Commissioner seeks input at first public forum in Turner

Parents and teachers offer suggestions on how the Maine DOE can support schools in their work.

TURNER — How do schools need to change and how can the Department of Education help educators make that happen?

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen posed those questions Tuesday night at the first public forum of his nine-region listening tour at Leavitt Area High School in Turner.

The Commissioner wants to hear from parents, teachers, and others as he develops a strategic plan for improving Maine’s schools. He said Maine’s schools need a strategic plan that will help them stay the course as they adopt a 21st-century model that’s more flexible and makes smarter use of technology.

“It’s trying to put the power in the hands of educators,” Bowen said Tuesday night at a public forum at Leavitt Area High School. “I’m from the government. What can I do to help?”

The 30 people who attended Tuesday’s forum made a number of suggestions:

  • Training opportunities for teachers need to be relevant, more accessible and less expensive. Rather than pay to enroll in a university class, for example, teachers should be able to learn from their colleagues on site and at no cost. Bowen said plans are in the works to make the Department of Education website a clearinghouse for training materials and other resources.
  • As much as possible, the Department of Education should remove uncertainty from the school budget process. School districts start budgeting each year without knowing how much they can expect in state subsidy. One school board member said a two-year budget process for school districts could be a helpful step.
  • Maine’s schools can’t be expected to constantly adopt new reforms. “I’ve seen so many changes in education, no one’s had a chance to say, ‘This might work,’” said Larry Hathaway, a former school board member in Turner-based Regional School Unit 52. “Every two or three years, the teachers have something new thrown on them.” Bowen called for a strategic plan that establishes consistency for Maine schools. “We really want to stay the course,” he said. “We don’t want to be lurching all over the road.”
  • Too many students are dropping out of Maine schools because they don’t thrive in the traditional school environment. That’s an opportunity for schools to specialize in particular student interests, Bowen said.
  • If technology is to be an integral part of 21st-century schools, funding for technology needs to be a priority in Maine’s school funding formula, said Sharon Betts, RSU 52’s technology coordinator.