Overview & Summary

Regional School Unit (RSU) 16 is made up of Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland, Maine. The economy of the region was once centered on local mills, resorts and proximity to the nearby cities of Lewiston and Auburn. The one major industry remaining in the district is Poland Spring Natural Water Bottling, which has ties to the Poland Spring Resort. The bucolic image on the Poland Spring bottles is somewhat true to life, as these foothill communities have more than their fair share of lakes, streams and camps.

The schools of this region have a long history of being united while preserving their individual voices. In the early 20th century, 17 neighborhood schools (each then called a “district”) covered the area that RSU 16 now oversees. Over the century, these 17 schools consolidated into the current district of three elementary schools, one middle school and Poland Regional High School. Built in 1999, this high school became celebrated among Maine educators as the first high school to implement various progressive practices, such as standards-based grading, advisor/advisee programs, an integrated humanities program and professional learning communities. With the formation of RSU 16, these progressive practices have moved into the middle and elementary levels and have become “the way school is done” in the district.

The story of RSU 16 yields a number of lessons for districts attempting transformation:

  1. Sustained Change: The stories of Poland Regional High School, Bruce M. Whittier Middle School and the rest of RSU 16 have shown that as hard as it is to launch a transformation, it’s just as hard to sustain that movement. The distractions of a school district ? budget issues, consolidation, changing administration ? are manifold. Year one is hard, year two is hard, year three is hard?year 11? Still hard. RSU 16 keeps moving forward.
  2. Continuous Improvement: The various schools of RSU 16 evolved a culture of continually checking their methods and exploring new opportunities. Book groups were ubiquitous around the district. Bruce M. Whittier Middle School began its first year with an aggressive vision of faculty teaming and learning. Ideas from students and faculty were given serious consideration and embraced. Whatever state the district was in ? whether moving forward strongly or hobbled by public controversy and budget woes ? the administration and faculty strove for improvement.
  3. Multiple Aspects of Transformation: Though standards-based reform was key to RSU 16’s path, other measures ? advisor/advisee, professional learning communities, etc. ? were essential. These measures fostered relationships that are absolutely essential to the success of RSU 16’s vision and crucial to the culture of their schools, but they aren’t proficiency-basedmeasures per se. Also worth noting is that each building of the district was in a different place. RSU 16 created common threads that would run through the district ? e.g., the report card, power standards for the Common Core ? but each building would move forward from where they were.

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.