Forum seeks input on Race to the Top program

Posted March 17, 2010, at 10:48 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — More than 40 area educators, school administrators, elected officials and others gathered at the University of Maine on Wednesday to find out how they can help their local school systems get a piece of the $4.35 billion the federal government is making available to states through a competitive grant process.

“It is a great opportunity,” Maine Education Commissioner Susan Gendron said Wednesday.

Gendron, who led the Orono session, said that the state plans to apply for more than $100 million from the national Race to the Top program, which aims to reshape America’s education system and better prepare students for the economy and workplace of the future.

The deadline for applying for the funding, which would be spread over four years, is June 1, and winners will be notified in the fall, she said.

Gendron, who presented an overview of the federal initiative before Wednesday’s workshop session, said that state education officials already have started putting the application together but that input is needed from local school systems.

“Our purpose really is to share with you the work that we have begun to pull together through lots of conversation,” Gendron said. “We’ve convened some working groups of educational leaders throughout the state. We’ve also been working very closely to build upon the good work that Maine’s been engaged in [in terms of educational reform]. We’ve really been at this for 20 years.”

In the application to the U.S. Department of Education, “they ask for lots of data, lots of information and they want to know what every state has been doing. Are you innovative? Where have your successes been? What are you going to scale up? And so forth,” she said.

“This needs to reflect what we feel the state of Maine has been doing well, what we want to share with others and where we want to begin to implement some new strategies,” she said.

To that end, Gendron said, local educators, school officials and others are being asked to consider such key questions as where their schools stand in terms of: standards and assessments, data systems that measure student growth and success, recruiting and retention of effective teachers and principals; and how the lowest-performing schools can be turned around.

The gathering in Orono was the second in a series of five that the Maine Department of Education is conducting around the state this month. The first was on Monday in Westbrook. The remaining three sessions, all of which run from 4 to 7 p.m., are set for today at the University of Maine Farmington Olson Student Center in the North Dining Hall; March 24 at the gymnasium of the Rose M. Gaffney School in Machias; and March 25 at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in the multipurpose room of the campus center.

Gendron said earlier that school districts interested in receiving some of Maine’s Race to the Top funding will have to sign on to certain aspects of the program, such as an evaluation system for teachers and principals. Schools can develop their own programs for other aspects, such as choosing between rigorous studies systems such as advanced placement programs or an international baccalaureate program.

School districts will have to sign an agreement with the state if they’re interested in participating, as that is part of the state’s agreement with the federal government.

For more information, go to www.maine.gov/education/racetothetop.

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