School Choices in Maine: Maine Education Commissioner 

All this week on the morning show, we’ve been taking a closer look at school choices in Maine.

Friday morning, we wrap up with words from the Maine Education Commissioner, James Rier.

We began by asking him- “As head of the Maine Department of Education, what is your number one priority?”

Thought about that question quit bit. Unfortunately I have four or five that I would consider number one. I think the most important challenge we have going forward is the proficiency based diploma requirements, that are in the law for 2017/2018. That’s a heavy load for most school districts to reach that level and we’re focusing very much in the department on trying to be very good at assisting local schools and achieving that. It’s very difficult in Maine when you have two hundred plus school units all trying to achieve the same thing because they ultimately will not all face that challenge in the same way. So we have to be very helpful, I believe from the departments point of view, to focus our efforts on trying to help them achieve that. Couple of other categories that are all related to that will be standards that we aspect students, where we aspect the mot know and be able to do at different levels to be successful and the assessments and so forth that we’re in mist of making more technology response these days because we can learn a lot from the kids of testing that can occur today that don’t just measure how students performed in one test but be able to advise teachers on how to react to changes that students may be undergoing as they are going through the learning process.

Question-Should taxpayer dollars support private/charter/religious/home schools?

Well for the most part, except our religious schools, I would say public dollars should support students and they do today whether they are in public schools or they are in private schools, not all of them, but those who are approved to receive public funds that Maine has in place today. John Bapst would be an example here in the Bangor area that is in that category, Washington Academy up in Washington County, those are private schools that are educating publicly supported students and I would strongly support the idea that tax dollars, those students and parents live in towns that pay taxes and they should be able to support their education. The only answer I have for the religious schools is that’s constitutionally not allowed at this point and we’re just not facing that issue at the moment. The only I have there is constitutionally we’re not, there isn’t an allowance to be able to use public funds to support them. Charter schools for sure and private schools that are approved for receive public funs, as well as public should be supporting what students need and that can vary all over the state and I think it’s important for us to have whatever opportunity students need to learn and be excited about that environment is important.

Question-What is the future of education in Maine for kids born in 2014?

That’s a good question. I think that the hope would be in the near term, by that I mean the next four or five years, that we are much better prepared to provide education, meet the challenges that will be for these students born or children born in 2014. I’m hoping that one of the other efforts that’s on the way at the moment is to try to do, be more proactive about early childhood, especially four year old and Kindergarten students and how students come to school prepared to learn. That is a focus of what the department and legislature has been considering, just of late. How to be better prepared and understand what students need at those early ages because it’s not new information that those who are better prepared are going to succeed more, especially in the early years as it relates to reading and that’s a very important thing for them to know and be able to do very early and the need to know that by Kindergarten or first grade and the preparation for these students that are being born today to be success are going to require more attention from us in those years that lead up to those very early regular school years.

Also I’ve included Mr. Rier’s responses to the questions of Do you think education in Maine has changed for the better or worse in the last few years? and Are kids being prepared adequately for life after high school?

Question- Do you think education in Maine has changed for the better or worse in the last few years?

I believe that we would all agree that education in Maine has been, in a performance measure, has been flat, improvements have not come even though there’s been considerable effort and I think that, that’s one of the things that we are, the Maine Legislature, the Department of Education, the Governor are all trying to focus on as we go forward with some very new and significant initiatives that have been enacted by the legislature the last couple of years and we’re working very hard to initiate those new programs. Proficiency based diplomas for instance, which means that in order to graduate in 2018 students have to be proficient in all 8 main content areas, the main content areas of the Maine Learning Results and that’s a tall order but I think it’s focusing on how we can improve the performance of our students and inspire them to learn. I think that’s ¬†very important ¬†also because those are the things that will help us achieve those goals. All students don’t learn the same way, so it’s important to understand, I believe what inspires students to learn and try to focus on that.

Question- Are kids being prepared adequately enough for life after high school?

I would have to say, I don’t believe so, I think it’s another area that we are very focused on and will continue to be, to try to make the connect not just K-12 education but post secondary and the work environment and career. So it certainly has been a focus of mine, long before this position, to try to make those connects and work we’ve been doing for years between all three of those areas and I realize that all kids don’t become educated specifically for a career but most do and I think we need to be more focused on how we do that. How well we prepare K-12 and making the connect wit things like our Bridge Year Program now that ultimately connects kids even in high school with post secondary programs and try to encourage them to make that connect so that they are excited about it and want to go on to post secondary experiences and make sure those are aligned with careers they may choose to seek.