PARIS — The School Administrative District 17 board of directors hosted several guests and presentations Monday night, including the commissioner of the Maine Department of Education and a student string quartet.

The Oxford Hills Comprehensive High school string quartet performs Monday night for the SAD 17 board of directors. From left: Sam Morton of Norway, Gabrielle Beaudoin of South Paris, Flynn Moxcey of Oxford and Nate Plourde of Otisfield

The evening opened with cellist Nate Plourde of Otisfield and violinists Fynn Moxcey of Oxford, Gabrielle Beaudoin of South Paris and Sam Morton of Norway playing the national anthem, followed by a medley of classical pieces and a Viennese Waltz.

Quartet Director Cynthia Wescott provided information on the group and provided a summary of past and pending performances, including one in New York this spring.

Pender Makin, who is about a year into her role as commissioner of the state Department of Education, then spoke of her top priorities since last January; specifically, to rebuild trust in the department and “transition it from a top-down directive culture to one focused on serving Maine’s education stakeholders.”

“For the last several years, when asked about policies, the answer has been, ‘Because it’s the law,'” Makin said. “It’s the state law, or federal law. We are no longer doing that. We intend to take action on policies because they make sense.”

Among the vision changes Makin highlighted: Improving communications with administrators, school boards and teachers, and hearing from those “stakeholders” about what they need.

The DOE recently selected two students from each county, representing grades four through 12, to form the Maine Student Cabinet. The group is set to meet quarterly to discuss educational opportunities, improvements and policy. Makin said trauma-informed practices in schools dominated the group’s initial meeting last month.

Other initiatives at the state Department of Education include provisions for school districts to expand technical assistance in behavioral health and to support social and emotional learning.

SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts, left, welcomes Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin, right, to Monday night’s meeting of the School Administrative District 17 board of directors. Also shown: Board Chairwoman Diana Olsen.

Makin also touched on the issue of standardized testing and its importance in federal accountability measurements. She cautioned the board that the main role of standardized testing is for maintenance of Title 1 funding, which in Maine amounts to $75 million annually.

“Agencies and people crave data for decision-making,” Makin said. “But it’s not the most trustworthy assessment for success in learning. It’s what Zillow picks up for real estate listings. Your own local measurement standards are more reliable.”

Makin told the board her department is working to adjust formulas for state funding to be more equitable among districts across the state to relieve property tax burdens.

The department, she said, is also looking for creative ways to help districts help students and families facing food insecurity.


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