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Friday, March 25, 2016

Christine Hesler and Chris Howell awarded Educational Champion Award - By Michelle Libby

Last week at the annual High School Redesign in Action conference, Christine Hesler, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for RSU14 and Windham High School principal Chris Howell were awarded 2016 Educational Champion awards from the New England Secondary School Consortium, which hosted the conference. 
 
This was the fourth time Hesler and Howell have attended the conference and Hesler presented at two sessions. 

People from each state in New England and a regional award were given accolades for their “unique contributions to the effort to raise graduation rates, lower dropout rates and send more students on to college and post-secondary certification programs in Maine.”  
Hesler and Howell were nominated by the Maine Department of Education and two employees there. “It’s flattering when schools who are trying to do some good things are recognized,” said Howell. The RSU has been reaching out to other schools all over the state and even other states to help them create programs that benefit students. 

Hesler and Howell were awarded partially for their work with proficiency-based learning. “We’re trying to make learning as transparent as possible to the students,” Howell said. For three years, the teachers and administrations have been working on developing a curriculum that benefits students - one that is “rigorous and relevant” to them. “Kids can make choices when they leave here. The choice is not dictated to them,” he said. He doesn’t want to see a student have no choice because of a minimal curriculum path.
“We have had the support of the leadership team and teachers. They pushed us to find answers. They’re represented in the award,” Hesler said. “I’m really proud of our staff and what they’ve been able to accomplish.” 

Others who were this awarded this year were state board of education chairmen, presidents and CEOs of major corporations and executive directors of non-profits. 

“A senator won it last year. College presidents win, I’m kind of in shock, but it’s very nice,” said Hesler.  “We’re proud to represent the RSU.” 

“Mrs. Hesler and Mr. Howell were two of seven Champions recognized this year for their extraordinary commitment to ensuring that public-school student across New England have a chance to succeed in school, live a fulfilled and meaningful life, and make a positive contribution to the world,” said Blythe Armitage from Great Schools Partnership based in Portland.  

Hesler, along with teachers Jeff Riddle and Amy Denecker, and Sarah Plummer, from the Portland Water District, discussed the book their class wrote and published last year called “Discovering Water”.  On the new website www.discoveringwater.org people can see how the book came together, the team and the presentation they did at the conference, which was not only presented at the conference, but streamed live to other states. 

Students at WHS are now working on an interactive iBook for people everywhere to be able to read
http://www.arkierogersseptic.com/
and learn about water. The book is currently being used in every sixth grade in the state, Hesler said.
The students who worked on this book, graduated from WHS as published authors, photographers and graphic artists, she added. Howell is pleased that the school is able to reach out to community partners and non-profits that want to partner with the students in projects. 

“I’m excited for Chris, He’s working really hard at the high school. We’re extremely fortunate to have him,” said Hesler. 

 “These champions do this through their deep thinking, their tireless energy, and their unwavering commitment to students they will never know. Far too few students will ever know that their lives have been positively influenced by the efforts of the 2016 New England Secondary School Consortium Champions," said David Ruff, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium.

“We are able to have hard conversations with the Department of Education to tell them we need tools to do the job well,” Hesler said.

Hesler serves on the board of directors for the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association representing Cumberland County. Howell currently serves on the board of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and on the advisory board for the School Education and Human Development at the University of Southern Maine. At the state level, he is a long-time board member for the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association. 
Howell also has served on several advisory councils for the Maine Department of Education. 

“Now we get back to work. We have much more we need to do,” Howell said. “It’s nice to be recognized, but there still a lot to do. We will still be engaged in state level policy making.” 

Howell is currently working with his team on updating the curriculum pathways to ensure that all students have a chance to meet the graduation standards as laid out, that assessments given measure the standards and targets and forming additional pathways that can help students meet standards in a non-traditional way.

“We don’t do the work for awards, we do it for the kids,” Hesler said.

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