Commissioner visits Houlton Elementary School

Story courtesy of Karen Donato, former elementary teacher and current ed. tech III at Houlton Elementary School.

Acting Commissioner of Education Bill Beardsley was a guest at Houlton Elementary School this past month learning more about the successful K-to-3 literacy program in RSU 29. Beardsley participated in a round table discussion with a kindergarten teacher; first grade teachers; a literacy specialist; a literacy coach; University of Maine’s literacy coach; the principal, and RSU 29’s superintendent.

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Ed Tech III Kathleen Cowperthwaite is working with students in a math station as Acting Commissioner Beardsley looks on.

RSU 29 was a draw for Beardsley because of its history with literacy where the elementary school had a 47 percent student population that met or exceeded the standard on the language arts section of the Maine Educational Assessment. In 2006, RSU 29 was awarded a five year, $1 million “Reading First” grant that helped the district and the elementary staff be committed to improve reading instruction.

Since the initiative, RSU 29 scores have improved and in 2014, NECAP scores showed 77.7 percent met or exceeded the standard and in 2015, using Smarter Balance, grades 3-5 were above the state average.

The message Beardsley heard from a literacy coach was, “In order to keep this program going there needs to be consistency and leadership like that of Lee Anne Larsen, Maine Department of Education literacy specialist and the Maine Partnership in Comprehensive Literacy at the University of Maine Orono.” In addition, RSU 29 has had the continued support of the administration, school board and community.

The group echoed these words to Acting Commissioner Beardsley: “If you want change to happen, teachers need to be given time to do it, money for resources and professional development. There needs to be structure within the grade levels, a lot of collaborative work and the staff needs to be committed to it.”

Beardsley addressed an important question to the group before leaving. “Are the new teachers coming into the field prepared with this background?”

The response was “no” and that is why it is so important to have the coaching and mentors that this district has in place. The teachers participating in this discussion all agreed that classes at the college level need to change to meet the needs of education today. Teachers need to come into the schools with skills to be a successful teacher just like students are trained to go into the world of technology or business.

This article in its entirety can be read in the Houlton Pioneer Times. Photos are courtesy of Karen Donata and Principal Candace Crane.