Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced the King Middle School sixth-and seventh-grade teacher as Maine’s top educator in a surprise all-school assembly Tuesday
PORTLAND – A 24-year veteran teacher at the state’s most diverse middle school is the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.
In a surprise assembly at King Middle School (KMS) in Portland Tuesday morning, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Karen MacDonald, who has served students in Portland Public Schools since 1979, as Maine’s top teacher.
The sixth-and seventh-grade English language arts teacher is described by students as a “gift,” by colleagues as a teacher leader who is “the most consistently innovative” and by her principal as “relentlessly committed to the success of all of her students.”
In a letter to MacDonald shared by Commissioner Bowen Tuesday, Governor Paul R. LePage thanked her on behalf of a grateful state for devoting her life to serving the students who are Maine’s future.
“In the 33 years you have taught in Portland schools, you have exemplified what it means to put students first, constantly improving your teaching practices to best meet the changing needs of your students in innovative, imaginative ways,” Governor LePage wrote. “The ‘you can do this’ message you always give your students – many of them new to this country and our English language – instills them with the confidence that they can do anything, including realizing the American dream. Thanks to you, education truly is the great equalizer for students from all walks of life who come through your classroom door.”
KMS serves the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in Maine and its 550 students represent 22 countries and 29 native first languages.
Those students were joined in celebrating MacDonald by Commissioner Bowen, Portland School District Superintendent Manny Caulk, King Middle School Principal Mike McCarthy, past Maine Teacher of the Years including 2013 winner Shannon Shanning, Educate Maine Director Tanna Clews, Bangor Savings Bank Regional Market Manager Stephan Woods, Hannaford Director of Corporate Communications Michael Norton and State Board of Education Chair Nancy Perkins and Vice-Chair Peter Geiger.
Thinking it was an assembly about the state’s technology program, MacDonald stood attentively next to her students, taking notes until Commissioner Bowen announced he was actually there because of the great teachers at KMS, and one in particular. Students erupted with excitement, giving a standing ovation as MacDonald made her way to the stage where her family joined her.
MacDonald quickly turned her award into a teachable moment, addressing her class privately after the assembly was dismissed to tell students she never dreamed she’d actually win Maine Teacher of the Year and that it was a lesson in the value of taking risks. She promised to share her journey with them, including her upcoming visit to the White House and NASA space camp.
“I am so proud to be a teacher. It’s an amazing career,” she said.
In addition to MacDonald, the other 2014 finalists were Mary Graziano, a fourth-grade teacher at Hartland Consolidated School, and Suzen Polk-Hoffses, a kindergarten teacher at Milbridge Elementary School.
“It’s certainly a great day in the teaching career of Karen MacDonald and it is also a great day for King Middle School,” said Principal McCarthy. “But every day that Karen MacDonald is here it is a great day. She is simply the best teacher we have ever known.”
As Teacher of the Year, MacDonald will serve as an ambassador for her profession and Maine’s students, and she will be available to travel across the state speaking to colleagues and business and community groups. Starting last year, Bangor Savings Bank began reimbursing the Teacher of the Year’s school district for the cost of substitutes while the Teacher of the Year was out of the classroom on official duties.
Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered by Educate Maine. Educate Maine is a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness and increased education attainment with a goal of Maine’s students and workers being the best educated and most highly skilled in the world. For more information, visit www.educatemaine.org. Funding for the program is generously provided by Hannaford, Geiger and Bangor Savings Bank with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association.
The nomination process for the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year begins this November. Those interested in nominating a teacher should contact their school principal or visit the Maine Department of Education website at www.maine.gov/doe/toy.