PARIS — SAD 17’s Board of Directors was treated to several guests and presentations, even a student string quartet performance, at its Monday night meeting.

L-R: OHCHS String Quartet members Sam Morton of Norway, Gabrielle Beaudoin of South Paris, Flynn Moxcey of Oxford and Nate Plourde of Otisfield perform for the SAD School Board at its Feb. 3 meeting. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

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 gave the Board background of the musicians’ group and provided a summary of past and pending performances, including one in New York in the spring.

The next guest was Maine Department of Education’s Commissioner, Pender Makin. One year into her role, she relayed to the Board that the Department’s biggest priority since last January has been 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 told the Board. “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 is improving communications with administrators, school boards and teachers, and to hear from those stakeholders about what they need.

The DOE recently selected two students from each county, representing grades 4-12, to form the Maine Student Cabinet. The group is set to meet quarterly to discuss educational opportunities, improvements, and policy. Makin said that trauma-informed practices in schools dominated the group’s initial meeting last month.

Other initiatives the DOE is undertaking are provisions for school districts to expand technical assistance in behavioral health and to support social and emotional learning.

SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts (L) welcomes Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin (R) to the Feb. 3 BOD meeting. Also pictured: Board Chair Diana Olsen (C). Picasa

Makin also touched on the issue of standardized testing and its importance in federal accountability measurements. But 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, 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 that her department is working to adjust formulas for state funding to be more equitable among districts across the state to relive property tax burdens and is looking for creative ways to help districts help students and families facing food insecurity.

Other presentations made to the Board Monday night included input from high school student representatives on dress code policies and the roles of instructional coaches in the district’s elementary schools.

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