Get to Know the Maine DOE Team: Meet Denise Towers

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

What are your roles with DOE?

I began my DOE adventure in 2008 on the Special Services team. In 2014 I joined the School Finance & Operations team and currently provide fiscal compliance reviews of school financial data, MaineCare Seed, FEDES grant management, Educations Service Center liaison, and oversee annual audit and State funded school construction project reviews.

What do you like best about your job?

The best part of my job is providing good customer service; when I have helped someone struggling to get through a tough task, that is rewarding to me.

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

Outside of work, I enjoy my time with family and friends.

Two Maine Educators Honored with 2020-2021 Financial Educator of the Year Award

The Maine Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy has awarded two Maine educators for their outstanding work in financial education. The Maine Jump$tart Financial Educator of the Year Award, established in 2012, was created to recognize an individual who has distinguished themselves through their efforts to improve the financial capability of the students and families they serve. The Maine Jump$tart Coalition is pleased to honor Sheree Inman and Joe Schmidt as the 2020-2021 recipients of the Financial Educator of the Year Award for their leadership and accomplishments in personal finance education.

Sheree Inman is a teacher at South Portland High School, where she wears many hats as the Career Prep Teacher, School to Work Coordinator, and Career Fair Coordinator. Sheree is a leader in her school, and consistently pursues professional development opportunities in personal finance education.

Sheree has played an active role in trainings and events held by Maine Jump$tart, as well as participated in weekly conversations with other Maine personal finance teachers during the transition to distance learning this past spring.

Joe Schmidt is the Social Studies Specialist at the Maine Department of Education, where he provides technical support and professional development to Maine teachers. Joe also led the review of the social studies standards, which includes personal finance and economics, within the Maine Learning Results.

Prior to his role at the Maine DOE, Joe spent nine years as a high school social studies teacher in Wisconsin and three years as a teacher leader for social studies curriculum and instruction for the Madison, Wisconsin public school district. Joe currently serves on the national advisory boards for iCivics and Teaching Tolerance, chairs the National Council for the Social Studies Government and Public Relations committee, and has completed multiple fellowships and leadership opportunities.

Joe’s support, knowledge, and expertise has been an invaluable resource to Maine social studies teachers, particularly this past spring. Mary Dyer, president of the Maine Jump$tart Coalition, says, “Joe’s work in support of Maine educators, particularly during the transition to distance learning as a result of COVID-19, was simply extraordinary. Joe has served as an important voice for personal finance and economics educators in Maine and we are truly blessed to have him in our ranks.”

As recipients of the Financial Educator of the Year Award, Ms. Inman and Mr. Schmidt will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Jump$tart Educator Conference in 2021, where they will network with financial educators from across the country. Ms. Inman and Mr. Schmidt will also be formally honored at the 2021 Fostering Financial Education in Maine Schools Conference.

Get to Know the Maine DOE Team: Meet Jason Libby

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

What are your roles with DOE?

I am the Postsecondary and Educator Preparation Coordinator for the Department. I work with multiple stakeholders including the State Board of Education, public and private postsecondary institutions, US DOE, and members of the public in a variety of ways. Some specific job responsibilities include working with our approved educator prep programs, administering the Aspirations early college program, and degree-granting authority requests. I also have the chance to work with some great colleagues in educator effectiveness, educator excellence, adult education, and certification.

What do you like best about your job?

I enjoy working with our postsecondary partners in preparing tomorrow’s educators and workforce as well as managing the Aspirations program which assists high school students in taking classes that lead to college credit. The early college program is an investment in secondary students in Maine and has a positive influence on their post-high school success.

How or why did you decide on this career?

I have worked in a few different areas throughout my career including higher education administration, teaching at the college level, nonprofit management (historic preservation and museums), and policy analysis. When this position became available three years ago, I was very excited to be able to have the opportunity to work in the Department again (I was an intern in Special Services in 1999).

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

I volunteer with some local and statewide nonprofits and enjoy collecting historic memorabilia and books. I am currently in the process of collecting data for my dissertation research at the University of Southern Maine which has been extremely interesting work. Since the pandemic, my wife, two sons, and I, have been getting out and exploring the natural landscape in the region more so than before.

Get to Know the DOE Team: Meet Karen Kusiak

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

What are your roles with DOE?

During, before, and after the Legislative session I support the policy team with analyses of bills that relate to education. I follow hearings, testimony, amendments, work sessions, voting in the chambers of the Legislature, and the Governor’s actions on bills.  In all seasons, I organize responses for, or respond to, formal inquiries about education that are submitted to the Governor’s Office or that come from members of the Legislature. During pandemic times, I have been working on a team to review and coordinate school districts’ applications for federal relief through ESSER and through the second round of funding in the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.

What do you like best about your job?

I learn something new about at least one federal or state law, rule, policy, practice – or a nuance of law, rule, policy, or practice – practically every day.

How or why did you decide on this career?

Education found me over 40 years ago; I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher. However, after I stumbled into a Title One aide position (before Maine used the term “Ed Tech”) I quickly became a certified teacher (via alternate route) then special educator, special education administrator, and teacher educator who prepared future teachers to be critically aware of practices and policies that marginalized some students or undermined public schools and the practice of education. I was and continue to be particularly dismayed about neoliberal education policies of the last decade or more, and worked to change them. I’m delighted today to be part of a team that is focusing on education equity from inside government.

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

I enjoy independent cinema, cooking, travel (when I can…), reading, time with my two daughter who moved “away,” and keeping up with the news. This summer and fall I have made a point to find new places to put my kayak in the water and new Maine Trails to walk. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed rowing Cornish pilot gigs in Belfast Harbor.

Get to Know the Maine DOE Team: Meet Emily Doughty

Maine DOE Team member Emily Doughty is being highlighted this week as part of the Get to Know the Maine DOE Team. Learn a little more about Emily in the brief question and answer below.

What are your roles with DOE?

As the Educator Effectiveness Coordinator, I work closely the Higher Education and Educator Support Services Team on initiatives related to educator recruitment, retention, and recognition.  This includes overseeing Rule Chapter 180, collaborating with Higher Education partners, fostering opportunities for leadership development, strengthening mentor programs, and acting as a Department liaison for a variety of educator recognition programs (Maine Teacher of the Year, Milken Educator Award, RISE Award, and Educator Talent Pool).

What do you like best about your job?

While there are many aspects of my work that I love, my favorite has been the opportunity to meet so many educators and educational advocates over the past few years.  It has been an absolute pleasure learning from colleagues, teachers, support staff, school leaders, higher education faculty, and community partners.  I firmly believe that education should not happen in a silo and that the best outcomes for students come when everyone is working toward a common goal. I have a deep appreciation for the work that those in the field do each day to support Maine students.

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

In a normal year, I would spend my spare time being a tourist in my own state.  As someone who moved to Maine from “away”, I still have so much of the state that I have yet to see!

While I have remained closer to home this year, I enjoy spending time with my husband, tending to our garden, hiking new trails, frequenting farmer’s markets, playing backyard volleyball, and visiting my grandparents on Damariscotta Lake.