Portland Principal Promotes Collaborative Culture

Mike McCarthy is principal at King Middle School in Portland, Maine

McCarthy transformed a culture of divisiveness and violence by committing to cooperation and innovation.

McCarthy: “The genius of this school is not in a program, it’s not in the laptops, it’s in the learning. It’s in teachers designing learning that they know will work for kids … and they have the space and the time and the autonomy to do it.”

Maine Education initiatives profiled by Creative Commons

Maine has been a leader in adopting educational technology in support of its students. In 2002, through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI), the state began providing laptops to all students in grades 7-8 in a one-to-one laptop program. In 2009, Maine expanded the project to high school students. The one-to-one laptops paved the way for open education initiatives like Vital Signs, empowering students to conduct their own field research in collaboration with local scientists, and make that research available online. Recently, Maine has been engaged in some interesting and innovative projects around as a result of federal grant funds…

Jeff Mao and Bob McIntire from the Maine Department of Education … offer a vision of a classroom where students gather in small groups, talking, exploring and building projects and investigating ideas together. There is no lecturing, and open educational resources integrate with classroom instruction seamlessly. As most kids are naturally inclined to try to find information online, teachers can guide students in using high quality, adaptable OER…

Into the liminal: an ode to autumn

This afternoon, the wind whipped the leaves into wispy funnels that danced out around the woodpile and up the back hill, inviting us to come out.

L. and I loaded the wood stove for our return, and then went up behind the house to start wrapping up the past year. L. picked up the bamboo shoots she’d harvested with E. to make a fort under the lilac bushes. I put away the slip-n-slide sprinkler and hose from our big August party, and collected the croquet hoops from the girls’ game day last month. (The badminton net stays for a few more late-autumn matches, though.)

I’d already selected two saplings — an oak and an aspen — up on Friendship Hill to transplant to the side hill, which we’ve stopped mowing. Even though they’d lost many of their leaves, there was evidence of a new year in buds hidden away on the branches. The sun appeared through the dark clouds for just a couple of minutes as I tucked the tap roots down into the new soil I’d prepared for them.

I’ve always felt comfortable in the liminal, at the edge between fall and winter, between loss and renewal, as life flows back underground awaiting the next growing season.

I’ve always felt comfortable in the liminal, at the edge between fall and winter, between loss and renewal, as life flows back underground awaiting the next growing season. It’s my season — the season I was born in — and I thrive in what others feel is an empty space. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I recently enjoyed watching a drama celebrating the natural ebb and flow in a small island community a ferry-ride away from Seoul. “Thank You” starts with the end of one life and the last scene, after 20 hours of narrative, hints at something important just emerging. The entire series is about the space between. Here in the U.S., we seem to avoid endings — even avoid thinking about them! — so natural re-emergence gets stuck in the muck. It felt good to see three generations, urban and rural, navigate through death and life.

The first time L. saw something that had died was during kindergarten. A blue jay, recently deceased, was lying in the grass. She asked about it, and asked me to bury it with her. We brought it back to the pine woods up on the esker and, moving aside the soft needles, found a resting place for it. L. said she didn’t want to forget where it was, so we made a small sign, “Thank you for being part of our woods,” which still marks the place where we’ve buried the birds and mice that have made brief appearances in our lives. She’d learned, from us and at school, that everything eventually returns to the soil.

As I was refilling the empty holes up on the hill, thinking of the saplings adjusting to their new homes, I realized I’d also been reading about the liminal lately: William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives (thank you Art and Polly), Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline, Krishnamurti’s Think on These Things. I’ve always found myself between what has been and what could better be — on both sides of that unnatural boundary between avocation and vocation — but I feel less lonely in that role now than I did 20 years ago. Indeed, the wave of change is now well tended and the next phase already moving toward the mainstream.

But it is still challenging to embrace the season of evaluation, discriminating between which ideas should be nurtured and which left behind. After each outward arc of exploration and possibility, this is a season of judgement, and in a culture of innovation and collaboration, embracing creative destruction and opposing consumerism is certainly not mainstream. I don’t have to stake my new claim yet, though. It’s just too soon to know which of these ideas will thrive; they still have to get through the short days of a New England winter.  I’ll nurture them and keep them safe from predators for a few more months.

As I was finishing my transplanting and pruning, I went inside, and L. had already started baking her favorite sponge cake with fruit icing. Now that she is able to cook herself, she only asked for some help putting the pan into the oven. I had to let go of that wonderful feeling of working together through every step: she’s now a 7-year-old, and proud to do it herself, thank you.

But she does notice my sorrow at losing the little girl, even as I’m excited about the new self that is emerging every day. She looks at me and asks, “Daddy are you crying?” I say yes, and let her know how I can be happy and sad at the same time, as today becomes yesterday and then yesterday becomes history. Later, she gives me a big piece of paper, with big letters, “Daddy, this is how much I love you,” and a heart that stretches to every corner of the page.

This was a year of many such losses, small and large, yet the most healthy buds of next year’s healthy growth are right there, ready to emerge, just waiting.

Maine college guarantees jobs

“Thomas College in Waterville, Maine is trying to help students land that first job. The liberal arts school guarantees a job to students who are able to keep a certain GPA, among other requirements, within six months of graduating; or else they can come back to Thomas and take classes for free, or have the college pay their student loans for a year….

“Thomas Edwards, provost for Thomas College says the Guaranteed Job Placement program, or GJob, has been in place for about 10 years….

“Edwards says that a liberal arts education is more important than ever, and narrowing in on a field might limit a graduate’s options in an ever-evolving job environment.

Federal Reserve calls Portland, ME, a “thinking region”

Richard Florida: “Everyone interested in urban and regional economic development must check out this new MPI study, ”Knowledge in Cities.” Using data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network database – O*NET – it identifies 11 key types of regions by the knowledge, skill, and work they do. Here are some examples of the regional types it defines. …

“Thinking Regions like New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Portland, Maine, have high knowledge about arts, humanities, IT, and commerce, and low knowledge about manufacturing.

The New York Times spends 36 hours in Portland

The New York Times has added Portland to its travel guide to Maine.

“In recent years, this city on the coast of Maine has welcomed a wave of locavore restaurants, urban farms and galleries that feature local artists. Abandoned brick warehouses are being repurposed as eco-friendly boutiques. In the main square, a 19th-century building has been refashioned into a farmers’ market. And everywhere you look, this once-sleepy industrial town is showing signs of rejuvenation — usually by keeping things local.”

Brunswick Landing, Annex design guidelines released (The Times Record)

“Our overall vision was to reflect the theme of the communities we’re in,” told those in attendance. “If you’re on the base or the Topsham Annex, you’ll see some of the same characteristics as you’d see in the downtowns.” … Levesque added that many companies prefer moving to locations that put a value on being attractive. … “They want to make sure the property has the atmosphere they want for their corporate headquarters,” Levesque said, without naming the company. “It’s important what’s around them.”

Maine attraction: The midcoast (Financial Times)

“Maine is uncrowded and it’s got an incredible natural resource base that hasn’t been overrun,” says Chris Lynch, founder and owner of Legacy Properties Sotheby’s International Realty. … That boost is in part due to its recent $35m federal award to upgrade 30 miles of railway track between Portland and the town, which, from 2012 onwards, should make it far more accessible from cities such as New York, Boston and Washington DC.

The Transformation of Topsham (Down East Magazine)

“Topsham (population: 9,100), has been transformed. A small, attractive riverside village, effectively an extension of Brunswick’s downtown on the opposite side of the Frank J. Wood Bridge, has been born. Contemporary New England-style commercial buildings have opened where a pair of rundown gas stations once stood. The Great Bowdoin Mill complex is a tidy mix of old and new structures housing the café and medical, dental, and law offices. The village jewel, the yellow mill, is home to Sea Dog Brewing Co., where diners sit at enormous windows and watch sturgeon jumping in the Androscoggin.”

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