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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MEDIA RELEASE: Giving Thanks to Our School Staff: Maine Honors RISE Award Finalists

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) today announced the finalists for the recently enacted, national Recognizing Inspirational School Employees (RISE) Award. This new award, passed by the United States Congress in 2019 and overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, honors classified school employees who provide exemplary service.

“Maine’s students are our future. As the daughter of a public school teacher myself, I know that it takes a team of dedicated, caring people to give our kids the tools, knowledge, and skills needed to set them up for success said Governor Janet Mills. “These seven nominees embody that hard work and dedication. On behalf of the people of Maine, I extend our thanks for all they are doing for their school communities and students.”

RISE Award nominations were submitted this fall from across the state by local educational agencies, school administrators, educators, professional associations, nonprofits, parents and community members. Two of the seven finalists have been selected as Maine Honorees, and have been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education to be considered for the national RISE Award, which is expected to be named in the Spring 2021.

“I am elated to celebrate these unsung heroes of our schools, who work tirelessly, and often behind the scenes, to support the students of Maine,” said Commissioner of Education Pender Makin.  “Their stories illustrate the important impact a person can make in an entire school community, and most importantly in the lives and success of students.  I cannot thank enough these seven nominees, and all Maine school employees, for all the daily miracles they create.”

Maine’s RISE Award honorees and finalists will be acknowledged with an official letter from the Commissioner of Education. They will also be spotlighted individually in the Maine DOE Newsroom and through its official social media sites.

Maine RISE Award Honorees

Betty Newman
Director of Food Services
Woodland Elementary and Woodland Junior/Senior, AOS 90 Baileyville

Nominator Janice Rice (Colleague): “Mrs. Newman has always been an extremely hard worker for our school but when the school had to go remote learning because of Covid-19, she stepped it up. She had the ability to transform her two-school service for grades pre-k – 12 into a program that went mobile, serving over 200 children 14 meals a week. With only a staff of three to cook and package meals, she seamlessly transformed her school-based food serve program into a program that fed the families of Baileyville. At the end of the first week of service, she was feeding around 95 students, she was not content to leave it at that. She promoted her program by calling families and using social media to get the word out.”

Bonnie Fortin
Administrative Assistant
Moscow Elementary School, MSAD 13

Nominator Wendy Belanger (Colleague): “There are very few people that make an impact in the way Bonnie does in a school. She is the core of our school community. She is so approachable and often after a child has moved on from our school, parents and caregivers will still reach out to Bonnie for information and assistance with numerous things. She is always willing to assist them. Moscow Elementary is very lucky to have her.”

RISE Award Finalists:

Andrew Hutchins
Director of Food Services
Mount Blue, RSU 9

Nominators Amanda Barry, Theresa True, Cindy Fortier (School Employees, Community Members, Parents): “When COVID reared its ugly head in March Andy was there pushing, working all hours to make sure that we all had a plan to be able to make sure we would be able to get meals to our community children. We had handfuls of volunteers within a day.”

Deb Baldacci
Lunch Accountability Clerk
Fruit Street School, Bangor School Department

Nominator Leslie Stewart (Support Staff): “Everyone knows Ms. B. I have students that years later, I might see, and they will ask about Ms. B. She has put everyone as a priority so that they consider her to be the safe harbor when times are difficult and they seek out to share good news. She’s our rock.”

Susan Lombardo
Educational Technician
Congin School, Westbrook School Department

Nominators Katlyn Preston and Angela Pecoraro (School Employees): “Sue teaches her children the importance of grit and perseverance and she is determined to help them succeed no matter what. Sue always treats them with respect and kindness, no matter what challenges are being presented on any given day. She does all this with a contagious smile and great sense of humor.”

Rebekah Stephens
Educational Technician
McMahon Elementary School, Lewiston Public Schools

Nominator Rebecca Fournier (Colleague): “Becca demonstrates that Ed Techs are skilled professionals, by lesson planning, implementing curriculum, and being a liaison between the community and school for parents and families.”

Jim DuDevoir
School Custodian
Sherwood Heights Elementary School, Auburn School District

Nominator Breann Crocker (Educator): “Everyone in our building loves Jim because he truly shows he cares about everyone. He is always there when we need him. He never complains and he makes it so that we can focus on teaching the children and not have to worry about the building itself. Our school would not be what it is without him.”

More information on the Maine RISE Award can be found here the national RISE Award can be found here.  Be sure to keep an eye on the Maine DOE Newsroom to read the individual profiles on each finalist. You can also find the Maine Department of Education on Facebook, and Twitter.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Anita Bernhardt Named Maine Assistant Superintendent of the Year

Anita Bernhardt of the York School Department has been named Maine’s Assistant Superintendent of the Year for her work to improve academic performance, attendance, and graduation rates and her dedication to meet the needs of all students in the district.

“We are delighted to know that Anita is receiving this auspicious honor,” said Maine DOE Deputy Commissioner Dan Chuhta. “Her contributions to education within her district and throughout the State of Maine serve as testimony to her limitless commitment to excellence, equity, and student success.”

Nominated by her school board, Bernhardt is described as a data driven and collaborative leader who ensures her assessment teams are making fact-based, informed decisions on how best to design and employ innovative and creative learning solutions.

Having demonstrated outstanding expertise in designing and delivering professional development on timely topics with challenging content for all staff, she also has re-invigorated and expanded her district’s professional development opportunities to neighboring districts.

Her career in education started as a science educator. She served as a teaching fellow at Harvard Graduate School of Education and worked as the Director of Standards and Instruction for Maine’s Department of Education. Prior to becoming Assistant Superintendent, she served as the Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for York School Department.

Bernhardt has long been recognized for her excellence in education. She received the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Science in 2003; was recognized for her leadership in the Maine Learning Results Review in 2006; received the Friend of Maine Technology Award in 2008; was honored as the Maine Audubon Educator of the Year in 2009; and, received the Philip Marcoux Award from the Maine Science Teachers Association in 2013.

Bernhardt was named Maine’s 2021 Assistant Superintendent of the Year by the Maine’s School Superintendents Association at its annual meeting, held virtually in late October.

MEDIA RELEASE: Bonny Eagle Middle School Nurse Named 2020/2021 School Nurse of the Year

The Maine Association of School Nurses (MASN) recently announced that Donna Jordan from Bonny Eagle Middle School is the 2020/2021 Maine School Nurse of the Year. This award acknowledges a member of the MASN who demonstrates excellence in school nursing practice, and leadership in the profession.

“Our School Nurses are true heroes, and work tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of everyone in their school community,” said Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin. ” Congratulations to Mrs. Jordan on this tremendous honor, in a time that is so very demanding of school nurses in particular.”

Mrs. Jordan started her school nursing career 15 years ago at Bonny Eagle Middle School and continues to work there today. She is a trusted medical figure within her middle school community – not just among students, but also among staff. She has been described by one colleague as the “staple health professional” in a building of over 800 students and 100 staff members. Her school principal describes her as “a true professional who brings all she is to her position.”

In her career at Bonny Eagle Middle School, Mrs. Jordan has worked tirelessly as a champion for multiple causes. Her influence at the school and within the district is seen through committee appointments at the local and state level, in her training and educational roles, and as the recipient of several funded grants. She maintains professional membership in both the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) and the Maine Association of School Nurses (MASN) and has served on the board of MASN for the past five years as treasurer. As one supporter stated, “she is a natural born leader…perceptive, caring, extremely bright, and always willing to go the extra mile for her school children and for her peers.”

“I am so proud of the way school nurses have taken on the incredible challenges of the Coronavirus,” added Makin. “Their knowledge, experience, and grace has been vital to the emergency preparedness partnerships in Maine schools across the state.”

For more information about past School Nurses of the Year, or how to nominate someone in your school community, visit the MASN website.