Friday, February 11, 2022

Maine Education Commissioner pays visit to Windham High School

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender
Makin visited Windham High School on Feb. 7 to
shine on light on work being done by staff and students
and to call attention to the need for communities to
support schools by volunteering and substituting.
By Lorraine Glowczak

The students and staff at Windham High School hosted a special guest on Monday, Feb. 7, when Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin spent the day with students, educators, and staff as well as teachers and students of the Katahdin Program. 

“We are here today to shine a light on the amazing work being done by the educators, school staff, and students in our public schools and to call attention to the need for communities to support schools by volunteering and substituting,” Makin said.

The commissioner, who was the principal of the REAL (Regional Education Alternative Learning) school from 2003 to 2014, of which RSU 14 participated, began her day at WHS at 10:45 a.m., arriving with homemade baked goods as a gift to staff to show appreciation for their dedication during challenging times. She was welcomed and greeted by Superintendent Christopher Howell, RSU 14 School Board Chair Kate Brix, and WHS Assistant Principal Phil Rossetti, who acted as her host for the day.

“It was an honor to have her visit WHS to shed some light on the great things happening in our school and RSU 14,” Rossetti said. “Being a former colleague of so many in the district, it was nice for her to reconnect with so many of us and to see her interact with students which is something she excels.”

After serving lunch, Commissioner Makin visited art teacher Joe McLaughlin’s classroom. She and the students learned about monochromatic artwork and the detailed instructions to lead the students to their first painting of the spring semester.

Makin’s day at WHS ended with a visit with students and staff at the Katahdin program, which was a ‘coming home’ of sorts for the commissioner. As a former principal of the REAL School (prior to the move to the Katahdin Program), she had an opportunity to catch up with former colleagues. Craig Haims, Director of the Katahdin Program, shared his experiences.

“Working with Pender for many years was fun because she created a space where innovation was not occasional, but rather, was a consistent feature of our shared work,” Haims said. “Spending some time together at Katahdin yesterday was meaningful as the students and staff got to explain to her about the many exciting activities and initiatives that are happening now at the Katahdin Program. It was so fun for us all to reconnect."

Makin said that she is in awe of what is transpiring in all the schools, stating that there are so many bright and positive things occurring that go unnoticed. 

Rossetti agrees with Makin, stating that there are a lot of challenges schools have been facing over the last couple of years and there has been a lot of focus on the many hurdles.

“But when you step away from those challenges, there are a lot of amazing things happening in our schools,” Rossetti said. “To have the commissioner visit to help bring to light the great things that are happening and recognize the amazing work the staff is undertaking is powerful. I hope those considering to support schools by volunteering or substituting will consider joining our team - if only for a day. There are many ways to support education as the commissioner highlighted in her visit.”

On Monday, the commissioner made a case for substitute teaching and volunteering. 

“You get to make your own hours, you have the opportunity to be with the most magnificent young people, and you get to learn so much. Education is a symbiotic process—you can’t help but grow your own brain while you’re helping children learn.”

Makin served as a classroom teacher at Fred C. Wescott Junior High School in Westbrook from 1997 to 2003. As principal at The REAL School, Makin and her team supported high risk students from 28 sending school districts through innovative academic and experiential programming. Makin served as the Assistant Superintendent of the Brunswick School Department starting in 2015.  

She was honored as the 2013-2014 Maine Principal of the Year by the Maine Principal’s Association and has also received the Milken Educator Award, a national distinction bestowed upon educators for exceptional educational talent, exemplary educational accomplishments, and an engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students.

As Maine Education Commissioner, Makin leads the state agency that administers both state education subsidy and state and federal grant programs; coordinates the authoring of the rules for Maine State education statutes passed by the Maine State Legislature; provides professional development, information, supports and resources, as well as a system for educator credentialing; and leads many collaborative opportunities and partnerships in support of local schools and districts.

She grew up in Saco and graduated from Thornton Academy. Makin earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and a master’s degree in school leadership from University of Southern Maine and received her teacher certification from the University of New England’s Department of Education in 1996. <

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