Recognizing education’s evolution

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen BowenAfter 10 months of collecting and considering the public’s feedback and thinking seriously about our priorities, we’ve publicly released a strategic plan for education in Maine.

“Education Evolving: Maine’s Plan for Putting Learners First,” as the document is called, is meant to focus the efforts of the Department of Education in the coming years on a set of initiatives that we believe will have the greatest positive impact on our students.

It’s a plan that recognizes the changing nature of the educational enterprise: Technology is allowing our students countless opportunities to learn outside school walls and discover their passions, and the standards they have to meet to be successful in today’s economy are becoming more rigorous. The plan recognizes the past successes of our education system, while trying to evolve it to meet the needs of all learners – and so all learners leave that system prepared for college, careers and civic life.

It’s a plan that advocates for realistic steps to help improve our schools. The document relies on a narrow set of strategies meant to have the greatest possible impact even amid a limited pool of resources.

And it’s a plan that steers clear of one-size-fits-all mandates from Augusta. Instead, it positions the Department of Education as a partner with school districts in developing and disseminating best practices, ensuring the effectiveness and professional growth of educators, and helping students access learning opportunities beyond the school walls.

I was honored to be joined by five bright, ambitious and resourceful students at Tuesday’s event marking the plan’s release. The five students who spoke are experiencing the benefits of having a say in how they learn. The educators whose guidance helped them take control and make the most of their learning were there, too.

Maggie Stokes, a fourth grader at Williams Elementary School in Oakland, described her learner-centered classroom where she “unpacks learning standards” and keeps track of her progress using a “capacity matrix.” Having some choice in how she learns and meets the various learning standards, Maggie said, has made fourth grade a lot more understandable.

Gareth Robinson, an eighth grader at Auburn Middle School, discussed how he’s managed to harness the power of technology to maximize his learning. He’s used his Maine Learning Technology Initiative laptop to teach himself to play the guitar, produce a newscast about the Battle of Bunker Hill with classmates, and forge an international connection with a classroom in the U.K. (By the way, Gareth referred to his iPhone for notes as he delivered his presentation.)

Kaytie Scully and Morgan Horn from Sumner Memorial High School told the crowd about crafting personalized learning plans as part of the Sumner Pathways program so they can excel at work that’s meaningful to them.

Kaytie has turned her high school experience around since she’s been able to take adult education classes and work toward a Certified Nursing Assistant professional certificate, all while earning high school credit. Morgan has incorporated internships, job shadows, college classes and independent study into a personalized course of study that will allow her to graduate – and pursue her studies in medicine – a semester early.

Brooklyn Pinkham told us how she started excelling as a student when she finally had the opportunity to study her true passion – culinary arts – as a junior at Capital Area Technical Center. It’s something Brooklyn had wanted to do since she began high school. Now, Brooklyn is preparing to attend the Culinary Institute of America – one of the top schools in its field – to pursue her passion.

These five students are proof that there are great things happening in Maine’s schools today. Our schools are leading the way in developing new approaches to engage students in their learning, help them discover their interests and excel. We’re fortunate to have so many examples of learner-centered education to look to as we go about implementing “Education Evolving.”

My hope is that this plan’s implementation will make the impressive experiences of Maggie, Gareth, Brooklyn, Morgan and Kaytie possible for all Maine students, regardless of where they attend school.

I encourage you to read the strategic plan and offer your feedback at www.maine.gov/education/plan/.

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