to be the principal of a brand-new school opening in Erbil in September. I hesitated on the offer, but the consensus from friends and family was that it was a role I’d be almost foolish not to take. So, I did.

This past month I’ve essentially worked two jobs simultaneously; finishing my responsibilities as the head of secondary in Duhok, working to make sure that things will transition smoothly for next year, and the vast majority of my June has been spent in Erbil putting things into place to get ready for our September 3rd launch.

Unlike last year, this time I truly am building a school from scratch. Quite literally- as I walked into an empty school on May 31st; full of potential but blank in actuality. It’s already proven to be an exciting job, but my current role of principal is nominal until kids walk in the door on the morning of September 3rd, scenarios and discussions that we have now will then become reality.

Until then I’m going to enjoy the first half of my vacation in Croatia- I’m still on the lovely island of Mljet- and spend the latter half home in California, where I haven’t spent much time at all since spring 2014.

Sunset over Mali Jezera “Small Lake” in Mljet National Park.


3 thoughts on “Mljet

  1. Thanks for the update, Dawson. Looking forward to seeing you next month! Enjoy your time in Croatia.

  2. Hi Dawson: Well, time has gone by, we’ve had to chance to meet just this past Saturday and it was a real joy to get to meet you and your family——actually the extended family including cousins.!!! It was an enjoyable afternoon and evening; lots of good conversation, lots of good food—–good entertainment watching ping-pong tournament—-baseball game. Hopefully, whenever you are home in future, I will have the good fortune to catch up with you and hear you tell some more about what’s been happening in your new adventure. Take care, Dolores

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