AUGUSTA, Maine — Dick Durost has been the executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association since April 2001.
He taught at Penobscot Valley High School in Howland and coached some there as well. In 1985 he became principal at Easton High School. Durost took a post as assistant principal at Presque Isle in 1989 and took over as principal in 1991. In 1996, Durost returned to Easton as the school system superintendent and elementary school principal.
As the winter sports tournaments reach their championships, Durost recently answered five questions about himself and the MPA in a new BDN sports feature called “Take Five.”
What feelings do you get as the tournament approaches?
The basketball tournament is a special time of year for me. It’s been a big part of my life for more than 50 years, from going there as a young child and eventually to be able to play there, to coach there, to officiate there, to working with [sports writer] Hugh Lord covering tournament games. I’ve been there as an assistant principal, as an athletic director, as a principal. I served on the Class A basketball committee when I was at Presque Isle, and the last 12 years as the executive director here.
So that third week in February for more than 50 years, I’ve known exactly where I was going to be and what I was going to be doing. It’s just become such an important part of my life.
I have good friends from all over the state, that week, whether it’s Bangor, Augusta or Portland, it’s probably the only time of the year that I see those people, but I know every time the tournament rolls around, I’m going to see some old friends I haven’t seen since the last tournament.
What has been the biggest change in your job since you started [at the MPA]?
It was decided when I was hired we were going to try to play a larger role with the Legislature, with the Department of Education.
When the Legislature is in session, I’ve become the prime lobbyist, if you will, for the Maine Principals’ Association and that means representing our 800 members, principals and assistant principals around academic and educational issues, but it also means the other part of our association is the interscholastic side, the athletics and activities, and from time to time there are bills presented with respect to that as well.
[We’re] becoming more and more involved in state government, with respect to the Legislature and particularly the education committee. I think the declining enrollments across the state have had some real impact on the ability of schools to offer the best possible academic programs, but it has also had an impact on the athletic programs.
What is the MPA’s role?
I think there is a misunderstanding, sometimes, out there among the public. They think the MPA is myself and the other people that work here, that we make the rules and we carry them out. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are 152 public and private schools that actually make up the Maine Principals’ Association. They are the schools, through their principals, that vote in all the rules. We serve here as a resource when schools call us and we certainly try to talk to parents and fans as well, giving them the interpretation and the understanding of the rules.
All of the rules that are in place are there for the common good of the athletes and students that are involved in activities as well. It’s all about helping to protect some family time, to make sure there are not too many pressures on kids as they’re growing up.
We’re always trying to educate the people that we work with at the Legislature to understand that these rules were actually established by the schools to protect kids. Usually, we’ve been fairly successful trying to get that message across.
What’s the most frustrating part and the most rewarding part of what you do?
The most rewarding part is easy.
One is the great people in education I have the opportunity to work with, whether it’s principals, assistant principals, athletic directors, coaches, and we have an outstanding staff at the association here as well.
[And two,] being able to be around students in a positive environment, which is the case most of the time with athletics and activities, but also being able to be around and be a part of molding the education for the students across the state of Maine. Those are definitely the most rewarding pieces, and those occur on the principals side as well as the athletics side.
The biggest frustration is when we are in the kind of economic conditions that we’re at now. … The frustration is with the fact there are different financial opportunities available in different parts of the state. I think that’s the frustration — trying to do everything that we can to make growing up in Maine, be it part of a private or public school, and getting the best possible education as well as having those positive things that come from athletics and activities be part of every kid’s life.
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy spending time with my wife, Marcelle. We’re both lifelong educators and it’s nice to come home at the end of the day and have somebody who understands what you do, what your job is like and both the challenges and satisfactions that go along with it.
I have four sons, one stepdaughter and five grandchildren and enjoy spending a lot of time with family. They’re all within an hour and a half of where we live, and I try to spend time with them on a regular basis.
Certainly, I’m a sports fan in terms of trying to get to a few high school and college activities beyond the workload that I have. Relaxing in the evening or on the weekend, even being a bit of a couch potato, watching TV whether it’s college basketball, the Red Sox, the Celtics, the Patriots. I’m a huge Duke basketball fan as well.
I think when I have time off from work, it’s about relaxing, being with people that I love and enjoy talking to. It’s more about enjoying the people around me.