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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

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.





We (still) aren’t getting it!

January 28, 2013

I may have a bad case of the January grumpies, but frankly I’m tired of reading about these kinds of incidents. More than that I am angry that there seems to be little recourse, little discussion, and most important, little action taken. But take a look for yourself…

• Young teen girl is beaten up in her school…two onlookers film and upload video to Facebook.

•  Two high school students take their disagreement online where it inevitably escalates, disrupting a good portion of their school.

• After President Obama’s re-election last November and again after the Inauguration, a slew of racist comments appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

Not a day goes by when the Internet, TV news, and newspapers don’t feature several instances of students (ok, and adults too…and that is a big part of the problem) behaving inappropriately, sometimes badly, and occasionally illegally because of their online actions. Posting before thinking. Responding without weighing the consequences. Speaking without considering someone’s feelings.

We say our teens are tech-savvy, but what does that mean? For many teens it simply suggests they can navigate, use, and are not intimidated by their devices—laptops, tablets, smart phones, games, and of course, the Internet. Primary use of technology for many teens is still connecting with others (texting, social media) and entertainment (games, music, and more).

Far fewer teens than we would like actually take advantage of the technology at their disposal to learn, collaborate with others about bold ideas, problem solve (and particularly, problem find),  and give back to others. Let me say that again…the level of technology use for too many teens stops at texting and Facebook, unless we teach them how to be responsible (digital) citizens. And in this case, that “teaching” involves as much listening and discussing with them as it does about telling!

Here is what I suggest. Parents need to talk with their teens and teachers need to talk with their students about these issues. Our children and teens need to explicitly be taught what their responsibilities are for being good (digital) citizens, and how they can use technology responsibly, carefully, and ethically. (This is no easy task given the many examples of adults who misbehave online.)

But remember, this is not about technology. It is about common sense, using your brain, caring about others, setting good examples, not doing or saying things online that you would not do or say in face-to-face.

Take five minutes to talk to one of your classes today, and tomorrow, and the next day about a tech-related issue that has come up in your classroom, school, community, or in the news. Many of our students are desperate for guidance; they need to hear each other talk about the opportunities and challenges of being a teen in today’s society with the digital devices and tools they have access to. And of course, parents should have the same types of discussions.

Please note…this is not a rant. I’m simply asking teachers, school counselors, administrators, and parents to take five minutes each day to talk with a group of students about these issues as they arise. You don’t need to be a technology expert, you just need to talk about common sense behavior. Would you do or say this, or this, or this to someone face-to-face, as you have done hiding anonymously behind your computer?

There are tons of excellent resources available for kids of all ages, their teachers and parents. To get started investigate…

Common Sense Media

A Platform for Good

Please let me know how this works for you and the kids for whom you are responsible!

The Philanthropy Project

November 19, 2012

Mount Blue Middle School

When middle school educators and students find meaning in work it is so magical! As I sat at the MAMLE awards presentations at the fall conference at Sugarloaf recently I felt the urge to be back in the classroom. I miss those moments that are filled with energy, life, and bring out the best in all involved, students and adults. It is the work that young adolescents do when they have the opportunity to lead, contribute their creative ideas, and work collaboratively that are often the ones that form who they are and last forever. This intense feeling came on for me as I listened to the work taking place at Mount Blue Middle School. Below is a description of The Philanthropy Project.

Joel Smith, Maureen Oswald, Jayne Flagg, and Mark Simpson

The Philanthropy Project idea came about slowly and then took on a life of its own. Ninety-five students began their 7th grade year as ordinary, “I am a dot in this world? typical adolescents. As teachers noticed common courtesy had taken a back seat in our society, we encouraged them to ramp it up a notch. We discussed manners and practiced them, first in the classroom and then in the halls with simple phrases like “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, etc. We then took that to the hallways, adding other elements such as introductions, handshakes, and using a person’s name to address them when they said “good morning” (especially teachers). They began to get feedback from the staff in our building, who remarked frequently about what a polite, happy group of kids we had. We were all beaming.

As a small independent project, we purchased class journals and each class tried to fill their journals with random acts of kindness they h ad performed or witnessed. This became a daily check-in. Their parents were noticing, and some got in on it. We watched “Pay It Forward”. They were enthralled. They created goals (read to younger child, visit an elderly person, rake a lawn, take food to the animal or local food bank). We watched them unfold by the end of their 7th grade year.

By eighth grade, they were itching for more. This is when the idea for a Philanthropy Project truly sprang. Colleagues agreed to head up a focus group, each with a different theme. We had soldiers in Afghanistan/Iraq, The Less Fortunate, The Elderly, and Animals. Students met with the group they chose and brainstormed ideas concerning how to give of themselves to improve the lives of others. The animal shelter saw dozens of kids come in to not only bring items they collected, but also to spend time int he kitten room and outside walking energetic, appreciative dogs. We ended up with boxes upon boxes of collected items sent to Yap for needy children, our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan received care packages and letters, the food bank was filled, and my favorite was a huge “senior social” we put on in our cafeteria for local retirees and nursing home residents, where we provided a DJ and enough food to feed an army, but most importantly where these citizens got to know our students and relationships developed.

The Exemplary Practice Awards are presented to individuals, teams, and schools across the state of Maine who are incorporating “best practices” into their curriculum and instruction, and whose educational practices exemplify excellent middle level education. Please consider nominating middle level educators for this award. You can learn more about the application process at the MAMLE website

In Today’s News

October 24, 2012

135 pounds of fresh vegetables delivered

At Spruce Mountain Middle School in Jay students have built gardens, attended classes on gardening and have harvested vegetables since August. The garden has provided the Tri-Town Ministerial Food Pantry in Livermore Falls about 135 pounds of fresh vegetables and an outstanding learning opportunity for students. Read the entire article written by Eileen M. Adams, and view a photo in today’s Franklin Sun Journal

Whittier Middle School teacher named Maine’s 2013 Teacher of the Year

September 10, 2012

CONGRATULATIONS to Shannon Shanning

Shannon Shanning receives an award from Maine’s Commissioner of Education, Stephen Bowen

POLAND – Shannon Shanning, a seventh- and eighth-grade special education teacher at Whittier Middle School, was named the 2013 Maine Teacher of the Year in front of students, colleagues, family and other distinguished guests Monday. In keeping with Maine tradition, Shanning was not informed ahead of time that the “all-school assembly” was called to honor her.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen presented Shanning with the award – the first awarded to a special education teacher as far back as program records indicate. Bowen also read a letter of congratulations from Governor Paul LePage.

There are connections to many components of the Bright Futures report in how Shannon teaches. For example, Core Practice 1: Students have access to curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory and is organized and executed to maximize accessibility for all students. Shanning’s nominating committee wrote, “Shannon provides an environment of high engagement, challenge, and support that inspires students to become more confident, capable, and productive learners.” This is demonstrated by her remarkable ability to embed learning in real-world experiences and connect students to the school and greater community.

Shannon’s program involves strong connections with the local fire department and fire fighters. They research survival and build shelters in the woods behind the schools, and hold a bake-off for Top Chef Challenges.

One of Shannon’s students said in her nomination: “She’s always coming up with new things. Just this past week, she created an Edmodo page for our ELA, Math and Fire Station classes, we can stay caught up in our lessons. it also helps our parents to see what we’re working on. We’re researching and videotaping surival-in-the-wild strategies. This spring, we’ll be making a public service announcement for the fire station. She’s putting Book Share on our laptops.”

The selection process began in February of this year with eight nominees from elementary, middle and high schools across the state. A district-wide nominating committee prepared the application packet to nominate Shanning for the 2013 Teacher of the Year recognition. Nomination packets were scored by a group of educators, administrators, business partners and past Teachers of the Year to determine the semi-finalists. The semi-finalists then underwent review by a team who spent a day at each of their schools last spring. During the summer, the semi-finalists compiled professional portfolios and gave a scored teaching demonstration to graduate students at the University of Maine. Those with the highest scores were named state finalists and interviewed by past Teachers of the Year to make the final determination.

Shanning will go on to compete in the selection process for the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, who will be announced in April 2013 at the White House.

The nomination process for the next 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:

The Teacher of the Year program is managed by the Maine Department of Education in collaboration with the Maine State Board of Education and the Maine State Teacher of the Year Association. The program is fully funded by Hannaford Supermarkets, and Bangor Savings Bank is reimbursing the winner’s school district for the cost of substitutes while the Teacher of the Year is out of the classroom on official duties.

MLTI 9th Annual Student Conference

May 9, 2012

Bringing students together for a wonderful opportunity!

The MLTI conference agenda looks like an event not to be missed. Block 1 session starts with students telling their stories….

  • Taking Care of Business
    Presenter: Tim Walsh, Freshman at Kennebunk High School
    Tim will share how he leveraged his access to his MLTI MacBook to become a design professional along with a team at Middle School of the Kennebunks. And Tim will make clear – his accomplishments to date are “only a beginning…” (read more by clicking here)
  • “You kind of have to want to…”
    Presenters: Emily & Katie Morse, Juniors at Machias High School
    Emily and Katie are studying Japanese to meet their world language graduation requirement at Machias High, and they are doing it online through Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, Utah via their MLTI MacBooks. They’re proving MLTI students have the opportunity to learn what they want to learn – when and how they want to learn it. (Read more by clicking here.)

This is just the way the day starts on May 24th on the UMaine, Orono campus.

Block 3 Über-session will be my favorite part of the day, I just know. This is taken from the MLTI website:

This year’s student conference will feature over 1,000 students playing an original composition on the MLTI devices. Using GarageBand (recording software included on the image), students will come to the session having already created their own sampled keyboard – one that they will play as a group along with 1000 other musicians!
The samples created will include an octave of pitched musical notes and five localized sound effects that will be incorporated in the piece. MLTI staff will capture the culminating performance and release audio and video to the public shortly after the performance.
Now let’s be honest – if you’re a musician, you probably understand all this…
But… If you are not a musician – don’t worry – there will be plenty of help available to make sure everyone can arrive at the event ready to go. Read below for more information on how to get prepped to be part of this exciting event, as over 1,000 Maine people join together to make music!
Oh, one more thing – there will be some great professional and amateur Maine musicians involved – but we can’t release details just now as they are still being worked out!

You can read more, see the schedule, and register for the conference at I understand there are still some spaces left!


In Today’s News

April 26, 2012

7th grade English teacher named 2012 National Teacher of the Year

Rebecca Mieliwocki who teaches in Luther Burbank Middle School in Burbank, California was honored today in a White House ceremony with 53 other state teachers of the year. I enjoyed reading the article at this link about the event and hopefully you read it and feel proud that you have selected the noble profession of teaching!

Here is a segment of the article written by Liana Heitin:

“In a humble yet self-assured speech, Mieliwocki told the audience of several hundred educators and policymakers, “I’m not the best teacher in America—there isn’t one.” But like other successful teachers, “I have a warm and welcoming heart for all students,” she said. “And I have the unshakeable understanding that students can do anything they put their minds to.”
In her application, Mieliwocki noted that she also sees herself as “a 12-year-old goofball” on the inside. “While I am always a consummate professional, there’s nothing in the playbook that says teachers need to be stuffy or staid or that learning has to be dry and dull,” she wrote.”

Teacher and Students Collaborate

June 1, 2011

Maine Scholar Leader Dinner

This post was written by and photographs taken by Lisa Gilman, art teacher from Winthrop Middle School.

Attending the Maine Association for Middle Level Education (MAMLE) conference every Fall gives me a morale boost about working with middle school students. At one of the conferences I learned about the Maine Scholar Leader Dinner. The event happens annually each Spring and Maine middle schools are invited to send two students for recognition.  I learned that the two students contend for the one table favor. In a moment of sentiment, I offered to make pottery for each of the 80 students. That was two years ago and 160 pots later.

Seeing all the work has generated interest from students in my own school. They want to know how they can get this coveted recognition. This year, on the next day after the banquet, the students representing my school let me know  how thrilled they were about the recognition. They couldn’t wait to tell me which color pottery they had taken home.

I throw all the pottery and my middle school students glaze them. After the work is glazed I use a glaze pen and write the words, “Laugh, Dream, Create, Imagine” on each piece. I include a card with a poem with the following for each student.

Laugh today

Dream for tomorrow

Create without worry

Imagine your possibilities

A Gift to Maine

May 25, 2011

Endowment from the Lunder Family

The Lunder Foundation of Portland Maine has recently endowed The Lunder Maine Student Membership Program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This magnificent gift from the Lunder Foundation provides MFA access free-of-charge for all Maine students. It represents the Lunder Foundation’s commitment to education and to the people of Maine, and it is a meaningful endorsement of the MFA as one of the world’s great encyclopedic art museums. The Program allows Maine students of all ages in public and private school, as well as those who are home-schooled, to visit the MFA free of charge.

All elementary, middle, and high school principals and teachers should be aware of this opportunity. As of July 1, 2011, any school group leader can visit the MFA’s website to request a visit: The school’s Maine address will automatically qualify it for a waived admission fee. The Lunder Maine Student Membership Program applies to all of the Museum’s Self-Guided Visits and Guided Tours (see full description of offerings:

Dale Chihuly glass

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