Get to know the DOE Team: Meet Megan Dichter

Maine DOE team member Megan Dichter is being highlighted this week as the part of a Get to know the DOE Team campaign! Learn a little more about Megan in the brief question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

I am the Workforce Development Coordinator for Adult Education, so I support adult education programs in offering industry recognized credentials and workforce training to adult education participants. I am also the CASAS (the math and reading assessment used by Adult Education programs) state trainer.  Additionally, I have a background in teaching English to non-native speakers and also support adult education programs working with students learning to speak English.

What do you like best about your job?

I enjoy the variety of my work and that it allows me to continue to teach (in the form of training,) and learn daily. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing Adult Education team with whom I work.

How or why did you decide on this career?

After college I volunteered with an organization called WorldTeach and spent two years in Thailand teaching at a University. That experience helped shape my career path and I returned to the U.S and enrolled in an M.Ed program- the rest is history.

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

I am an avid photographer and spend a lot of my free time doing documentary photography. I love the challenge of visual storytelling.

Get to know the DOE Team: Meet Danielle Despins

Maine DOE Team member Danielle Despins is being highlighted this week as the part of a Get to know the DOE Team campaign! Learn a little more about Danielle in the brief question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

My role on the Career and Technical Education team is varied but my primary responsibilities include conducting two school reviews, the Comprehensive School Review and Methods of Administration review, providing schools with professional development opportunities, and providing schools with guidance around issues of equity and civil rights.

What do you like best about your job?

I find it most rewarding to know I’m helping schools and teams of educators along their path of professional development, encouraging out of the box thinking, and helping to create mindfulness regarding various populations and their needs.

How or why did you decide on this career?

My past life was in Human Resources. I realized what I loved the most about my role at the time was helping others get to the next platform of their career journey. So, I went back to school for my Masters in Adult and Higher Education. This role marries my passion for career development and love of education.

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

My undergraduate is in art so creating is, and always will be, a big part of who I am and how I identify with the world around me. I also spend much of my free time goofing off with friends, family and my pup Mr. Copperpot, (shout out to all you crazy Goonies lovers).

Four Maine Teachers Receive Presidential Excellence Awards in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering

FROM:  White House Office of the Press Secretary


October 15, 2019

Today, President Donald J. Trump announced the recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) and the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). 

Awardees come from schools in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools, and schools in the United States territories of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. Nominations and awards are facilitated by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science 

Foundation. The individuals and organizations announced today are 2017 and 2018 Awardees. 

Presidential award for K-12 teachers  

Established in 1983, PAEMST is the highest award given by the U.S. Government to kindergarten through 12th grade teachers of mathematics and science, including computer science. 

A panel of distinguished mathematicians, scientists, and educators at the State and national levels assess the applications before recommending nominees to OSTP. Teachers are selected based on their distinction in the classroom and dedication to improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. 

Recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching: 


Heather Dorr, Ella Lewis School 

Kirsten Gould, Buxton Center Elementary School

Priya Natarajan, Casco Bay High School 

Alyson Saunders, Dexter Regional High School 

Heather Dorr Steuben, ME | K-6, Mathematics, 2018 

The official biography below was current at the time of the award. 

Heather Dorr has taught mathematics, language arts, social studies, and science to students in fourth through eighth grades over the past 19 years. For the past three years she has taught at the Ella Lewis School. Prior to that, she taught at Trenton Elementary School for 13 years and Dixon Elementary School in Sneads Ferry, NC for three years. Heather strives to meet students where they are and lift their learning to strengthen and deepen their understanding of mathematics concepts and skills. Her students engage in meaningful dialogue by explaining their reasoning, challenging ideas, and making connections between previous understandings and new concepts. To broaden the scope of her impact on student learning, Heather mentors beginning teachers and student teachers, eagerly supports and coaches her colleagues, and advocates for students and teachers, all while serving on focus groups and curriculum committees at the district level. Heather has earned a B.S. in elementary education and her M.Ed. in educational leadership for curriculum, both from the University of Maine. She is a certified teacher of kindergarten through eighth grade and is certified as a building administrator in the state of Maine. 

Kirsten Gould Buxton, ME | K-6, Science, 2018 

The official biography below was current at the time of the award. 

Kirsten Gould has 10 years of experience in education, serving for two years as a first-grade teacher at Miles Lane School and for four years at Hermon Elementary School. Since 2015, she has worked in the Bonny Eagle School District, teaching first grade at Buxton Center Elementary School then transitioning to District Coach in Assessment for Learning in 2019. Kirsten facilitates workshops on high-impact strategies and maintains classroom connections by instructing, modeling, and reflecting on the implementation of these strategies. Her work is featured in Teaching Strategies that Create Assessment-Literate Learners by J. Beaudry and A. Stewart-McCafferty, with whom she continues to work closely. Kirsten served five years with the Maine STEM Partnership which aims to improve STEM education. She is a certified consultant for the National Writing Project, a participant of the American Geosciences Institute—ExxonMobil Exploration Teacher Leadership Academies, and a recipient of the Presidential Academic Achievement Award. She presents locally, regionally, and nationally, including at the National Science Teachers Association’s National Conference and the Corwin Annual Visible Learning Conference. Certified to teach elementary school, Kirsten earned a B.S. in elementary education from the University of Maine and is currently completing a M.Ed. from the University of Southern Maine. 

Priya Natarajan Portland, ME | 7-12, Mathematics, 2017 

The official biography below was current at the time of the award. 

Priya Natarajan has taught mathematics at Casco Bay High School for the past five years. She currently teaches 10th-grade Precalculus and Algebra I and II. Previously, she taught for 12 years at Deering High School and spent four years as a founding teacher at the Boston Arts Academy. Priya has enjoyed working with colleagues all over the district in a variety of capacities, including curriculum and assessment development and the recent transition to proficiency-based instruction and assessment. She currently serves on the district-wide vertical team working on the K-12 mathematics curriculum. At Casco Bay, Priya serves as one of the 10th-grade team’s teacher leaders, facilitating the team’s work across disciplines and connecting teachers to the leadership team. She also coaches the mathematics team, works with the international Seeds of Peace program, and helps to foster collegiality and support for teachers as the school’s Faculty Wellness Coordinator. In addition, she serves as a Statistics and Calculus instructor at the University of Southern Maine. Priya earned a B.A. in mathematics from Ohio University and a M.Ed. in teaching and learning from Harvard University, in addition to graduate-level coursework at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and the University of Southern Maine. She is certified in secondary mathematics and has ELL endorsement. 

Alyson Saunders Dexter, ME | 7-12, Science, 2017 

The official biography below was current at the time of the award. 

Alyson Saunders has taught science at Dexter Regional High School for a total of 10 years. She currently teaches 10th-grade Biology, 12th-grade Advanced Biology, and 9-12th-grade STEM. In addition, Alyson has taught chemistry, astronomy, and ecology. In June of 2012, Alyson worked for The Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance as an informal STEM educator. In that capacity, she leveraged out-of-school opportunities to connect youth with potential STEM pathways. Since her return to the classroom, she has used those skills to help students engage with things such as teen science cafes, and the Maine State Science Fair. By working with local government and nonprofits, Alyson connects learning to the community through projects involving stormwater management and ecosystem sampling. She has also partnered with The Jackson Laboratory on their Teaching the Genome Generation project, to bring modern biotechnology skills and genomics education to her small rural school. Alyson is on the school’s leadership team, is a department head, and has facilitated multiple high school and elementary school STEM-related activity nights. Alyson earned a B.S., summa cum laude, in biology from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and a B.S., summa cum laude, in secondary science education from the University of Maine Orono. She is certified in secondary life science. 


Get to know the DOE Team: Meet Paula Gravelle

Maine DOE Team member Paula Gravelle is being highlighted this week as the part of a Get to know the DOE Team campaign! Learn a little more about Paula in the brief question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

I am the School Finance Manager on the School Finance and Operations Team.  My role is primarily to facilitate the calculation of the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) School Funding model, which determines how much State funding each of the 266 School Administrative Units (SAUs) in Maine will receive each year.  I am also tasked with processing the monthly payments for subsidy and construction aid for SAUs and Centers for Technology Education (CTEs), managing the DOE Vendor Codes for SAUs, assisting SAUs with school closures, withdrawals, school board apportionment, and assisting with the Education Service Centers and other efficiency initiatives.

What do you like best about your job?

I may be biased, but I believe I work on the best team at the DOE.  School finance may seem boring to some, and we do take our jobs very seriously; after all, we are calculating over 2 billion dollars of State and local resources; but we also have fun and support each other every day.  The best part of my job is being part of a dedicated, caring and supportive team within the DOE.

How or why did you decide on this career?

I believe God was grooming me for this career before I even knew it existed.  I began working at the University of Southern Maine shortly after graduating from there with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication and a Minor in Business Administration.  I worked for USM for 15 years, the last 8 of those years was with Dr. David Silvernail at the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation (CEPARE), during the research and creation phase of the EPS funding formula.  During this time, I was living in West Gardiner and traveling to Gorham every day; which got to be too much of a commute for me, so I started looking for something closer to home.  After a brief time as the human resource manager for a small company in Augusta, I applied for the job here at the department.  I was already familiar with the EPS funding formula from the work I had done at CEPARE, and I had worked with some of the people at the department during that time as well; so it seemed like a perfect fit.  I have been in this position for over 9 years now, and I joke that it took me 6 years to finally understand the EPS formula; but honestly, I love my job, even if it can drive me crazy at times.  And, I want to do it to the best of my ability, because I know it directly impacts tax payers, which includes me.

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

I care for my disabled mom, and share a home with her, two of my nephews, and my brother; which makes for a very busy home life.  I am very involved with my church where I have been a member for over 16 years.  I teach Sunday school to an amazing group of young ladies, I assist in the nursery, and they allow me to sing in the choir and ladies ensemble, although sometimes my alto voice sounds more like a bass.  I am a big Patriots football fan, and enjoy watching games with friends when time allows.


Get to know the Maine DOE Team: Meet Nena Cunningham

Maine DOE team member Nena Cunningham is being highlighted this week as the part of a Get to know the DOE Team campaign! Learn a little more about Nena in the brief question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

My role as the Head Start State Collaboration Director is to assure state agencies and policies align to support our Head Start and Early Head Start programs throughout the state.  I am also leading the department’s efforts to create a Parent, Family and Community Engagement Framework to support districts as they work with families in their schools and communities.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is that no two days are the same!  I get to meet and work with people from across Maine, New England and across the country, and share my passion for Head Start!

How or why did you decide on this career?

I have worked in local Head Start programs my entire adult career.  When this position opened up, it seemed to be a natural fit!  Working with vulnerable young children and their families has been my focus throughout my educational journey.  Watching infants, toddlers and their families grow is my absolute favorite part of my career!

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

Outside of work, I love to spend time with my family and friends.  My husband and I have two (not so small anymore) boys who keep us on our toes!  I enjoy spending time “upta” camp and just being outdoors!