Last week, Maine DOE Chief Academic Officer Rachelle Tome and I had the honor of visiting two Lewiston elementary schools undergoing transformation thanks to support from our Department and the federally-funded Title I School Improvement Grant program (SIG). To say I was impressed by what I saw at Longley and Montello would be an understatement.
But what struck me more than the challenges these two schools face – nearly 100 percent of the students at Longley and 84 percent of those at Montello qualify for free or reduced lunch and 65 percent of the students at Longley and 38 percent at Montello are English language learners – was their “accept no excuses” attitude to overcoming them.
That’s because staff within these two schools are taking a team approach to serving all students, and not just the ones within their own classrooms. Through collaboration, not only is each student better supported, but so is each educator.
As I was reminded at Longley, the needs of our kids are changing, and so must how we meet them. The thinking that a teacher’s time isn’t being well spent if they aren’t in the classroom with students is outdated. At Longley, which is at the end of its SIG process, we observed a fifth- and sixth-grade team planning meeting, focused on strategies to improve the reading skills of struggling students. As a group, the teachers and assistant principal discussed each student as if they were their own and ways to help them, drawing on the student’s performance and behavior in all areas. The care and detail devoted to each individual student reflected the Maine DOE’s vision of a learner-centered education system, and the great things that can happen in our schools when we put students first.
I love that educators are sitting around the table together having common conversations. They value it too. As one told me, “It feels good to be a part of a team that’s meeting all of a student’s needs so they can be most successful.” That approach reminds me of one we’re increasingly taking here at the Department to ensure we are serving the field and advancing the priorities of our Education Evolving strategic plan in a more coordinated way.
Through SIG, the schools are also able to bring in coaches to provide an additional source of support for teachers. This is proving especially meaningful at Montello, in its first year of SIG. As one teacher said, “It’s nice to know it’s someone’s job to help me.”
Ensuring educators are supported, whether through in-school teams, coaches or technical assistance provided by our Department or others, is something we must all recommit ourselves to. As Montello Principal Jim Cliffe so nicely described the improvement journey ahead for his school: “New resources are part of it, but ultimately, it’s all about how we are using the people.”