Improving classrooms in Maine

Posted July 06, 2010, at 5:19 p.m.

Late last month, I proudly accepted the endorsement of the Maine Education Association and the 25,000 teachers that make up that organization. These are dedicated men and women who give countless hours to our children, helping them learn the skills necessary to thrive in today’s economy.

When I first ran for the Legislature, I was motivated by a desire to improve Maine schools. My professional career began as a teacher in classrooms full of the sons and daughters of Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C. It was there I saw firsthand the connection between teachers and a good education. An education opens doors and creates opportunity, and it is something that never can be taken away from a student.

My experience as a teacher and a parent of four children, all of whom went to public schools, guided me during my time in the Legislature. Over the years, I worked to make Maine the first state in the country to invest in Head Start, supported efforts to establish grade-by-grade achievement standards known as Learning Results and got the ball rolling on collaboration between our university and community college systems.

More recently, I worked to bring people together to create innovative schools, giving public schools the ability to adopt the best aspects of charter schools without diverting much-needed dollars from our classrooms. We also set up a system where teacher and principal evaluations are coupled with student performance, which will give both educators and students a greater ability to succeed. Additionally, I supported the adoption of Common Core standards, allowing Maine education officials to collaborate with other states to raise classroom achievement further. This will match Maine’s already high standards with the best practices and new ideas from around the country.

While I could not be more proud of my record of reforming education, one of my opponents, Eliot Cutler, wrote a column in this paper criticizing me for earning the endorsement of Maine teachers, “Talk centers on teachers, not students” (BDN, July 2). I was disappointed that he took such a negative tone and chalked it up to the kind of Washington politics that Mainers have rejected.

Maine does a good job of educating our children, but there are things we must do better if our kids are going to compete in the global economy. There are a lot of ideas out there, but there is no way we will succeed unless we support the amazing teachers that lead our classrooms.

One example is Marta Robbins, who has spent 22 years teaching art at James F. Doughty School in Bangor. Marta is inspired to teach every day by the opportunity to see the moment when her students “get it.” Seeing the spark in her children’s eyes when they grasp a new concept more than makes up for the hours and hours of work she and her fellow teachers put in.

Another great teacher is Bob McCulley of Falmouth High School. Bob gave up a career as a professional basketball player to become a math teacher. For 39 years he has taught everything from shop math to AP calculus. His commitment is as strong today as it was 39 years ago. A few years back when he had a student who was struggling with AP calculus, Bob put in a lot of extra hours working with her. She ended up doing well on the AP exam, went on to college and now is studying to be a math teacher.

We are lucky to have Bob and Marta and the thousands of other teachers across Maine, and I am so humbled to have their support.

In the coming years we will continue to adapt our children’s education to meet the challenges of changing times. With a commitment from our public leaders and teachers like Marta and Bob I am confident that we will make Maine schools the best in the country.

Libby Mitchell is president of the Maine Senate and the Democratic candidate for governor.

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