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

PRIORITY NOTICE: Interactive Workshop by Wabanaki REACH – Moving Forward: Opening a Path to Truth, Healing and Change

Maine-Wabanaki REACH is a cross cultural organization working in support of decolonization and Wabanaki self-determination. REACH focuses on truth, healing, and change. Our work with Wabanaki people is flexible, responding to activities in the communities themselves. It includes wellness and history learning, healing circles, support for growing food and medicines, and emergency financial support. This work takes place in Wabanaki communities, Maine communities, and in the Maine State Correction System. Our work with non-Native people around Maine and beyond includes learning about the history and ongoing relationships of Native and non-Native people, understanding colonization, and the work of decolonization.

Interacting with Wabanaki-Maine History

This program is an interactive experience in which we engage in a story of particular events in the history of 400-years of colonization of Wabanaki people by Europeans in this territory now called the State of Maine. This highly engaging experience requires our full participation in order to genuinely increase our understanding of colonization and what it means for current descendants and future generations; to reflect on what story we are writing for our grandchildren.

This workshop is sponsored by the Maine DOE’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team.

The two-hour interactive workshop will be offered on three different occasions. To maximize the impact of the experience, a cap of 50 participants per workshop will be applied.  This means space is limited. We will be accepting registrations on a first come-first served basis. A certification of completion will be provided to attendees that can be used toward Maine educator endorsements.

  • Monday, May 17, 2021 from 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Monday, May 24, 2021 from 7:00pm-9:00pm
  • Monday, June 7, 2021 from 7:00pm-9:00pm

To register for this workshop, use the following link: https://forms.office.com/Pages/ResponsePage.aspx?id=q6g_QX0gYkubzeoajy-GTlcU2QBaiG9CuTPNt6EYjMFUMkVGSk40UElXUDgzWVJETFYwUkxNVVNTSy4u

For more information contact Danielle Despins; a volunteer member of Maine DOE’s internal Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) sub-committee at danielle.r.despins@maine.gov.

Priority Notice: Seeking Public Comment to Waive Requirements Related to Accountability and Public Reporting.   

In a US Department of Education (USDOE)  Dear Colleague letter to state chiefs on February 22nd, 2021, USDOE provided guidance and invited states to apply for waivers granting significant flexibility in the areas of accountability and reporting for the 2020-2021 school yearFollowing this guidance and flexibility, the Maine Department of Education (DOE) is requesting accountability and reporting waivers pursuant to §8401(b) from requirements within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015)USDOE requires state educational agencies, when seeking waivers from statutory or regulatory requirements, to solicit and respond to public comment on the request and provide evidence of the available comment period. This 14-day public comment period will be available from April 27, 2021- May 10, 2021.  

A full copy of the waiver request can be located on the Maine DOE’s ESSA webpage.  In summary, the Maine Department of Education will be requesting waivers from the following requirements:  

  • Accountability and school identification requirements in ESEA sections 1111(c)(4) and 1111(d)(2)(C)-(D): the requirements that a State measure progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress; meaningfully differentiate, on an annual basis, all public schools, including by adjusting the Academic Achievement indicator based on a participation rate below 95 percent; and identify schools for comprehensive, targeted, and additional targeted support and improvement based on data from the 2020- 2021 school year. 
  • Report card provisions related to accountability in ESEA section 1111(h) based on data from the 2020-2021 school year. These include: 
  • Section 1111(h)(1)(C)(i)(I)-(IV) and (VI) (Accountability system description, other than the list of comprehensive, targeted, and additional targeted support and improvement schools).
  • Section 1111(h)(1)(C)(iii)(I) (Other Academic indicator results for schools that are not high schools). 
  • Section 1111(h)(1)(C)(v) (School Quality or Student Success indicator results). 
  • Section 1111(h)(1)(C)(vi) (Progress toward meeting long-terms goals and measurements of interim progress). 
  • Section 1111(h)(2)(C) with respect, at the local educational agency (LEA) anschool levels, to all waived requirements in section 1111(h)(1)(C). 

Public Comment may be submitted to: ESSA.DOE@maine.gov. Additional questions can be directed to Janette Kirk, Chief of Learning Systems.  

PRIORITY NOTICE: School Year 2022 Nationwide Waivers Available for Schools and Day Care Facilities to Support Safe Reopening and Nutritious Meals  

Maine Department of Education (DOE) is thrilled to share that USDA has released twelve additional Nationwide Waivers for SY 2022 These are meant to support the safe reopening of facilities while providing nutritious meals for children and adolescents. The new waivers can be accessed here  

Maine DOE’s Child Nutrition team is reading through the waivers carefully in order to provide the best support to the field. As some of these are different from those issued in the past. We support the action of USDA to release waivers to support the safe provision of nutritious meals for Maine students. These waivers will allow students all over the state to access meals and will provide much needed flexibilities during the current public health emergency.    

More information will be provided by Child Nutrition Director Walter Beesley on Wednesday, April 28th at 1:00. Those interested can register for the webinar  

For questions regarding these USDA nationwide waivers, contact Walter Beesley, Child Nutrition Director, at 207-624-6875 walter.beesley@maine.gov.  

**** 

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA.  

 Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits.  Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339.  Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English. 

 To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at: https://www.usda.gov/oascr/how-to-file-a-program-discrimination-complaint, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by: 

 (1)     mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture
          Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
          1400 Independence Avenue, SW
          Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;
 (2)      fax: (202) 690-7442; or  
 (3)      email: program.intake@usda.gov. 

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.
The Maine Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination because of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, genetic information, religion, ancestry or national origin.
Complaints of discrimination must be filed at the office of the Maine Human Rights Commission, 51 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04333-0051. If you wish to file a discrimination complaint electronically, visit the Human Rights Commission website at https://www.maine.gov/mhrc/file/instructions and complete an intake questionnaire. Maine is an equal opportunity provider and employer. 

PRIORITY NOTICE: Reminder to April Vacation Travelers – Test for COVID-19 Upon Return

Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew released an important reminder in the Bangor Daily News recently for Maine students and families traveling during April vacation, and noted that our case numbers, and the number of young people getting sick from COVID-19 is on the rise.  The Maine Department of Education would like to underscore her important message to all members of Maine’s school communities, as we urge everyone to help keep our students and schools safe after April vacation week.

COVID-19 is a well-known world traveler. Variants of concern previously identified from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa have been detected in Maine. People traveling have been known to cause outbreaks, often unknowingly, once they return home if they’re not yet experiencing symptoms.

This is why testing for COVID-19 remains critical. Getting a test is simple, free and protects you, your family and your community. It identifies people infected by the virus early, often before symptoms appear. And getting a test when you have a fever, headache, chills, fatigue or difficulty breathing allows you to determine if you have allergies, a common cold or if this is the highly contagious and serious virus. If you test positive, you can isolate to limit the number of additional people infected. You can save lives.

For these reasons, Maine currently requires people traveling to states outside of New England to “test or quarantine.” This means that you must quarantine for 10 days upon return to Maine unless you obtain and receive a negative COVID-19 test from a sample taken no longer than 72 hours prior to arrival. Maine strongly urges testing prior to arrival; however, for people who test upon arrival in Maine, it is important that you quarantine while you await your test results.

This is especially important for families traveling during the April vacation. COVID-19 transmission in Maine schools is lower than in the rest of the population, thanks to the health and safety protocols Maine schools have consistently followed since last summer. That said, children are still catching and spreading the virus. And a COVID-19 vaccine has not yet been authorized for children under age 16.

The best type of COVID test is a molecular or “PCR” test. The results may take a little longer, but PCR tests have proven to be highly accurate. Rapid “antigen” tests work well for people with symptoms. Such tests may also be used several days in a row — called “serial” testing — as a screening tool. A number of Maine school districts will be offering rapid tests at the end of next week before school resumes on April 26 and again early that week as a way to screen for COVID-19 as people return from the break.

COVID-19 testing in Maine is free of charge. It is available at locations throughout the state, from health care clinics to pharmacies. Learn where you can get a test by visiting the state’s Keep Maine Healthy website or calling 211.

Being fully vaccinated — meaning two weeks after your final dose — exempts you from the need to get a COVID-19 test or quarantine if you travel. You also don’t need to test if you have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days and recovered. We urge everyone age 16 and older to get vaccinated now. Appointments can be found by visiting VaccinateME.Maine.gov, or calling Maine’s Community Vaccination Line at 888-445-4111.

In addition to testing and vaccination, please continue to take the simple steps that have protected the health and safety of Maine people throughout the pandemic: Wearing a mask, physical distancing, washing hands and staying home if you don’t feel well. These measures remain vital whether you’re at home, out in your community or traveling for a well-deserved vacation during the break from school next week.