U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praises Maine school as model

By Ramona du Houx

October 31st, 2010 

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US Edu. Secretary Arnie Duncan enjoys learning about a student project at King Middle School in Portland.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Maine last September to praise King Middle School’s Expeditionary Learning model. Duncan’s visit was the final stop on a four-day Courage in the Classroom bus tour through eight states and thirteen cities.

“This school’s reputation and this state’s reputation is known nationally,” said Duncan. “I have yet to go to a great school that doesn’t have great principals. We can’t do enough to spotlight excellence.”

Duncan toured the school with Principal Michael McCarthy, the state’s 2010 Middle Level Principal of the Year. McCarthy explained that about 56 percent of King’s 550 students are considered low income and 30 percent are foreign-born, English-language learners, mostly from war-torn countries. Before McCarthy took over as principal, only a third of parents went to parent-teacher conferences. Now, 97 percent of parents attend.

The school has focused on building lasting relationships with students, which has shown to improve academic excellence and safety. The school achieved this by creating smaller communities. Each teacher meets with the same 20 students every morning for two years.

Duncan also took the time to talk with middle school students about their Civil Rights project, which had students do 22 interviews with local residents, who were involved in the Civil Rights movement. Students gave the secretary two copies of the collected stories.

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree joined the secretary during his visit to Maine.

“I’m very glad that I was able to talk to Secretary Duncan in our state about what our schools face,” said Pingree. “Maine takes its commitment to education very seriously, but our rural schools are dealing with incredible pressure to cut budgets, restructure, and meet federal mandates. Today we hear so much about standardization in education, but Maine values its uniqueness and is doing great things with the ways our communities prepare their children for the future. So, this visit was a great opportunity to remind the secretary of the delicate balance Maine is trying to keep.”

Afterwards in Portland, Pingree and Duncan participated in a forum with about 20 of Maine’s education leaders.