“If you would have asked me in high school if I wanted to be a college president, I would have said ‘No way!’” says Dr. George Arnold, the first lay president of Silver Lake College of the Holy Family. However, Dr. Arnold’s life experiences seem to have left him little choice as to what he would end up doing.
Dr. Arnold grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, until the age of eight. Then his family relocated to France for two years, where the only English-speaking teacher taught one grade level below where Dr. Arnold should have been. As the oldest student in his 2nd grade class, Dr. Arnold “learned a lot of grit.” During his two-hour lunch breaks, he had a rough time with some bullies on the playground, who picked on him because he was American and because he was supposed to be in 3rd grade.
In France, Dr. Arnold was a part of a school system that determined whether kids were college-bound by the age of 12. The students who were chosen for higher education would go to the lycée for college-prep classes, while the others would never get the chance to go to college. As Dr. Arnold reflects on this now, he says, “I am convinced that some kids turn on at different times. Whether a kid succeeds or fails at school isn’t completely dependent on the student’s intelligence.” Dr Arnold posits, “In terms of regular situations, student success has a lot to do with self-confidence.”
Dr. Arnold is grateful to his parents for always having confidence in him. When he was a junior in college, he signed up for a 400 level class that graduate students could also sign up for. When he walked in, he realized that he was the only undergrad in the class. Dr. Arnold recalls driving home with his dad and saying, “Dad, you know, this just isn’t going to work.” His dad said to him, “You know what I’d do, I think I’d hang in there and see how it goes. I bet you’ll do better than you think you will.” Armed with the confidence of his father, Dr. Arnold recalls with a smile, “I got the only A in the class.”
Dr. Arnold earned his Bachelor Degree in History and Secondary Education at Buffalo State College in New York. Then he took his first teaching job at Grand Island High School.
At Grand Island, there were regular classes, honor classes, and a “general” section for kids who weren’t doing well. Dr. Arnold taught all three, and he learned a lot from all of his classes. In his world history class, he wanted to see what the students could learn about history through literature, so he assigned his honors class extra books. One day, one of his “regular” kids asked him, “Why can’t we read those books, too?” Dr. Arnold recalls, “I made the assumption that they wouldn’t be interested.”
In another instance, a parent approached Dr. Arnold about his child who wasn’t doing well on tests. The parent asked if Dr. Arnold would allow the student to take his exams at home, where his parents could read the questions to him. “The student, who as it turns out, had dyslexia, ended up moving from the general class to the regular class, and he did just fine,” Dr. Arnold says.
“In the process of all that I learned from the students, I got excited about trying to change things at the school,” Dr. Arnold recalls with a sparkle in his eye. “We got a group of faculty together to develop an alternative curriculum for the ‘general’ students, that wouldn’t be a boiled down version of the regular curriculum, but would suit their diverse learning styles.” The curriculum ended up fizzling out under an assistant principal.
“It was at that moment, I thought that if I got my graduate degree, I’d be able to make more of an impact,” Dr. Arnold says. Dr. Arnold went to the University of Maryland at College Park, and earned his doctorate in social studies education in 1975.
After earning his Ph.D., Dr. Arnold took a job as an assistant professor of education and history at Monmouth College in Illinois. He eventually became a full professor. “During my professorship, I had a couple of administrative experiences that whetted my appetite,” Dr. Arnold says.
After working as a professor, Dr. Arnold was given the chance to become the associate dean, registrar, and director of institutional research (plus he still taught a course a term!). After a few more job changes within Monmouth College, he eventually became the full-time dean, after a national search to fill the position.
Dr. Arnold enjoyed his vice-presidency. “I really liked helping move an institution forward and helping people succeed in what they were trying to accomplish. There were a lot of challenges, but we had a good team with which to meet them,” Dr. Arnold says.
“It was then, under the direction of a really great president at Monmouth, that I started thinking about entering into the presidency myself,” Dr. Arnold recalls.
In 2001, Dr. Arnold was hired as the first lay president of Silver Lake College of the Holy Family. When Dr. Arnold was looking for a presidency job, he was looking for a “mission-driven school” where he could “help others to move the institution forward”. He also wanted it to be a school that “centered on teaching, and was focused on the student.” “Silver Lake is definitely all of that,” Dr. Arnold says.
Dr. Arnold and his wife Donna (who worked with him at first teaching job at Grand Island) thoroughly enjoyed the interview process. As they were walking one evening after the interviews, Donna said, “George, if this presidency ever comes through, I would retire from teaching and volunteer to work with you at the college.” Silver Lake gave Dr. Arnold and Donna a chance to be reunited in work once again. Donna and Dr. Arnold are “in with both feet” as they help prepare Silver Lake for the next phase of its life. “For us,” Dr. Arnold says, “it is quite special to be a part of Silver Lake’s story.”