An open dialogue with the Commissioner in Caribou

By Alana Margeson

With the amount of time, energy, education and pride that teachers and administrators place in our schools, it stands to reason that we welcome opportunities to share our work with others. A recent visit from Commissioner Stephen Bowen allowed for Eastern Aroostook RSU 39 to share and highlight our innovation, enthusiasm and dedication.

As Maine moves toward proficiency-based education for all students, the work being done “behind the scenes” in terms of ideas and research becomes very meaningful. At Caribou High School and throughout Eastern Aroostook RSU 39, teachers are engaging in ongoing professional development around standards and shifts for instructional purposes and mass customized learning. Attending workshops by Bea McGarvey has proven an excellent catalyst for our work; as we have moved forward, most changes have come from “grassroots” movements within and across schools. Commissioner Bowen shared that Maine schools have largely embraced proficiency-based learning in this same manner. It was interesting and reassuring to gauge our own work while our methods were vetted with those of schools across the state.

Before the school day began, Commissioner Bowen met with our team for breakfast to discuss standards-based education as well as some our district’s celebrations, such as our leadership and success with the Maine Content Literacy Project. We also shared challenges and concerns, such as the new school reporting system. Open dialogue is critical, and we appreciated the opportunity to share our experiences and ask questions of Commissioner Bowen.

Being able to showcase the innovative work being done at Caribou High School was a rewarding experience. Commissioner Bowen observed and took part in a lesson I co-taught with my English department colleague, Jennifer Quinlan. Our lesson focused on having students pre-assess their levels of proficiency with a set of key performance indicators as we move into work with The Great Gatsby and “The American Dream.”

In addition, Commissioner Bowen met with the math department of Caribou High School as they worked on Common Core State Standards-based units of instruction during a professional day. They have worked for two years on creating meaningful and innovative Common Core standards based units. Recently, our English department met with the math chair, Kim Perreault, to learn more about their approach and view samples of their work. We were inspired! Such work is representative of teachers across Maine, who take pride in remaining dynamic and committed to student growth and achievement. It was wonderful to host Commissioner Bowen in Caribou; a few inches of springtime snow did not deter our efforts to share and engage in conversation about our mutual desire to ensure high quality education for all students.

Alana Margeson, an English teacher at Caribou High School, was Maine’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at



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