Commissioner explores “academies” at Lake Region HS

Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Lake Region High School and Lake Regional Vocational Center, both in RSU 61/SAD 61, Naples, to explore their project-based academies and new career and technical education facility as part of his Promising Practices Tour on Friday.

As with several other recent school visits on the Commissioner’s tour, Lake Region High School was designated as underperforming in 2009-10 and applied for and received a federal School Improvement Grant. With the help of that grant and technical assistance from the Maine DOE, as well as a commitment to bold new approaches, Lake Region has made progress in culture and academics.

Commissioner Bowen observed and spoke with students from the school’s nine academies—small educational groupings that explore career possibilities through project-based and traditional learning models. The academies, which are new this year, offer an education program that raises the academic and social skills of students to prepare them for college or the workforce.

The academies—ranging in topic from global studies to visual and performing arts—support the school’s new philosophy: provide a structure that gives students the opportunity to pursue their passions and their interests, while helping them solve 21st-century problems.

“The kids talked to me about how the academies have built community,” Bowen said. “A student graduating this year told me when she was a freshman, she never interacted with seniors. It’s had a really positive impact on the climate.”

“This approach by the academies is the kind of education reform and student-centered program we need more of in Maine,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “Each time Commissioner Bowen returns from a school and reports on what he’s seeing, I am encouraged for the future of education in Maine. We have great things going on, and I appreciate Commissioner Bowen’s efforts to highlight and share those.”

During “Academy Time,” which takes place every Monday for about two hours, students work on semester-long projects, culminating in a school-wide presentation to showcase each academy’s work. Lake Region’s school board now requires Academy Time as a graduation requirement.

Bowen visited the school’s adjacent career and technical education center, which was completely renovated through the school’s $14 million renovation project. According to Finn, the relationship between LRHS and the vocational center has never been stronger. “When kids are encouraged to explore opportunities through CTE and see the training they can get, that’s contributing to our success story,” Finn said.

LRHS also started an extended learning program, called Food for Thought, after school once a week. All students are welcome, whether they need remediation or simply a quiet place to work on homework, and a teacher from each content area is there to offer help.

The community has been very understanding and supportive throughout the transformation process, and Finn believes that support will only increase over the next two years. He likened the school’s transformation to the process of building a house: year one was designing the plan, year two was pouring the foundation, and year three—this year—was framing the structure. Finn anticipates the school will spend the next two years fine-tuning the transformation and finding its groove.

“When the school was identified as a persistently low-achieving school three years ago, it was devastating news,” said Finn. “But the SIG money was a blessing because we were given $1.62 million to reinvent ourselves and make us a 21st-century school.”

Bowen had a chance to speak directly to students during a short assembly at the end of the day, where he congratulated them for their “hard work, and for coming together to engage students and transform your school.”

Bowen’s Promising Practices Tour will take him to all nine superintendent regions in the state before the end of the school year. He plans to see the innovative practices schools are implementing that are showing promise and that are helping to forward the priorities in the Maine DOE strategic plan and the Governor’s ABC Plan for education.

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