New Members Appointed by Governor Mills to the Maine State Board of Education

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) and the Maine State Board of Education today announced the new members of the Board and member reappointments.

The Board consists of nine voting members and two nonvoting student members appointed by the Governor. Board members serve staggered, five-year terms and nonvoting student members serve staggered, two-year terms.

New Maine State Board of Education Student Member:

Phat Gia Thai

Phat Gia Thai of Portland will begin serving his appointment to the State Board of Education as a student member on July 22, 2023. Thai will be a Junior at Deering High School where he is currently an honors and AP student. He is an active member of his school community and a member of many extracurricular activities including Deering High School Student Council, President and Founder of Deering Asian Student Union, Class of 2025 Student Senate, Natural Helpers Club, and the Varsity Tennis Team. Thai has been involved in the organization Seeds of Peace and has led a school mural project in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Painting For A Purpose. He stated, “My main goal in creating this mural was to celebrate the importance of diversity in our community.”

New Maine State Board of Education Member:

Denham Ward, MD, PhD of Bowdoinham was appointed to the State Board of Education on March 20, 2023. Dr. Ward received his BS(EE) at the University of Maine and went on to get his PhD in Systems Science at UCLA. Becoming interested in physiology, he then went to the University of Miami to obtain his MD. Following his residency in Anesthesiology, he started his career in academic medicine at UCLA. Besides his clinical and research interests, he has been heavily involved in medical education, serving as residency program director at UCLA and then as the chair of Anesthesiology at the University of Rochester. While at the University of Rochester, Dr. Ward was President of the Association of Anesthesiology Program Directors. With a major interest in how medical school faculty teach, he became the Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Rochester and was instrumental in developing a Master’s Degree in Health Professions Education. After retiring clinically, Dr. Ward returned to Maine. He was President and CEO of the Foundation for Anesthesiology Education and Research, which gave grants to improve clinical teaching in Anesthesiology. Dr. Ward has been involved with education at Maine Medical Center, helping to start the Academy at the Maine Health Institute for Teaching Excellence and has continued his association with the University of Maine, currently serving on the Honors College Board of Advocates.

Maine State Board of Education Member Reappointments:

Fern Desjardins of St. Agatha was recently reappointed to a second five-year term on the State Board of Education. She has served on the School Construction Committee (currently Chair), Certification & Higher Education Committee, Legislative Action Committee, Maine Charter School Commission, Board Effectiveness Committee, and several other committees of the State Board. She represents the State Board on the Maine Education Policy Research Institute Steering Committee and on other education committees. Desjardins was elected to the Board of Directors of the National Association of State Boards of Education in June 2019 and has served on a number of their committees. She was elected secretary-treasurer of the organization in October 2021. Desjardins worked for 43 years in RSU 33/MSAD 33 as a teacher, elementary school principal, and superintendent of schools before retiring in 2017. She has taught graduate level courses for UMaine as an adjunct faculty member, worked as a facilitator for school systems, and served on various committees and special projects of the Maine DOE. She holds a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership and a Master’s Degree in Language Arts from UMaine, a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Educational Leadership from USM, and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from UMFK.

Wendy L. Ault of Wayne was recently reappointed to a second five-year term on the State Board of Education. Ault serves on the Certification & Higher Education Committee (currently Chair), Career & Technical Education Committee, Legislative Action Committee, Student Voices Committee (Co-Chair), and Board Effectiveness Committee. Ault is a graduate of Bates College in Lewiston. She served as the Associate Director of Admissions at the University of Maine at Farmington for 17 years. During her tenure at UMF, she was elected to four terms in the Maine House of Representatives representing part of Kennebec County from 1988 through 1996. She served all eight years as a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, serving as its House Chair during her final term. Ault is the Executive Director of the MELMAC Education Foundation.

Fern Desjardins, Chair of the Maine State Board of Education, stated: “The board will benefit from the reappointment of the most senior member of the board, Wendy Ault, who joined the board in October 2017; and the recent addition of Denham Ward, whose vast knowledge and experiences, especially in higher education, greatly supports the board’s efforts in carrying out its duties and responsibilities. I was very impressed with Phat Gia Thai’s testimony at his recent confirmation hearing in front of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs and look forward to welcoming him to the State Board in July. I am blessed and deeply humbled by my reappointment to the board and for having had the honor of serving as chair of the board for almost two years. Leading a board of dedicated individuals committed to the board’s mission ‘to provide leadership and to support policy development that promotes equitable access to high-quality educational opportunities for all students in safe, healthy, and inclusive school environments’ is energizing and highly rewarding. As a board, we continue to make great strides toward our vision that all students will receive a high-quality education.”

For more information about the State Board of Education, visit their website