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'Teacher-Led' Schools: Maine Bill Would Provide Funds for Transition
04/25/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

Good news for kids who spend a little too much time in the principal's office: In the future, some schools may not have a principal's office at all - or a principal - if supporters of a bill are successful in paving the way for a new public school model. LD 1106 would provide funding for schools that want to try a teacher-led structure instead. And one school in Portland is being held up as an example. Jennifer Mitchell has more.

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Maine schools have been through a lot in recent years: consolidation, un-consolidation, and continuing heartburn between the LePage administration and teachers over student performance. Even now, Gov. LePage is uncapping his red pen to issue "A through F" letter grades for the state's schools. Now, there's LD 1106.

"This bill provides one more innovative model for schools across the state to explore," says Democratic Rep. Matthew Moonen of Portland, who presented the bill.

The bipartisan-sponsored bill would allow schools with a traditional principal-teacher hierarchy to transition to a model where teachers are in charge - and not just of the classrooms. They would run schools, going so far as to conduct evaluations of each other.

While, technically, there's nothing to prevent schools from adopting the model right now, extra funding to pay for such a transition is likely to be nonexistant. The bill would allow schools to dip into the Efficient Delivery of Educational Services Fund - money established to encourage cash-saving measures, such as consolidation.

Moonen says that while there are many types of schools being formed with an alternative structure in mind, the Reiche School in Portland is proof that a public school can start out with one structure, and successfully shift gears.

"Reiche is very likely the only public school in the country that started off with a traditional hierarchy and then transitioned to a teacher-led model that involves all staff members," Moonan said.

Like many urban schools serving lower income areas, the Reiche School has had challenges. More than half the students speak English only as a second language, and over 70 percent partake of free or reduced lunch, year round. It was one of nine schools in Portland that failed to meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind in 2011.

Despite making that list, the school has made steady improvements in test scores over the last 10 years, and teachers were given more authority to run the school by Principal Marcia Gendron. When Gendron transferred to another school in 2011, teachers and parents opted to expand the concept, and the teacher-led school was born.

Kindergarten teacher-leader Kevin Brewster says, so far, the model seems to be working. "Teachers, ed-techs and language facilitators feel empowered, parents feel respected, and our students are energized."

But not everyone is showing the same unmitigated enthusiasm for the concept. "It sounds to me like Reiche was in a unique position when they went into this," says Dick Durost, executive director of the Maien Principals' Association. "It sounds to me like they already had a very good principal who had put in place a very collaborative model to begin with."

Durost says while MPA declines to take an official position on the bill or the concept, the group believes that the importance of strong school leadership should not be forgotten in the debate. And it's possible, he says, that Reiche's example is not going to be typical.

"I would suggest there are lot of other buildings out there across the state where it would have been more difficult for such a transition," Durost says.

Sandra MacArthur, deputy director of the Maine School Management Association also questioned adding teacher-led schools to the Efficient Delivery Fund, as well as some nebulous language in the bill, saying that the role of the school board and superintendent should be "spelled out."

Whether the bill gets a thumbs up or down from the Legislature remains to be seen. The bill is expected to be taken up at a future work session of the education committee.



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