By Rae Bates
Special to the Aroostook Republican
What does a learner-centered proficiency-based classroom look like? What are teachers and students doing differently? If students work more at their own pace, what are teachers doing to be certain that topics students need to be proficient in are being introduced in a timely fashion? How are teachers tracking student work? Is there software that will allow students, parents, and teachers to know what is being taught and learned in classrooms?
Superintendents, administrators, and teachers in Aroostook County share an interest in these and many other questions and have developed an approach that promises to provide professional development. Moreover, working together in the region makes it possible to share the work of all involved in public education.
In the spring of 2013 the superintendents in Aroostook County met at UMPI to discuss the formation of a collaborative that would support school districts in The County in their implementation of learner-centered proficiency-based learning. The result of this and several other meetings was the Northern Maine Educational Collaborative (NMEC) with a charter being adopted. Frank McElwain, superintendent of RSU 39, and myself, were selected as co-chairs and Bernadette Willette from SAD 70 as secretary.
Fourteen school districts in Aroostook along with UMPI joined this collaborative; all County high schools are represented. The NMEC mission states: “To lead the development, implementation, and promotion of learner-centered proficiency-based learning.”
David Ouellette, who works at UMPI and assists Central Aroostook Council on Education (CACE) in planning professional development for educators in the County, serves as a coordinator for NMEC and assists in planning and making all of the arrangements for NMEC workshops and professional development which are held at UMPI.
NMEC has a leadership team of a smaller group of County superintendents. Superinten-dents, Mr. Ouellette, and the co-chairs provide information for the entire NMEC Board of Directors, which is comprised of County superintendents along with one other person from each school district. UMPI President Linda Schott has involved her faculty in NMEC as well. They attend all trainings as they seek to prepare future teachers for the learner-centered proficiency-based classrooms they will have in the future. Professors are also looking to be better prepared for students who will enter college with learner-centered proficiency-based as their public school experience.
NMEC contracted for time with Judy Enright, an independent consultant who provides systems change training, to assist NMEC with planning the work for 2013-14. Ms. Enright facilitated seven meetings which began in September. Each meeting provides a training for district staff on topics ranging from the establishing of local school leadership teams to proficiency based diplomas, to insights from teachers across the state who are currently teaching in a learner-centered proficiency-based classroom.
RSU 29 and SAD 70 administrators attended an early NMEC meeting in the fall and have been sending staff from across the districts, with an emphasis at grades 4-12, to the monthly workshops that have been offered. Those who have attended have heard from teachers and administrators from multiple Maine schools who have been involved in this work for the last several years. They have also participated in small group work with other County educators to learn what other districts are doing regarding learner-centered proficiency-based learning. Because schools have been sending an ever increasing number of teachers to these workshops, attendance has been as great as 75-plus with very positive evaluations being given for the work.
Rae Bates is the curriculum coordinator for RSU 29.