AUGUSTA, Maine — Donald Siviski, outgoing superintendent of Regional School Unit 2, will bridge the gap between that position and retirement by serving as a consultant for the Maine Department of Education on instructional programming.
David Connerty-Marin, director of communications for the state education department, said an exact title has not been decided on, but he confirmed Thursday that the department is in the process of hiring Siviski as a consultant on a temporary contract. Siviski’s task will be to review the instructional programming of the department. The job will rely on Siviski’s “expertise in instructional systems and education reform as we review the instructional programs of the department,” Connerty-Marin said.
Siviski announced last December that he would retire when his current contract with RSU 2 (Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond) expires June 30. Between now and then, he will split time between his old and new jobs.
The RSU 2 board of directors on Wednesday voted unanimously to allow Siviski to use two days a week of the approximately 30 vacation days he has accumulated to phase into his new position at the Department of Education. Siviski said Thursday that he expects to begin working full-time for the DOE in July.
Connerty-Marin said Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen greatly respects Siviski’s work in RSU 2 and wants to bring him on board in this capacity to help conduct a top-to-bottom review of the department and the way it functions.
With as many as 50 different units making up the DOE, Siviski said his goal will be to ensure that all of them associated with instruction will focus on improving the proficiency level of students. Any organization has a vision, he said, and each department should be working toward that vision.
Ultimately, Siviski hopes to implement a statewide strategic education plan designed to improve the proficiency levels of all students in Maine.
“Feeling content that 50 percent of our high school graduates are proficient in reading, writing and math is unacceptable,” Siviski said. “So that’s what we’re going to be working on.”
The review will include scrutinizing teacher preparation courses, curriculum, common core instruction, assessments, technical centers and vocational schools and certification of teachers, Siviski said. “All of that has to have a focus on improving instructional skills so that student achievement will increase,” he said.
“Almost everyone has agreed, we need a plan,” Siviski said, echoing a common theme Bowen has heard during visits to schools in various parts of the state.
In a phone interview Thursday, Siviski said, “I have a passion for improving public education. And I have some experience — 39 years. I have a lot of relationships with peers across the state, and I look forward to working together to reach our goal.”
Siviski said if citizens of each community take a look at what students are doing — particularly SAT results in 11th grade — they will realize the need to change.
“We only know what we know,” Siviski said. “If our kids experience the same thing we did in the ’60s … we think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But the world is very different, and we’ve become very interdependent” with the Internet offering a world of resources with which 21st century students must become proficient.
While a family that owned a set of encyclopedias used to have the market on term papers, now any child with a laptop can go to any university or public library, research data and “come up with things far more articulate than anything we ever produced,” Siviski said.
Technology will force educators to rethink how they teach to reflect rapidly evolving informational resources.
“The idea of going to college and getting a four-year degree and saying ‘I’m done’ is not going to exist,” Siviski said. “We are all going to have to be continuous learners.”
Referring to today’s students as “native technocrats,” Siviski said technology has created a dynamic learning environment in which children often find themselves teaching adults about the implications of new advances in technology. That evolution forces those responsible for charting the future of public education in Maine to implement strategies that emphasize adaptation, he said.
The metaphor Siviski uses is Kodak, which realized that digital photographers no longer wanted plastic film, “and they had to reinvent themselves, because you can’t go and buy a roll of film for a camera unless it’s a special order now. So they reinvented themselves to meet the digital world of the 21st century,” where all the pictures are on a digital chip.
“Are we going to continue to use film, or are we going to enter the 21st century with a digital chip?” he asked rhetorically. “Schools have to reinvent themselves.”
Siviski attended the University of Maine at Farmington, where he majored in math and physics. He worked for a year in 1997 as the assistant superintendent in Wiscasset, then went to work as a superintendent for School Administrative District 68 in Dover-Foxcroft. In 2002, he became superintendent of SAD 16, which merged with Richmond, Monmouth and Dresden in 2009 to become RSU 2.
On Wednesday, the RSU 2 board voted to hire Virgel Hammonds, principal of a high school in Lindsay, Calif., to succeed Siviski in July.
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