A Letter to America’s Teachers from Secretary Cardona

I never could predict what might happen in Mr. O’Neil’s art classes; I just knew I couldn’t wait for the next assignment.  Back then I didn’t realize all the ways this dynamic educator, a rare man of color leading our diverse classroom of second graders, was serving as a pioneer and role model for me and my peers in John Barry Elementary School.  But I’ll never forget how his teaching made me feel.  As a second grader, I remember looking up — watching him encourage, challenge and guide us – and thinking: “I want to be like him.”

In the years since embracing that calling and starting my career as a classroom teacher, I’ve kept that sense of purpose and wonder.  And my goal in all the administrative roles I’ve held is to facilitate great teaching and learning: to support and expand the transformative impact that skilled, caring classroom teachers have for students, schools, and communities.

Every day America’s teachers change lives, and every day those lives change the world.

Now, this truth can seem to recede as you rush to keep up with the day’s intense pace, and your students’ needs and opportunities.  Yet, from the first bell on the first day of the school year, you build a relationship with each of them.  You learn their strengths and struggles, laugh with them, cry with them, worry over them, cheer for them – and at the end of the school year, help them transition to their next grade level adventure.  You know all those experiences – both the academic and life lessons – have changed both you and them for the better.  You empower them to grow in skill and character — expand their understanding of the world and how to shape it — explore their interests and decide where to make their mark.

Teaching is not a job anyone just falls into.  It is mastery of a craft: in fact, the craft that enables all the others. In my experience, great teachers are also quintessential lifelong learners.  You use your command of learning science, your insights into your students’ unique needs and aptitudes, as well as the lessons of the past, the realities of the present and the inspiration, innovation and ingenuity of the future to help each new generation become leaders for today and tomorrow.  Throughout the year you support your fellow educators, add to your tools through professional development, provide feedback on assignments, sponsor sports, service learning, clubs and other extracurricular activities, collaborate with parents — in addition to everything you pour into your students during class.

Even in this unprecedented year, you rallied, finding new ways to engage with students.  In the face of tragedy, you learned new technologies and built virtual classroom communities, all while caring for yourselves and your own families.  As we heal, recover, and rebuild, this pandemic presents a chance to forge opportunity from crisis and reimagine education on every level.  We will use this time to address inequities in our education system, and your contributions will be invaluable.  The work won’t be easy, but the impact of your success will be profound, for students and communities.  I urge state, local, and elected officials to make sure classroom teachers have a voice in your plans and efforts to reimagine education; second to parents, they know our students best.

I look forward to learning and listening from you in the days ahead.  And, from all of us at the Department of Education: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s a reason teacher like Mr. O’Neil – and all of you – are memorable.  There’s a reason student in America’s classrooms watch you share your curiosity, energy and passion for ideas and think, “I want to be like them.”

You are embodiments of possibility, champions of your students’ potential and stewards of their success.

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education

Media Release: Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System  

Androscoggin County remains yellow; All other counties green.

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission to assist schools as they continue with their efforts to deliver instruction and support students safely.

Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) assessed COVID-19 data and trends for all counties and released the following designations:

  • YELLOW: Androscoggin County continues to have an elevated new case rate of 77 cases per 10,000 residents,  more than double the statewide average.
  • NOW GREEN: The new case rates in Kennebec, Oxford, and Somerset counties have fallen by at least 20 percent, and their positivity rates are below 5 percent.
  • All other counties remain green, including Franklin and York, which were closely monitored in the last update but have since shown improvements.

These designations are made out of an abundance of caution and for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions to deliver instruction. DHHS and Maine CDC continue to review evidence that indicates lower transmission of COVID-19 in schools compared to the general population.

Over the last 30 days, the rate of new cases for school staff and students has remained steady at 46 per 10,000, about 40 percent lower than a new case rate of 78 per 10,000 for the general population.

This continues to demonstrate that in-person learning in schools that follow public health precautions can be conducted safely, without increased transmission of COVID-19, when schools use proven health and safety protocols and resources.

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data, and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education during the school year. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instructionhttps://www.maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I.

Maine schools have been safely open since the fall by adhering to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction and by following the protocols for identifying close contacts that are found in the Standard Operating Procedure for a positive case in schools, regardless of their county color designation.

The next update will be provided on May 21, 2021. Updating this advisory on a two-week basis aligns with the incubation period for COVID-19 and allows for greater stability in the trend data for small counties.


Maine DOE Certification Team Supporting Educator Workforce

The Maine Department of Education’s Certification team is excited to report that they have held a 2-3 week processing time for more than a year, despite the heavy volume of inquiries and responses they attend to on a daily basis to manage the initial applications and renewal of educator and administrator credentials across Maine.

The transition from a hard copy paper filing and processing system to the Maine Educator Information System (MEIS) in 2018 has allowed the team to work more efficiently at assisting educators to manage their credentials completely online.

Since the start of 2021, Maine DOE’s Certification Team has received 11,000 applications for certification and issued roughly 9,000 credentials. In that same time frame they have sent 1,500 – 2,000 emails a week, assisted educators on more than 100 phone calls a day, and their support staff have been preparing roughly 1,500 documents a week for evaluators to process.

Beyond their the work of processing educator credentials, the team has also continued their 8:00am support staff training twice a week, and created a website committee that has and continues to streamline the information and ease of use on the Maine DOE’s Certification website.

Get to Know the Maine DOE Team: Meet Sarah Ferguson

Maine DOE team member Sarah Ferguson is being highlighted this week as part of the Get to Know the Maine DOE Team Campaign. Learn a little more about Sarah in the question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

I am an Education Specialist III in the Office of Special Services.  I work on the State Agency team. We work with all aspects of the state agency client program – for students placed both in state and out of state, support districts and private schools, and coordinate educational surrogate parents, who support children without parents for their IEPs.

What do you like best about your job?

Knowing that, although I am not longer working directly with students, I am in the background supporting those who are.

How or why did you decide on this career?

I knew I wanted to be a teacher since junior high. I loved being a baby sitter, church school teacher, and camp counselor. In college, I thought I would work regular ed.  Then I volunteered at Spurwink School, where my cousin was a student, and special education stole my heart. My first teaching job was at Spurwink. After having a home daycare affiliated with HeadStart and a stint as a parent educator for Maine Parent Federation,  I then moved to special education in public schools.  And now working at DOE with special educators throughout Maine.  It is very fulfilling to support students as they jump their hurdles and realize that they can (fill in the blank).

What do you like to do outside of work for fun?

Outside of work, when it is warm out, I love to be outside in nature – walking, beekeeping, gardening, finding waterfalls in Maine and other states.  When it is colder, I knit and catch up on TV shows, movies, and books.  All year, I still subscribe to the printed KJ so I can work the puzzles.  Of course visiting with family and friends is always a priority – and in person visits are on the horizon!

MEDIA ADVISORY: Maine DOE to Announce the 2021 Maine County Teachers of the Year in Live Virtual Announcement on May 12 at 2pm 

What: 16 Maine teachers will be announced and honored as part of the Maine Department of Education’s Maine Teacher of the Year Program, which includes annual County Teachers of the Year awards and honors.

Who: 16 Maine teachers, representing each county in Maine; Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin; Educate Maine Executive Director Jason Judd; State Board of Education Peter Geiger; and 2021 Maine Teacher of the Year Cindy Soule.

Where: The announcement will take place on a virtual platform and be streamed live on the Maine Department of Education’s YouTube Channel at: https://youtu.be/pmqxe5LL6zk. A recording of the video will be available at this link after the announcement.

When: Wednesday, May 12, 2021 from 2:00pm – 3:30pm

Background Information:
As part of the Maine Teacher of the Year Program, hundreds of teachers across Maine are nominated by a member of their school community. Through a rigorous application process, one teacher from each county is selected as the County Teacher of the Year by a panel of teachers, principals, and business community members within the county.

After being named, Maine County Teachers of the Year serve as ambassadors for teachers, students, and quality education state-wide throughout the year. The Maine County Teachers of the Year are available to make presentations to local and regional organizations. Throughout the summer, they will continue to participate in an intensive Maine State Teacher of the Year selection process.

The Maine Department of Education’s Teacher of the Year Program is administered through a collaborative partnership with Educate Maine. To learn more about the Teacher of the Year Program visit: https://www.mainetoy.org/

For more information contact Rachel Paling (Maine DOE) at rachel.paling@maine.gov or Dolly Sullivan (Educate Maine) at dolly@educatemaine.org.