MEDIA RELEASE: Want to Thank an Amazing Teacher This Year? Nominate!

AUGUSTA –  Now, more than ever, we need to honor and recognize the great work of Maine teachers! Nominations are now open for the 2021 County Teachers of the Year and 2022 Teacher of the Year. Members of the public are encouraged to nominate educators who demonstrate a commitment to excellence and who inspire the achievement of all students.

“We know that Maine teachers are doing amazing work educating our students, especially through the impossible challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Commissioner Pender Makin. “By putting a name forward as a nomination in the Teacher of the Year Program you will not only give them the recognition they deserve, but you will also give them the chance to take a more active leadership role in education in our State.”

Nominations can be made through the Maine Teacher of the Year Website and will be open through 5:00 pm on Feb. 5, 2021. Nominations will be accepted from students, parents, school administrators, colleagues, college faculty members, and associations (self-nominations, and nominations from family members are not accepted).

To be considered for the County and Maine Teacher of the Year award, a person must:

  • Hold the appropriate professional certification for their position
  • Be employed by a Maine public school
  • Be actively teaching students at least 50% of full-time at the time of nomination and during the year of recognition
  • Have been teaching for a minimum of five years – three of which are in Maine
  • Remain teaching in the County for which they are selected during year of recognition

The 2021 County Teachers of the Year serve as advocates for teachers, students, and the efforts underway in Maine’s public schools to prepare students for success in college, career and civic life. They serve as advisors to the Department of Education and state-level education stakeholders across Maine.  Additionally, the County Teachers of the Year join a of cohort of teacher leaders that actively work together for the betterment of education in Maine. County Teachers of the Year receive on-going professional learning and participate in many state and county leadership opportunities. The 2021 County Teacher of the Year cohort will be recognized in a special announcement in May and the Teacher of the Year Gala in the fall.

Maine’s recently named 2021 Teacher of the Year, Cindy Soule, a 4th grade teacher at Gerald E. Talbot School was selected from over 300 entries.  Mrs. Soule was also honored as the 2020 Cumberland County Teacher of the Year.  In addition to Soule, the other 2021 state finalists include Heather Webster, an English teacher at Medomak Valley High School and 2020 Lincoln County Teacher of the Year, and Alison Babb-Brott a second-grade teacher at St. George School and the 2020 Knox County Teacher of the Year.

The 2022 Maine Teacher of the Year will be selected from the 16 county honorees. The field will be narrowed to eight semi-finalists, and then three state finalists before the Maine Teacher of the Year is announced by Maine’s Education Commissioner at a school assembly in the fall.

On behalf of, and in partnership with Maine Department of Education, the Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness, and increased education attainment. Funding is provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River Co., Geiger, Hannaford, the Maine Lottery, the Silvernail Family, and Unum, with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association.

The Maine Teacher of the Year program is committed to a nomination and selection process that ensures people of all backgrounds are represented.  Educate Maine and the Maine Department of Education champion that commitment by encouraging the nomination of educators from all culturally diverse experiences and backgrounds.

Through the generous support of Maine businesses, there is no cost to the local district when the Teacher of the Year is out of the classroom on their official duties, which includes representing educators state-wide and nationally through safely distanced in-person and virtual events that highlight the important work of Maine schools, communities, and educators.
For more information about the Maine Teacher of the Year program, visit the Maine Teacher of the Year website.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Department of Education Convenes 2020/2021 Student Cabinet

Today the Maine Department of Education (DOE) announced that it has selected its newest members for the 2020/2021 Student Cabinet and has convened the group for its first virtual meeting to discuss education topics important to students.

The Maine DOE Student Cabinet is a group of students that meet regularly with Commissioner Makin and other leaders at the Maine DOE to discuss educational opportunities, improvements, and policy. The purpose of the Student Cabinet is to provide a forum for Maine students’ voices to be heard.

The Maine DOE, along with the Maine State Board of Education’s two student members, launched its first Student Cabinet in 2019. The inaugural year provided the opportunity students to identify and set an intentional focus on improving mental health supports in schools. The group also provided input on the Department’s Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Instruction, and has collectively identified the need for efforts to combat racism in Maine schools.

The 2020/2021 Student Cabinet is comprised of 16 students that were randomly selected to carry over from the 2019/2020 Student Cabinet, who are being joined by 17 new student members who were chosen by a selection panel through an application process. The 17 new members will serve a two-year term before their seats open for new students to apply. The overlapping application process ensures that students can apply to serve on the Maine DOE Student Cabinet every year.

The Cabinet met virtually for the first time on December 8th for an introductory meeting and the opportunity to brainstorm topics that the students felt were both relevant and important to them. The Cabinet will meet virtually each month to provide regular input to Maine DOE regarding on-going initiatives and decision making, and to work on student-led improvements to Maine’s education system.

Students that serve on the Maine DOE’s Student Cabinet are selected as representatives from each county in Maine, with consideration for grade level, learning style, and diverse experiences, interests, cultures, and backgrounds of students throughout Maine.

To learn more about the Maine DOE Student Cabinet and see a list of students on the 2020/2021 Student Cabinet, visit: The Student Cabinet Webpage.

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Farm to School Cook-off Takes on New Format

people cooking in industrial kitchen
Competitors cooking the 2019/2020 Cook-off.

AUGUSTA –The Maine Department of Education, Child Nutrition team is holding its annual Farm to School Cook-off in SY 2021 as usual, except this year it will look a bit differently. The cook-off is a statewide culinary competition for teams of school nutrition professionals and students to promote local foods in school meals. This voluntary competition is made available to all school districts in the state.

On a “typical” year, the cook-off would involve three regional competitions that take place in locations across the state (including CTE culinary arts centers), and a finals competition in the Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom. To adapt to these ever-changing times, the format for the 2021 cook-off will be as follows:

Round 1– virtual cook-off (March 2021). Teams will submit videos of their breakfast and lunch meals to be posted on the Child Nutrition website, where voting will take place. The top three teams will advance to round 2.

The video presentation will include details on local ingredients, techniques used, feasibility, and anything else the team would like to share.

Round 2– final cook-off (May 2021). The top teams will compete in the Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom in Augusta! The 2021 Farm to School Cook-off champion will be awarded a plaque and the opportunity to be spokespeople in the 2022 cookbook. Please note all necessary precautions will be taken, including face coverings and social distancing of teams in the culinary classroom. The Child Nutrition team will be monitoring any changes needed to this format to ensure the safety of all participants.

Each team will prepare a breakfast and lunch meal within a specific time frame using at least three ingredients that are grown, raised, caught, or manufactured in the State of Maine and meet Summer Food Service Program meal requirements as well as one USDA food. Local eggs and local parsnips will be used as “challenge” ingredients in the competition. All recipes will later be shared in a Maine farm to school cookbook to be used in future summer meals programs.

Interested school districts can find more information and the link to register on the Maine Child Nutrition website. The registration deadline is December 18, 2020. For more information on Maine’s Farm and Sea to School program, visit https://www.maine.gov/doe/farmtoschool.

MEDIA RELEASE: Commissioner Makin Sends Special Message of Gratitude to Maine Schools

As Maine people and schools prepare for the season and time with loved ones, and as the Maine Department of Education (DOE) reflects on what we are thankful for through the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin sends a special message of gratitude to Maine schools, including staff, teachers, specialists, school and district administrators, nurses, custodians, support staff, substitute educators, child nutrition workers, transportation drivers, volunteers, caregivers and all of those who support our schools- for their tireless work to ensure children around the state have access to education and essential support services through one of the most challenging years we have ever experienced.

“Hi friends my name is Pender Makin and I’m Commissioner of Education for the State of Maine. Like all of you, I’ve had to reinvent my role, scrap my carefully developed plans, and adjust my approach to pretty much everything throughout these past eight months. Together Maine’s educators school staff building and district leadership and your support team here at the Department of Education have shouldered the heavy responsibilities of safely reopening schools for in-person classes recognizing that so much of our society’s eventual recovery from this pandemic depends upon a strong healthy school system.

I wanted to take a minute today to thank you for your extraordinary efforts and deep commitment to the education of Maine’s children. Because of your courage and hard work, 100 % of Maine public school administrative units were able to safely open up this fall and because of your diligent attention to the six requirements for health and safety at school, Maine schools are significantly safer than other settings in the greater community. Data provided to me this morning indicates that our public school students and staff members are less than half as likely to be positive with COVID-19. As the general population, specifically those who attend or work in Maine public schools currently have only 40 percent the positivity rate that we’re seeing across other sectors of our state. Please know that your efforts and contributions are making all the difference for the students and communities you serve and for our state as a whole as we remain in a state of civil emergency and everyone has had to be hyper vigilant for such a long time now.

We’ve been asking more of our schools than we’ve ever had to ask before and yet as we enter what seems like it might be the epicenter of the pandemic and with our daylight diminishing into the solstice ahead I’m asking something more of you – please take care of yourselves. Be gentle with your expectations, and give yourselves the grace that educators and others who keep schools running tend to offer so generously to others. Acknowledge that this has all been extremely difficult and own the fact that collectively you’ve been knocking it out of the park in terms of supporting students and in terms of providing your entire communities with steadfast assurance in a time of uncertainty.

You see, local public schools have always been far more than buildings where academic learning occurs. The schools give shape and identity to our communities the schools hold us together in shared purpose and in a shared promise that we all make to the better future that awaits us.

Thank you for your heroic work throughout this extraordinary time.”

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine Department of Education Announces New Team to Support Contact Tracing in Schools

21 retired nurses join ranks with Maine Department of Education to support schools in their contract tracing efforts and notification

Augusta, MAINE – Commissioner of Education Pender Makin today announced the deployment of a team of Department of Education Contact Tracers. A cadre of nurses, many retired from years of employment in Maine schools, have received training through the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) and will be immediately called into service for school-specific contact tracing.

“This program will provide Maine schools with specialized supports throughout the contact tracing process,” said Maine Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin, “It will support the work of school nurses and other school staff as they communicate with and monitor close contacts of positive cases. The overarching goal is to support our schools and keep our children actively engaged in learning while mitigating the spread and effects of this pandemic.”

The new program will complement the ongoing work of Maine CDC’s case investigation and contact tracing team, which now includes approximately 150 staff and volunteers.

With support and training from Maine CDC, and funded through federal emergency relief funds, the first team members have begun to assist in the notification to those who have been deemed a close contact to a staff member or student who has tested positive for COVID-19. This team will enroll “close contacts” into Sara Alert, an online platform that Maine CDC uses to notify and   monitor people exposed to the coronavirus. The Maine CDC will continue to investigate confirmed cases and outbreaks associated with schools.

“The partnership between health and education teams will help protect students, teachers, school staff, and school communities,” said Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew.

This first of its kind effort comes as Maine sees a significant increase in the prevalence of COVID-19 in Maine communities recently, increasingly impacting local schools and creating additional demands on those already conducting contact tracing for Maine CDC.

Last week, roughly half of the close contacts identified as connected with new cases of COVID-19 in Maine were associated with schools. Even though there is a lower rate of transmission in school settings than in the general community (13.5 compared to 33.1 new cases per capita in the last 30 days), Maine has taken a comprehensive approach in defining “close contacts” in schools.  Out of an abundance of caution and in recognition of the difficulties in tracking the movements of children throughout a day, an expanded definition of close contact at schools includes all students within a classroom or other common setting. Therefore, a positive case within a school can have considerably more close contacts than that of a general community member.

To ease the impacts that schools are having on the system and to continue to provide responsive and timely support to school staff, students and families, Emily Poland, Maine DOE’s School Nurse Consultant, sent an open call for retired nurses to consider being trained to support contact tracing.

In a matter of two days, twenty-one nurses stepped forward, including twenty RNs and one LPN. They bring with them a collective 758 years of nursing experience, with 352 years of service as school nurses. With medical and school-based experience, this team of nurses will be an invaluable resource to families, teachers, and staff alike as they conduct the contact tracing in Maine schools.

“Nurses are heroes, they step up every day to the ever-changing challenges no matter the situation, even if it means stepping out of retirement,” said Emily Poland, DOE School Nurse Consultant. “School nurses are no different; they are dedicated to keeping their students in school and ready to learn, but this requires a lot of effort in monitoring symptoms that students have, referring to primary care providers, and communicating with families, all while attending to the various health needs of all students in the school on any given day. I am proud to be among the ranks of Maine nurses.”

“As a retired Public Health & School Nurse, with knowledge and skills of communicable disease management, my desire to ‘do something’ has continued,” said Brenda White of Freeport. “I feel selfishly blessed to be retired as I try to imagine the historic challenge for practicing school nurses during this pandemic. When I received a phone call to work with a team to focus specifically on school contact tracing, of course it was an easy ‘YES’ for me. This is something I can do from home and still stay safe, and do my small part to assist School Nurses and to control the spread of COVID-19 disease in the State of Maine.”

Additional resources are being put into place by the Department of Education in response to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Maine, and to assist both schools and Maine CDC. This includes the launch of a single, dedicated phone number for schools to report positive cases, and a dedicated portal through which close contact information for schools can be submitted for follow-up. The Department of Health and Human Services will supplement the team at the Department of Education as needed.

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