After Dr. Jonathan Long’s departure at the end of the last academic year, Dr. Craig Cook, our newly appointed principal, had big shoes to fill. Dr. Long was loved by the community, and many doubted if the administration could find someone who was good enough to replace him.
On November 14, Dr. Cook completed his first hundred days at Woodstock. A few weeks ago, I set up an interview with him, struggling to find a time where I could fit into his busy schedule.
Before speaking to Dr. Cook, I engaged in casual conversations with students and staff to know how they felt about him. The staff members spoke highly of him, but then again, he’s their boss, I thought. The students said they had not spent any time with him since he got here. Later, I realised, neither had I.
So, when I walked into his office for our interview, I was nervous and scared.
Looking at him, I could not stop thinking, He’s a complete stranger to me.
Dr. Craig Cook has been in Asia, specifically in the field of education, for over 30 years, and yet, he found Woodstock to be very different from any other school he has been at. What makes it so different, according to him, is the fact that “so many people care about [the community]; from students and staff to alumni.” He thinks of Woodstock as not just boarding school, but as a community with a completely different energy.
Having been here only for a few months, Dr. Cook wants to focus on spending his time building relationships with the community. He thinks that it is important for a leader, especially a new one, to listen to the community.
For this purpose, one of the first measures he has taken is to meet with every single staff member in the school, and have a one on one conversation with them about the challenges they’re facing as teachers, their “hopes and dreams for Woodstock,” and more importantly, how he, as the head of school, can help facilitate those dreams. This, he believes, will help decide how we should move forward.
Mr. Steve Luukkonen, Physical Education teacher, was extremely impressed by this idea. “He’s doing what any good leader would do. He’s taking notes and feedback on our strengths, our weaknesses and things we need to work on,” he said.
A lot of people agree that Dr. Cook has one of the most important qualities that come with being a leader — listening.
Veer Arya, Class of 2020, and Student Council President, agreed that “he is really taking his time to test the climate of Woodstock before applying his own set of values.”
“A lot of people think he’s quiet, but that’s with purpose, and I think it is a very good purpose,” Mr. Luukkonen said.
Arya also pointed out that Dr. Cook values student opinions and encourages the student body to freely voice any concerns they may have.
He has opened up several avenues of communication, such as his private email, where everyone, including students, can reach out to him.
“Trust is always an issue when you’re new, or even when you’re old,” Dr. Cook said. He believes that listening is the most important aspect of building trust, especially in transitional leadership.
Since he came to Woodstock, Dr. Cook has also talked about the three threads of development that he firmly believes in. These are the environment, interdisciplinary spaces, and digital learning. He thinks building a bridge between “the natural and the unnatural world” using multiple disciplines is the way for 21st-century students to move forward.
“He is also very straight and very cutthroat. If he has an opinion on something he stands by it. He’s very clear in his ideas between right and wrong,” Mrs. Tara Menon Puri, alumni coordinator, said.
The never-ending responsibilities that come with being a principal limit his time with students. Hence, Dr. Cook wishes he could spend more time getting to know the student body because, for him, the best part of being in the field of education is being able to connect with students. Along with getting to know students better, he also just wants to enjoy his time at the hillside. He “loves the outdoors.”
So, to be in the outdoors with students, he decided to visit a village with the ninth graders during Activity Week. He has also attended several inter-school sporting events with various teams in the past few months, trying to support them as best as he can.
Besides trying to spend the little free time he gets with students, to satisfy his love of spicy food, visits the dining hall whenever there are new kinds of chillis, to try them.“I love chili peppers, and anything hot and spicy,” he said.
Dr. Cook, in his first few months at the hillside, also adopted a dog, which he and his wife take care of.
After spending some time getting to know him, and talking to people who know him, I was not nervous or scared anymore.
He was not a stranger anymore.
Janvi Poddar is the managing editor of the Woodstocker
Photo by Syma Sahu
Edited by Dhrubhagat Singh