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INFORMATIONAL LETTER NO.   14

POLICY CODE:   BDF

 

TO:                   Superintendents of Schools

FROM:             Susan A. Gendron, Commissioner

DATE:              August 18, 2005

RE:                   Constitution Day – September 17, 2005

            The work on various initiatives here at the Department continues apace.   I'm writing today to update you on the work of the Citizenship Education Task Force, which began its work in September 2004 under a two year grant from the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

            The Citizenship Education Task Force—co-chaired by Jim Carignan, Chair of the State Board of Education and Patrick Phillips, Deputy Commissioner of Education—is made up of educators, school administrators, and students, as well as representatives from higher education, civic organizations, state government, law and business.   The Task Force was created during the last legislative session to revitalize the civic mission of schools across Maine.

            A central aspect of this work is to develop strategies and materials for educators to help them ensure that an education in Maine schools includes, in the context of the Learning Results, learning how to be an informed and involved citizen.

            The grant also supports the work of the Legislative Youth Advisory Council, which is charged by the Legislature to conduct a series of statewide public forums on issues important to youth, and to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

            Since last September, the Task Force has met four times and its members have provided ongoing wisdom and strategic advice to implement our mission.   The Steering Committee meets monthly and facilitators from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at The University of Maine assist the Steering Committee in organizing and tracking not only the important work of five subcommittees, but also our progress in implementing the grant work plan.   The subcommittee work is the heart of this enterprise, as a brief review of their respective efforts will demonstrate:

            The Best Practices and Professional Development subcommittee has begun the work of compiling information from Maine schools (K-12) on comprehensive civic learning exemplars. This group’s work aligns with a national effort by our funding partner—the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools—to compile practice examples organized by topic and grade level (see http://www.civicmissionofschools.org/resources/matrix.html ).

            This group is complemented by the Civic Mission of Higher Education subcommittee, which is compiling exemplars within higher education, and will be sponsoring campus dialogues throughout next year.

            The Broadening the Coalition subcommittee is fleshing out a grassroots campaign to bring visibility and urgency to the civic mission of Maine schools.   The campaign focuses not only on local education policymakers but also on community leaders.   One of the products of the campaign will be a toolkit for community leaders and businesses who want to strengthen their involvement and partnership with public schools by providing authentic citizenship experiences for young people.

            Although youth are involved in all aspects of the project, we also have a subcommittee devoted exclusively to giving students greater voice in the project called Youth Voice and Leadership.   This group is orchestrating the design of our website, and will be working with the Secretary of State’s Office to carry out an educational campaign to encourage 17-year-olds to vote in the 2006 primaries.

            Finally, the Learning Results and Assessment subcommittee has forwarded a set of recommendations to the team leading the MaineLearning Results Review for the Department of Education. These recommendations emphasize the incorporation of “real-life experiences” and civic participation skills into Maine’s content standards and related assessments.

            On a related note, many of you may be unaware of a law passed last summer by Congress that establishes September 17 th as Constitution Day.   The law affects all educational institutions receiving federal funds.   To assist in meeting both the requirements and spirit of this new federal law, the National Constitution Center was established on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.   The National Constitution Center is preparing materials for educators and administrators—such as the “I Signed the Constitution” program, and a toolkit on how schools can become a part of the “America Reads the Constitution” initiative—that are now available in web-downloadable formats.   These materials will be available on a website currently under construction (see www.constitutionday.us).   In the meantime, please go to   http://www.constitutioncenter .org/index.shtml for more information.

            I ask that you share this information with the educators and administrators in your district.   In addition, I encourage you to join us as we work to revitalize the civic mission of schools in Maine through the Citizenship Education Task Force.