Always on the move, Nicola Fraley is ready to settle in at Rindge Memorial School

·8 min read

May 21—RINDGE — Nicola Fraley likes to be on the move.

The 45-year-old Peterborough resident grew up in Neston, a small town in northwest England where she spent her free time riding bikes, playing in the yard and competing in sports like trampolining, badminton and swimming.

After graduating college in the U.K. in 1998, Fraley moved to the United States for what she thought would be one summer, as a camp counselor in Connecticut, before returning to begin a career in law. But plans changed when she met, and fell in love with, her co-counselor (and now husband), Craig Fraley. So, she moved to the U.S. permanently in 1999, and began working as an educator.

"Having part-time jobs, I'd always enjoyed working with kids and said, 'Well, this is a new avenue. Let's go in a new way,' " Fraley, who is currently the assistant principal at both Jaffrey Grade School and Rindge Memorial School, said.

Her job keeps her in motion much of the time, too, typically splitting her week between the two elementary schools in the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District. At the end of the school year, she'll make another professional move when she takes over as principal at Rindge Memorial School.

"All of my energy I can pour into one place, and I feel I can be more effective that way," she said. "... The community here, within the staff community, the students and the families, it's a really tight and supportive community."

Coming to America

Growing up, Fraley always wanted to be a lawyer. So, when she got to Bradford University in the U.K., she studied law and business. As she was wrapping up her bachelor's degree, Fraley's friend Anthony East encouraged her to join him in the U.S. for a summer, traveling and working as camp counselors.

Fraley was on board, and took a job at Incarnation Camp in Ivoryton, Conn., while East went to a camp on Lake Winnipesaukee. The pair said they would meet up and travel for about two months after their stints at camp, but those plans never materialized. Instead, Nicola (who also goes by Nicky) was randomly partnered with Craig Fraley to lead a group of about a dozen 13- to 15-year-old campers, and the two grew smitten with one another.

"We just got along like a house on fire," Nicola Fraley said. "We laughed a lot, we had a lot of the same interests. We were enjoying the same kinds of things, like being out in the woods, hiking and traveling and just having fun."

So, after camp ended, Craig asked Nicola to join him on his drive back to Colorado Mountain College, where he was studying outdoor recreational leadership. From there, she took a Greyhound bus to San Francisco, and spent some time traveling up the West Coast.

"And I got as far north as Vancouver, and I was like, 'What am I doing here? I'm going to go back to England in a couple of weeks,' " she said. " 'I should get back to Colorado and hang out with this really cool guy for a little while longer before it's time to go home.' "

She did go back to see Craig before heading to the U.K. for a few months. During that time, Craig made plans to transfer to the University of New Hampshire, while Nicola lined up a job at Nature's Classroom. With the Charlton, Mass.-based organization, Nicola led weeklong residential programs in environmental and science education for middle-schoolers from around New England, primarily at the organization's camp in Freedom on Lake Ossipee.

Back to school

Nicola and Craig Fraley got married in August 2001, and moved to the Monadnock Region around Christmastime. They lived in Hancock, then Harrisville, for a total of two years before moving to Peterborough, where Nicola had gotten a job as a paraprofessional at Peterborough Elementary School in the ConVal School District.

Education runs in Nicola's family. Her father, Pete Barton, worked as an instructor at a continuing education college in England, mostly teaching literacy and numeracy skills to adults. And her sister, Jennie Sawtell, is an elementary school teacher in the U.K. (Fraley's mother, Lynn Barton, was a nurse.)

While working at Peterborough Elementary, Fraley earned her master's in education, and a teaching certification, from Keene State College in 2003, after which she became a 4th-grade teacher at the school. She returned to Keene State about 10 years later to get her educational leadership certification, which paved the way for her to take on the principal job at Francestown Elementary School in 2014.

After three years in Francestown, she moved to Clark-Wilkins Elementary School in Amherst, where she was principal for two years before applying for her current role, which the Jaffrey-Rindge district created before the 2019-20 school year.

"My first impressions were that she was a very upbeat, well informed, well-spoken individual," said Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Reuben Duncan, adding that Fraley's role as an administrator at both of the district's elementary schools is unique.

"So she, among other things, serves as a bridge between those two elementary schools and has been instrumental in bringing those two schools together," he said.

Fraley said she has prioritized helping JGS and RMS — both of which enroll about 300 students in pre-K through 5th grade — maintain their individual identities, while also creating more shared expectations and experiences for students at both schools.

"All of our students from both schools come together in 6th grade at the middle school, and so students were really coming in with different experiences," she said. "So, they were not necessarily as set up for success as they could be in terms of where they're coming in together."

So, over the past three years as assistant principal, Fraley said she's focused on fostering collaboration between the staffs at the two schools, leading them to adopt similar classroom practices and policies, and for instance, consistent rubrics for grading writing assignments.

Right at home in Rindge

Fraley said she loves her current position, so it was a tough decision to apply for the principal job at Rindge Memorial School, but ultimately she's looking forward to the new role.

"I don't want it to sound like we're not meeting our potential now, but there's so much potential of fun and great things that we can be doing here that it's really inspiring and it's exciting to think about what the possibilities are for the future," she said.

Kelly Marcotte, who has been the principal of Rindge Memorial School since 2015, said Fraley has forged meaningful relationships with the school, and the community.

"I feel that I worked hard to make connections with the communities and the families, and I think she's well on her way to doing that," Marcotte said.

The tight-knit community in Rindge is part of what attracted Fraley to the district in the first place, she said. It's also a community the Fraley family already knew — Craig Fraley was the town's recreation director for about five years. He's held the same role in Amherst for the past eight.

"You talk about that sense of community; now, eight years on, I'll talk about somebody from here, and he'll say, 'Oh yeah, that's so-and-so's mom,' " Nicola Fraley said. "Just that sense of connection and family, really it's neat and it's something that's very strong here at RMS."

Marcotte, who earned her doctorate in education from Plymouth State University last year, said she's planning to take some time off before exploring her next steps, which could include teaching education at the college level. In the meantime, she said Rindge Memorial School is in good hands with Fraley.

"I'm really very happy that Nicky is taking the helm next year, and I just think it's going to be a really smooth transition for the school and the community," Marcotte said.

And as Fraley prepares for this latest career move, she spends a lot of time outside of school with her family, normally doing something active.

"I think I would say I like to move my body," she said, noting that she's run several marathons. "So, I love to mountain bike and run and paddle and hike and garden. We're a super active family."

Her kids — 15-year-old son Ben and 12-year-old daughter Kate, both students in the ConVal School District — ski race at Crotched Mountain in the winter, among a host of other extracurricular activities.

All this activity takes plenty of fuel, but that's no problem for Fraley, who also likes to cook and bake. The family bakes all of their own bread, typically making two loaves at a time, two or three times per week.

"We go through a decent amount of bread," she said with a laugh. "... It gets devoured."

And despite all this moving about, Fraley said she is excited to settle in to her new role at Rindge Memorial School.

"I see myself being here for a really long time," she said. "I would like to retire from here when that time comes."

Jack Rooney can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or jrooney@keenesentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @RooneyReports.