ORONO — More than 300 educators, politicians, parents and other community members from around the state met for two days this week to find common ground in an education reform movement that often has been sporadic and isolated.
“Part of what we wanted to come out of the conference is groups linking up with each other so that we have not only a shared vision but a coordination of efforts across constituency groups to make things happen,” said Susan Aaronson, president of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education which sponsored the summit.
“There are certain things that teachers alone can’t make happen or that students alone can’t make happen,” she added during a break in the conference at the University of Maine.
Drawing people from all parts of the state, attendance at the two-day summit was by invitation only but involved the 22 major “stakeholder” groups in the state.
The main points to emerge from the conference, which were incorporated into a vision statement for reform, were recognition of the need to develop standards for students and to promote flexibility in the lengths of the school day and school year.
While these issues are nothing new, Aaronson said that having such a diverse group that could find common threads in their concern is a step forward in the education reform movement.
“Basically there is consensus of what we want for Maine’s children and for education which means lifelong learning,” she said.
Despite including such areas as law enforcement, social service providers and religious organizations, at least one person attending felt that the group was not diverse enough.
Speaking to the full group early Tuesday afternoon, Jacqueline Kelly, principal of the Turner Primary and Elementary schools, said that the summit group represented those who had succeeded and were fairly well off financially. Low-income people and those who had failed in the educational system had not been included.
Another person pressed for giving parents an increased role in education.
“There is a lot more we parents can do if (educators) ask us to help address some of the issues facing our children,” said Carol Jo Morse of Wetbrook.
Charlie Cash, principal of the Mountain View School in Franklin and an educator for 26 years, said following up on the conference and pushing forward from where the program left off were vital.
“If it is not done,” he warned, “then it is definitely going to be the death knell of restructuring in the state of Maine.”