Maine high schools blaze redesign trail

Four Maine high schools share their experiences reshaping the student experience at a regional conference.

By Mark Kostin

Students, teachers, administrators, school board members and others from across New England are interested in reshaping the high school student experience.

On April 7 and 8, some 400 of them heard from schools that have set themselves apart as redesigning pioneers at the second annual High School Redesign in Action conference in Nashua, N.H.

The event, organized by the New England Secondary School Consortium, featured fifteen presentations by secondary schools selected from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Dedicated educators from across the region — all of whom have committed to increasing graduation and postsecondary enrollment rates — were eager to share effective school-improvement strategies, learn from other schools, and support one another through the difficult, but critically important, work of school transformation.

Maine was represented by four schools:

    • Mount Blue High School and Foster Technology Center in Farmington shared the results of their close collaboration designing interdisciplinary learning experiences that meet state standards in both academic and career-and-technical courses. The presenting team members also discussed the collaborative process the schools are using to co-design a new facility that will not only house both schools, but that will provide integrated learning experiences and multiple pathways to graduation for their students.
    • Representatives from Gray-New Gloucester High School — which was recently selected to take part in the Next Generation Learners Initiative — gave participants an overview of their comprehensive school-improvement work, including the impressive results they have achieved with a new student-support system and their plan to adopt a standards-based approach to learning that will give students more control over their education while ensuring that every graduate leaves prepared for college and work.
    • Casco Bay High School in Portland, which is an Expeditionary Learning high school, led participants through a learning “expedition” — a term that refers to the intensive, interdisciplinary, project-driven approach to learning that is the foundation of the school’s educational program. Expeditions can unfold over several days or several weeks, and they typically involve authentic investigations that send students out into their community to learn about real-world problems. In Casco Bay’s relevant, standards-based learning environment, students work together in teams to research complex issues and present their work publicly to experts from the community.

The New England Secondary School Consortium’s goal is to achieve at least a 90 percent high school graduation rate and an 80 percent postsecondary-enrollment rate in all five of its member states by 2016.

The primary lesson we took away from the conference is that our goal, while ambitious, is embraced by educators all over the region. And the innovative strategies and teaching practices shared by the featured high schools and technical schools offer proof that these goals are achievable.

Participants in the conference left with new ideas and a strong affirmation that their New England colleagues share their commitment to successfully preparing every student for the demands of college, work, and lifelong learning in the 21st century.

Most importantly, we all left with the reassuring feeling that we are not alone in this pursuit.

Mark Kostin is a senior associate with the Great Schools Partnership, a Portland-based nonprofit organization and lead coordinator of the New England Secondary School Consortium. He can be reached at mkostin@newenglandssc.org. Follow Mark on Twitter @nessc_me.