What’s getting in the way?

Commissioner Bowen headshot

Author icon: Head shot of Commissioner Stephen BowenAs I tour the state, I wonder what’s getting in the way of letting educators do what’s best for their students.

Fred Woodman has done it all in his career in Maine schools.

He’s been a teacher, principal and superintendent. Now, he’s director of the United Technologies Center in Bangor, which I visited Thursday on the second day of my statewide listening tour.

Fred has always been focused on doing what’s right for every student who walks through the door.

My visit to United Technologies Center, though, left me wondering, what gets in the way of letting educators like Fred do just that?

It’s obvious that the students who attend United Technologies Center are engaged in their work and challenged by it. Fred told me that they show up even when classes are canceled in their home school districts due to snow!

Those students are doing sophisticated work that will give them in-demand skills and prepare them for college. Much of their work — like 3-D animation, Emergency Medical Services training and construction — is helping them make sense of the math and science lessons they’re learning at their home high schools.

But, for some reason, we’re keeping those students from the environment in which they learn best until they’re juniors in high school. Even then, they can’t complete all of their coursework at the technical center.

As I tour the state, I keep hearing that for too many students, the conventional school structure isn’t a good fit. I heard it again Thursday night at my second public forum in Bangor, where teachers and parents expressed dismay that vocational-related programming has been cut back at many middle schools, and that access to Career and Technical Education programming at the high school level is not as broad as it could be.

How many dropouts could we prevent if we engaged more students with work they loved doing, and if we did it earlier than their junior year of high school?

I look forward to hearing more of your comments as I continue the listening tour. On Monday, I visit the Ellsworth region. A public forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Ellsworth High School.