With the holidays approaching, now is the time to thank all of our teachers and school/district leaders for the work you do each day to meet the needs of all Maine students. It is also the time to share with all of you our vision for how the Maine DOE can better support your important work.
Historically, many have perceived our Department as being too regulatory and sometimes lacking in clear focus and direction. The Department did its best to respond to requests for support, but inquiries were not carefully tracked, and thus not coordinated with our other work, nor was our support targeted to where it was most needed. There were times when a DOE staff member would provide support to a district, not knowing that other DOE staff were also working within the same district, sometimes within the same school. Opportunities for collaboration – within schools, districts and regions – were missed.
We have been working hard to address these challenges. We first used feedback from the field to develop the Education Evolving strategic plan, which remains our road map through a recent transition in Department leadership. In the nearly two years since that was launched, we have been busy realigning our structure and staffing to reposition Maine DOE as a service agency, and the development of the Department’s recently-approved ESEA waiver further allowed us the flexibility to take new approaches to help schools in their local improvement efforts. Most recently, the Department – first under the leadership of former Commissioner Bowen and now Acting Commissioner Jim Rier – has been reviewing the process by which we provide support to Maine’s schools and districts, with the goal of strengthening that support and targeting it more carefully. Moving forward, we’re taking a new approach that we think better directs our resources to the needs of schools.
The first step in our new process has been to begin drafting implementation plans for each of the Department’s major initiatives, from updated Maine Learning Results integration to proficiency-based diplomas for all students. Once finalized, these plans will guide our work and allow us to respond to requests for support that we get directly from schools in a more coordinated manner. Because we will have implementation plans for key initiatives and a better understanding of school and district needs, we can better connect schools who contact us to existing and emerging opportunities, rather than providing inefficient one-off reactive assistance.
Second, we’re pulling together what we have learned from schools about their needs, including recent surveys of D and F schools identified by our new School Performance Grading System and all schools on educator effectiveness. The results have shown us that there are a few key areas schools are focused on, such as transitioning to a proficiency-based diploma and improving data analysis, attendance and RTI programs. As we gather and process this data, we can better target our support based on actual needs and not assumptions.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, teams across the Department are now meeting regularly to better collaborate on training and professional development offerings and developing Department policy and direction so that we can cut down duplication, maximize the resources we have and ensure our guidance to the field is consistent and coordinated.
Through this new process, we hope to achieve a system of supports that is:
- Better connected to the needs of schools and districts. Our goal is to ensure that the support the Department provides is tied directly to the needs of schools and districts. Informed by feedback directly from schools, we have been reworking our professional development offerings, as described above, to respond to those needs and will be providing those opportunities increasingly through webinars, regional groups and our Center for Best Practice to ensure we are reaching as many educators across the state as possible.
- Prioritized by need. Our DOE is one of the nation’s smallest, which means that no matter how much more effective and efficient we become, we can’t meet all the needs that exist. We therefore have to prioritize, and our top priority has to be those schools and districts with the greatest need for our support. To achieve this, we’ve created an internal tiered system of supports (see left). The new School Performance Grading System and our ESEA waiver categories helped us to identify the schools that need to be our top priorities.
- Designed to build networks of support. That the Department is focused on high-need schools does not mean the rest of Maine’s schools will go without support. One of the Department’s other goals with this new approach is to build networks of schools in order to maximize the reach of the training and support that is provided. With State and local resources limited, we see the building of these networks – both formal and informal – as a promising approach to maximize support resources. We will also continue developing our online Center for Best Practice, expanding it beyond its existing learner-centered focus to provide a platform for Maine schools to share their success stories with each other.
- Focused on capacity building. Our teachers and leaders want help building capacity for overall school improvement and transformation, learning how to analyze data and develop interventions to foster overall improvement, and leading large scale change like the transition to proficiency-based approaches. In response, we’re building systems of support that look at large-scale systemic change, not simply technical support around a single instructional strategy or content area approach.
- Integrated with other Maine DOE efforts. The message from our schools and districts has been clear: capacity is limited, so tear down the silos and integrate the work of the Department as much as possible. Our goal then, is not to create one system of support for continued Maine Learning Results implementation, another for teacher and principal evaluation, another for school improvement and yet another for the transition to a proficiency-based diploma. Rather, our goal is to integrate our support for these initiatives so that the Department’s work is coordinated and comprehensive.
- Better communicated with the field. In the end, all the work we are doing to be more responsive will be meaningless if we don’t communicate more effectively. In talking with schools this summer, it became clear that many were unaware of the professional development opportunities we already have available. The Department needs to be a clearer and more effective communicator. Over the summer, we have worked to improve our website, communications with schools and centralized calendar of professional development opportunities. We realize you are inundated with emails, and so will be working in the coming months to move away from our dozens of content-specific listservs/emails and ensure that every Department communication counts and is comprehensive.
Changes this ambitious don’t happen overnight, and while our Department of 125 or so people will do its best to be as responsive to the needs of schools and districts as possible, it will take us some time to build the system of support described above. As schools and districts are confronting significant changes to how they do their work, the Department too is embracing a new model of support and assistance that we think will be more effective, more efficient and more responsive to your needs.
We are excited about the direction we’re headed and look forward to working with you better to meet the needs of all Maine students and their schools. Please let us know what we can do to help.
Jim Rier, Acting Commissioner
Rachelle Tome, Chief Academic Officer
Jan Breton, Director of Special Services