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TO:                  Superintendents of Schools


FROM:            J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner


DATE:             September 3, 2002


RE:                   Opening of School Reminders



            With Labor Day at our doorstep and an extraordinary Maine summer soon to wane, I have found myself reflecting on our work – our important business of helping prepare the children and youth of Maine for what we all hope to be a promising future for each of them.


These days mark my thirty-second year serving the public schools of Maine, and I must confess that the work is more than challenging – indeed, our individual and collective charge as educators and leaders is most difficult.  These challenges, as great as they may be, pale in comparison to the importance and consequences of our work.  More than ever before these young people entrusted to our care are the future of Maine.  How well we help them develop their minds and their character will have much to do with Maine’s search for lasting prosperity.


            I know full well that there is a ‘global currency’ and it is the product of learning: the knowledge and skills of today and the ability to use and construct the knowledge of tomorrow.  Our charge is to serve Maine students in a way that will move us to our vision: Maine people will be among the best educated in the world!  This is a tall order, especially as we deal with financial uncertainty, ambitious education reform from Augusta and now from Washington, D.C.  But we will do it. 


            Attached is a recent article in the New York Times which speaks to the challenges of the school superintendent.  It reminds me of a fellow superintendent that I’ve come to know, an individual who oversees America’s second largest school system: the Los Angeles Consolidated School District.  Former three-term Colorado Governor Roy Romer reports that his years of gubernatorial service pushed his skills every day.  He reports that the school superintendency has exceeded even those challenges of elected office.


            Indeed, your job and the work of your principals, teachers, and other educators is a tough one; however, serving our most cherished natural resource –our children and youth – affords each of us the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our people.



Important Updates


The State Budget


            At this writing, the Revenue Forecasting Committee has increased the anticipated revenue shortfall by an additional $60 million over earlier estimates.  Be advised that Governor King and his staff have met with legislative leadership, offering a plan to address this expanding financial challenge.  In developing a proposal that will hopefully meet with legislative leadership’s approval and then be presented to a special session of the full Maine Legislature this fall, the Governor has worked to spare schools any further cuts.  However, I continue to advise superintendents to stay the course, continuing to practice prudent financial management and conservative authorizations for spending at the local level.  The economy of Maine is very much linked to that of the nation.  While unemployment in our state remains significantly below national levels, we are clearly living in times of financial uncertainty.   Maine superintendents have long been known to practice New England frugality; these times call for that practice to be taken up a notch.


Substitute Teachers and Criminal History Records Check


            Be advised that Administrative Letter #7 was issued Friday to offer some flexibility regarding the matter of employing substitutes and complying with the statute guiding background checks.


Comprehensive Assessment System


            As you know, an integral part of implementing Maine’s Learning Results lies in our efforts to design and to put in practice a comprehensive approach to measuring and reporting student progress.  Our efforts are progressing well with hundreds of Maine teachers contributing to significant work on assessments this summer.  A detailed summary of the status of Maine’s Comprehensive Assessment System will be issued next week in the form of an informational letter.


No Child Left Behind Act


            Unprecedented federal legislation that reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is proving to be a complex and time-consuming matter for state and local educators alike.  In meetings held around the state, Deputy Commissioner Lucarelli and I have often described the No Child Left Behind Act – more than 1,100 pages of education policy codified in federal law – as being analogous to an onion: we learn more and more as we peel the layers of this far-reaching statute.  Suffice it to say that there is significant substance, and controversy, accompanying this unprecedented federal law.  Certainly, Congress and the President have intervened with good intentions to lend support to the standards movement which has defined education reform in every state in America.  In crafting this federal policy, though, it is clearer each day that Washington is inserting itself in areas historically the domain of the local school system and the state.  For those of us in New England, this turn of events is proving to be challenging and, in some instances, quite worrisome.


            While the Department will work diligently to keep you apprised of further guidance and developments regarding NCLB, do know that I did have an opportunity to meet with Secretary Paige this summer, conveying our concerns, and that I will be meeting in Washington with the Secretary and a small group of other commissioners and state superintendents on September 16th.


            Hopefully, we will be successful in convincing the federal government to provide the flexibility we need to do the work “Maine’s way,” not shying away from showing results, but rather seeking permission to avoid the prescriptive nature that has marked early interpretations of No Child Left Behind.  For years this nation has worked under the premise that public education is a national priority; a state responsibility; and a local function.  We need to resurrect that guidance.


Here’s some updated information regarding the federal legislation.


Military and College Recruiters


I have asked the Attorney General’s Office to provide clear counsel to me on the matter of providing student information to those individuals recruiting for the military and for colleges.  The No Child Left Behind Act includes direction for states and local school districts regarding this matter.  While our two school counselor associations have taken positions regarding this matter, the responsibility for implementing the law rests with the state and with local school superintendents and their respective school boards.  Once I receive counsel from the Attorney General’s Office, I will formally advise school superintendents.


Assessment and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP)


Maine’s definition of Adequate Yearly Progress in compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act is due in Washington in January, 2003.  Meeting this deadline will require a great deal of work, including advice from the Assessment Technical Advisory Committee and the Policy Advisory Committee, in addition to forums open to all educators.  Essential steps include:


         a review of the number and names of the MEA performance levels (at present Maine has four categories named Exceeds the Standards, Meets the Standards, Partially Meets the Standards, Does Not Meet the Standards);

         a review of the MEA cut scores separating these performance levels, based on four years of MEA results;

         a determination of the minimum subgroup size for publicly reporting assessment results;

         the selection of a K-8 indicator in addition to the Reading and Mathematics MEA scores (at present the MEA writing scores appear to be the most likely choice);

         the development of a new definition of Priority School and Adequate Yearly Progress to apply to all schools and the State, for the whole group and required subgroups, based on a combination of local assessments and the MEA; and

         a decision on the interim definition for AYP to transition to the new definition.


The Department will be providing additional support to the current list of Priority Schools, using Distinguished Educators assigned to up to six schools to assist with planning and facilitating improvement in student and school performance. 


In preparation for the federal requirement to report annual reading and math assessment results in grades 3 through 8 beginning in 2005-2006, we will develop, in cooperation with the field, grade level expectations for the content standards to be assessed.  During the summer of 2003, assessment development will take place following a process similar to the assessment development institutes of this past summer.  School systems are advised to wait on developing annual math and reading assessments for this purpose until the annual expectations are finalized by the end of this school year.


Educator Quality


The requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act regarding Educator Quality will entail significant changes for all of us.  NCLB monies can only be used to hire individuals with an associate’s degree, two years of college, or demonstrated expertise on a state assessment.  This applies to anyone hired after January 8, 2002, and to all support staff by January 2006.  Maine’s authorization for Educational Technician 2 meets this standard.  However, many Title 1 programs have relied on Ed Tech 1s for years.  In Maine’s Consolidated Application for funding under NCLB, we proposed to meet this requirement through a state/local partnership, in similar fashion to the assessment of students.  At this time, our plans are to develop criteria for a portfolio assessment for Ed Techs, following the model of the National Teacher Certification Board.  Deputy Commissioner Judy Lucarelli will be meeting this fall with representatives of MSBA, MSSA, MEA, and MPA to explore this alternative.  We will be sharing our best thinking with our partners in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, who all face similar problems due to the NCLB.


The immediate crisis caused by this law is playing out in many of our school systems where applicants for Ed Tech positions do not have two years of college.  We do not have authority to grant a waiver of this requirement.  We are aware of the crisis and will continue to address it with the U.S. Department of Education. 




            To each of you, your principals, faculty, and staff, I wish you a prosperous school year.  Be advised that those of us who work to serve you and your schools are fully cognizant of the extraordinary demands being placed on our educators.  We will do all that is possible to offer assistance and guidance as we persist on behalf of our students











The New York Times:  August 4, 2002

Profiles -- by Sol Hurwitz



The Super Bowl



Superintendents must be leaders, teachers, managers, punching bags.  Nice job, if you can keep




IMAGINE a job that requires an Army officer's leadership skills, a C.E.O.'s management expertise, a lawyer's negotiating talents and an educator's understanding of how to teach children. That's what it takes to be a school superintendent in the 21st century.


It may be the toughest job in America. Superintendents are hard pressed to recruit and retain competent teachers and produce high-scoring students while balancing budgets and making the yellow buses run on time. They must maneuver a maze of government regulations and mollify a swarm of constituents: parents, teachers and community advocates, not to mention their basses on the board of education or, increasingly, in city hall.


In fact, a superintendent's average tenure is only five years, half that in large, urban districts, even though experts say it takes 5 to 10 years for reforms to take hold. Los Angeles, the nation's second largest school district, has had six leaders in a decade. New York City, the nation's largest, has had 10 in 20 years. In another turn of the revolving door, its chancellor of just two and a half years is soon to step down, now that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has won control of the schools and is about to put his own choice in place.


"The job consumes all of you, your personal life and your professional life," says Gerry House, who held the post in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Memphis and is now president of the Institute for Student Achievement in Lake Success, N.Y. "I made the decision I didn't want to be a superintendent again. I was actually exhausted." Superintendents also complain of isolation: their work allows little time for exchanging ideas with colleagues. To encourage off-the-record dialogue, the Aspen Institute has set up a superintendents' support group that meets annually to trade information and air anxieties. "There was a lot of complaining about school boards," one participant says.


The job was not always so stressful. In the mid1800's, school districts in large cities appointed the first superintendents to oversee several schoolhouses, assuring that the classrooms were orderly and the stoves had enough coal to last the winter. Today there are 13,500 districts, including some of the nation's largest institutions. If the New York City school system were a corporation, it would rank in the top third of the Fortune 500.


What makes a good superintendent? Researchers are spending millions of dollars to discover the precise blend of leadership skills and local circumstances that spell success. But there are no easy answers. "There, are some individuals whose talents run more to building programs, and others to maintaining them, and others to demolishing them and making hard decisions about what to put in their place," says Susan Moore Johnson, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who studies educational leadership. "While an effective superintendent should be strong in all those areas, it's not common to find someone who is."

The typical superintendent a white, professionally trained male educator is now out of sync with the growing minority student population of America's school districts and their largely female workforce. "When these superintendents call it quits," says Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, "we can expect to see more women, more minorities and noneducators take their place."


While the most common career path is teacher to principal to administrator to superintendent, school boards are questioning whether conventional educators have what it takes to manage an enterprise that seems forever entangled in politics and bureaucracy and that requires skills far different from teaching children or running a school. Accordingly, some large cities are tapping business, government, law or the military as sources for nontraditional problem solvers.


New York's departing schools leader, Harold 0. Levy, is a Citigroup alumnus-,' to replace him, Mayor Bloomberg has searched primarily for a candidate with management credentials, who would be helped by a strong educator as deputy a model that can already be found in Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles and Seattle.


But Mr. Levy's short tenure suggests that outsiders are no more secure in their jobs than traditional educators. In Baltimore and in Washington, the school board has replaced, respectively, a fiscal expert and a retired Army general with conventional educators who were experienced in the tricky business of managing teachers and administrators. For one thing, boards may bristle when a superintendent's thinking wanders too far outside the box. "Sometimes the district finds the approaches of that person too radical, too threatening, and so they go back to hiring an insider," says Professor Johnson of Harvard.


As Charles Taylor, an Atlanta job recruiter, said recently, "School boards are looking for God on a good day."


Sol Hurwitz, a freelance writer, is a former president of the Committee for Economic Development, an organization of business leaders and educators. As a school board member in Rye, N.Y., he headed a search committee for a superintendent.