Author Archive

Karen MacDonald – King Middle School

September 11, 2013

2014 Maine Teacher of the Year

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 9.22.07 PMPortland’s Karen MacDonald named 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year
Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced the King Middle School sixth-and seventh-grade teacher as Maine’s top educator in a surprise all-school assembly Tuesday

PORTLAND – A 24-year veteran teacher at the state’s most diverse middle school is the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year.

In a surprise assembly at King Middle School (KMS) in Portland Tuesday morning, Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen announced Karen MacDonald, who has served students in Portland Public Schools since 1979 and been at KMS since 1989, as Maine’s top teacher.

The sixth-and seventh-grade English language arts teacher is described by students as a “gift,” by colleagues as a teacher leader who is “the most consistently innovative” and by her principal as “relentlessly committed to the success of all of her students.”

In a letter to MacDonald shared by Commissioner Bowen Tuesday, Governor Paul R. LePage thanked her on behalf of a grateful state for devoting her life to serving the students who are Maine’s future.

“In the 33 years you have taught in Portland schools, you have exemplified what it means to put students first, constantly improving your teaching practices to best meet the changing needs of your students in innovative, imaginative ways,” Governor LePage wrote. “The ‘you can do this’ message you always give your students  – many of them new to this country and our English language – instills them with the confidence that they can do anything, including realizing the American dream. Thanks to you, education truly is the great equalizer for students from all walks of life who come through your classroom door.”

KMS serves the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse neighborhoods in Maine and its 550 students represent 22 countries and 29 native first languages.

Those students were joined in celebrating MacDonald by Commissioner Bowen, Portland School District Superintendent Manny Caulk, KMS Principal Mike McCarthy, past Maine Teacher of the Years including 2013 winner Shannon Shanning, Educate Maine Director Tanna Clews, Bangor Savings Bank Regional Market Manager Stephan Woods, Hannaford Director of Corporate Communications Michael Norton and State Board of Education Chair Nancy Perkins and Vice-Chair Peter Geiger.

Thinking it was an assembly about the state’s technology program, MacDonald stood attentively next to her students, taking notes until Commissioner Bowen announced he was actually there because of the great teachers at KMS, and one in particular. Students erupted with excitement, giving a standing ovation as MacDonald made her way to the stage where her family joined her.

MacDonald quickly turned her award into a teachable moment, addressing her class privately after the assembly was dismissed to tell students she never dreamed she’d actually win Maine Teacher of the Year and that it was a lesson in the value of taking risks. She promised to share her journey with them, including her upcoming visit to the White House and NASA space camp.

“I am so proud to be a teacher. It’s an amazing career,” she said.

In addition to MacDonald, the other 2014 finalists were Mary Graziano, a fourth-grade teacher at Hartland Consolidated School, and Suzen Polk-Hoffses, a kindergarten teacher at Milbridge Elementary School.

“It’s certainly a great day in the teaching career of Karen MacDonald and it is also a great day for King Middle School,” said Principal McCarthy. “But every day that Karen MacDonald is here it is a great day. She is simply the best teacher we have ever known.”

As Teacher of the Year, MacDonald will serve as an ambassador for her profession and Maine’s students, and she will be available to travel across the state speaking to colleagues and business and community groups. Starting last year, Bangor Savings Bank began reimbursing the Teacher of the Year’s school district for the cost of substitutes while the Teacher of the Year was out of the classroom on official duties.

Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered by Educate Maine. Educate Maine is a business-led organization whose mission is to champion college, career readiness and increased education attainment with a goal of Maine’s students and workers being the best educated and most highly skilled in the world. For more information, visit Funding for the program is generously provided by Hannaford, Geiger and Bangor Savings Bank with support from the State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association.

The nomination process for the 2015 Maine Teacher of the Year begins this November. Those interested in nominating a teacher should contact their school principal or visit the Maine Department of Education website at


Schoodic Education and Research Center

July 28, 2013

Science teachers

During the first week in July 70 Maine middle school science teachers met at the Schoodic Education and Research Center for professional development. The faculty was from UMaine and the teachers attended as part of the Maine Physical Sciences Partnership. The partnership is supported by a National Science Foundation grant and includes 18 school districts, the Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center) at UMaine, several nonprofit organizations and the Maine Department of Education. You can learn more and see photos at this link.

Screen shot 2013-07-19 at 9.41.50 PM

Love.Read.Learn Baby Journal

June 8, 2013

Great opportunity!

IMG_3402On September 6 First Lady Ann LePage put a call out for student artwork to be considered for a book called “Love.Read.Learn!™ ” Baby Journal. The book will be presented to new parents at all the hospitals in Maine during the next year. Over 800 pieces of artwork were submitted. It was a difficult decision to determine which ones would be included in the book. However, the First Lady and a representative from the Barbara Bush Foundation worked side by side with three art teachers to select the pieces.

Earlier this week several people attended a celebration of the newly published book! Invited to the reception were two Westbrook Middle School students whose drawings were included in the book. Emma Lombardo, grade 6 and Kelsea Fuller, grade 8, their parents, principal Matt Nelson, art teachers Nancy Goan and Abby Jacobs, and Art Director Carol Connor were in also attendance.

The other special guests included former First Lady Barbara Bush, First Lady Ann LePage, and Doro Bush Koch. The first Lady’s presented books to three new mom’s. The books sponsors were Maine Families and Harold Alfond College Challenge. The journal will be distributed as a gift to new parents at hospitals statewide during the next year.





Community Service at Mountain Valley Middle School

June 6, 2013

What are 130 eighth-graders doing in the communities of Byron, Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury and Andover? This is the third year that the Mountain Valley Middle School students fan out into the community to lend a hand by painting signs and picnic tables, raking, planting flowers, and a variety of other projects. You can read the article in today’s newspaper, River Valley Sun Journal written by Matthew Daigle by clicking here.

Many middle schools across the state alter the schedule and create opportunities for students in their communities. Please tell us about your activities by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ at the bottom of this post!

Recognize a Colleague

April 13, 2013

Barbara Greenstone received the Janet Nesin Reynolds Outstanding Middle Level Educator award at the MAMLE conference, 2011. Barbara is joined by colleagues Jill Spencer and Sandy Nevens.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to attend several events where teachers have been recognized for their contributions to their students education. I’ve been thinking about how important recognition programs are and the impact it has on individual teachers. The pride in teachers faces, the excitement in their students voices, and the tears in their closest family members eyes all contribute to the story. In fact, in many cases not only is it a wonderful feeling for the teacher but it has potential to positively impact the school and community. Anyone that has been a member of a nominating committee or perhaps the recipient of an award knows and understand the impact being recognized can have.

In many cases we wait until someone retires and celebrate their lifetime commitment. But it certainly isn’t necessary to wait until that time in a teachers life.

The Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAML) recognizes individual teachers and teams of teachers each year at the annual fall conference in October. For many years the conference has been held at Sugarloaf and this year it will be at Point Lookout in Northport.

If you’ve been thinking about how you can thank a colleague for the work they do each day in a middle school classroom in your school please consider nominating them for a MAMLE award. The application won’t take long to complete and what fun it could be to attend the conference with your colleagues to celebrate the commitment.

Please contact MAMLEs Executive Director Wally Alexander at for an application. Now is the time, please don’t delay. Thank a colleague!

500 Middle School Students

March 16, 2013

March 14 – 26th Expanding your horizons conference

Looks like today, Friday, will be an exciting day at the UMaine campus when 500 middle school girls converge from all over the state for an opportunity to attend a conference learning more about science and math.

The event is cosponsored by UMaine Women’s Resource Center, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine, College of Engineering, University Bookstore, the Provost’s Office and Maine Girls Collaborative Project.

The day begins at 9:00 AM with a keynote provided by a representative from Hardy Girls Healthy Women in Waterville. Students will select hands-on workshops being held throughout the Orono campus.

Among the selections are:

  • Experimenting with the Natural Flora of Bacteria on Our Hands, led byundergraduate student Jordan Myerowitz, 10 AM, noon and 1 PM, 180 Hitchner Hall.
  • Critter Clues: Studying Marine Animals, led by graduate student Skylar Bayer, 11 AM, noon and 1 PM, 201 Shibles Hall.
  • Colorful, Cold Chemistry, led by professor Alice Bruce, 10 AM and 11 AM , 227 and 228 Aubert Hall.
  • Tidal Energy, led by graduate student Colleen Swanger, noon and 1PM, Aquaculture Research Center.
  • Sustainability Solutions — Working Together, led by staff member Elizabeth England, noon and 1 PM, Mitchell Center, Smith Hall.

Teachers will have the opportunity to attend sessions as well including a Maine Girls Collaborative Project panel discussion about working with girls with disabilities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. During the afternoon they will attend a workshop to explore strategies for encouraging Native American girls to pursue STEM subjects in school.

Sounds like a great opportunity for all participants. If you attend, please share your experience with Bright Futures blog readers!

Middle School Principal of the Year

February 28, 2013

Troy Howard Middle School

Screen shot 2013-02-28 at 4.52.51 AMKimberly Buckheit was honored earlier this week for bring named the Maine Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Maine Principal Association. Bangor Daily News staff writer Abigail Curtis covered the story for the newspaper.

I have had the opportunity to work with Kim over the years and know that she has worked hard and collaboratively with students, staff and parents in the community of Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast.

Kim was recognized in front of students and staff where she said: “I’m commonly in the hallway with the kids. Helping them. Talking to them about what they’re doing.” We know that is a necessary and sometimes difficult with all the details that educators are juggling. Student council president Emily Harriman said: “She’s always there for us and so easy to talk to. I feel that she deserves it.”

CONGRATULATIONS KIM and Troy Howard Middle School!

Working Together

February 18, 2013

Finding Common Ground – Peter DeWitt’s blog

imagesNone of us is as smart as all of us. Many of you have heard me say this  Japanese proverb. My friend and colleague retired Maine Alliance for Arts Education Executive Director, Carol Trimble has this family saying We’re a Genius. When I came across this blog post titled Working Together, We Can Produce Genius I thought, I am going to like this blog post written by Robert Garmston and Valerie von Frank. And, I do and recommend it!

The authors point out that working in collaboration is not new. For example, even though Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the light bulb he did not work alone. He worked with several scientists who bounced ideas off each other and collaborated in a large open space. Hmmm… that sounds familiar.

They mention the “shift” happening in schools out of necessity, with teachers working together “combining efforts to work more strategically”. We know this is not a new concept either. But is it happening more in your schools than perhaps 5 or 10 years ago? And, are you involved in the team work?

I’ve noticed that we talk about collaborating in our work but do we know what that means, do we know how it looks? Does it matter who is collaborating? I have many questions about collaboration. If we try it once and it fails do we give up? How do we know which teachers should work together? What is the purpose of collaborating? Will it provide more and better opportunities for student learning and achievement?

The authors suggest these three topics to confront while planning.

  1. The group is (almost) always smarter than its members.
  2. The wisdom of the group can create better decisions.
  3. Who’s in the group matters.

I kept honey bees for several years and was amazed by their habits, behaviors, and how and what they produced. Each bee has their role and the sheer number of bees in a hive, about 30,000, all buzzing around playing their part! Talk about collaboration! I will never forget the first time I went into a bee hive. The bees clearly knew their part and who was supposed to be there. I was clearly a foreigner.

What can we learn from bees and other groups that function in a collaborative environment that have a positive impact on the world? What can we learn from teams who have creatively tackled new ideas and concepts and made a community a better place? Perhaps sharing the blog post Working Together We Can Produce Genius with a colleague or the staff at your school would be a good place to start (or continue) a discussion.

Rice Bowl Challenge

January 25, 2013

Have your students join the fun!

Maine is participating – a note from MLTI

This is just a quick note to let you that the 2013 RiceBowl Challenge is underway! Already we have some schools that are playing – is yours? If not, why not? All Maine schools should be pre-registered, so all you need to do is visit for directions on how your students (or teachers can do this for kids if they are younger) can set up an account at At the bottom of that page, you’ll find PDFs you can download that have step-by-step directions that you can share with kids to help them.

You will also find the list of Maine school team prefixes. These are 6 character unique prefixes that your students need to use when establishing their login accounts. This will allow us to associate their rice donations with your school so we can track your school’s overall total. The prefix is simply your MEDMS school code preceded by ME….so it would look something like ME1234. That means kids’ accounts should be something like ME1234john. They don’t have to use their name at all in the account…just something they will remember. So, ME1234PatsFan would work too.

Every student needs an individual account because FreeRice is adaptive, so it needs to individually track your answers so it knows what question to ask next based on your last response.

Also, teachers — please sign up and register for Digital Learning Day at  It’s quick and painless, but it will put you on a mailing list to receive curriculum ideas and links to resources about how you can use technology in the classroom. The State with the most teachers registered (as a percentage) will be called out on the national Town Hall Meeting on Digital Learning Day which will be streamed live over the internet. Go Maine Go!

Cross-Curricular Teaching

January 19, 2013


Screen shot 2013-01-18 at 8.23.18 PMIn this weeks edition, January 16 of Edutopia the focus is on “deeper learning”. Those of us who have been around for some time as middle level educators are saying HOORAY! At some point (Ed Brazee I am sure can name the time period) there was a shift to a more intentional focus on the curriculum. The developmental needs intersecting with the learning needs.

Much of what I read in the Edutopia article called Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential” the author, education consultant, and blogger Ben Johnson says: “Deep learning implies that students will follow a particular stream of inquiry to the headwaters, rather than simply sampling all the possible streams.” Ben didn’t mention any one particular grade level or age of student. He points out that it is time to create possibilities for students to reach their potential.

Ben claims that teachers and administrators need to “understand and accept” the following:

  1. Deep learning engages the whole student (and teacher) — heart, mind and body
  2. It requires enthusiastic partners
  3. It requires intensive preparation
  4.  Assessment must mirror learning
  5.  Collaboration is necessary

This doesn’t sound like anything new but I do sense in the articles that I have read recently an urgency that I haven’t in the past. An urgency for educators to get it right.

As Edutopia authors do so well there are great examples including a blog by a Language Arts teacher who has a TED talk unit. In the blog post she discusses the changes to her TED talk unit aligning it with ELA Common Core – specifically on “argument”.

The teacher makes a connection to the “21st Century four Cs”. She aims for each lesson to correlate to at least one of the four important skills: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. You can read the details of the work by clicking here. I suggest you go to the article and read the other examples provided as well.

Mr. Johnson stresses the importance of breaking down the walls between content and the value of collaboration. Working with students to help them go deeper in their learning. In many cases they have not been challenged in their thinking for their elementary years so getting them to go deeper is a challenge for teachers. Mr. Johnson ended the article with this statement:

“Students and teacher teams focusing on learning deeply have the force to achieve learning beyond the traditional education dam and shoot out over the spillway to not only understand the torrent of available knowledge, but to also add to it in phenomenal ways.”

I know middle level educators are up to the task of educating students in a 21st century classroom. With ongoing communications with students, parents, and colleagues we can create the opportunity for deeper learning for all students.

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