Overview & Summary

Regional School Unit 2 (RSU 2, or Kennebec Intra-District Schools) consolidated in 2009 and comprises the towns Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond. In setting the initial vision, the administration and school board committed the district to move toward proficiency-based, student-centered learning. Though the journey has been difficult, the participants in the study maintain that, if the district is to prepare students for life in the 21st century, the evolution is necessary on both pedagogical and ethical grounds. Further, though it’s too early in the process to reference test scores, teachers and principals have reported positive results in their classrooms, in the form of student engagement and individual student achievement.

Five key lessons can be identified as contributing to the success of RSU 2’s transformative process:

  1. The Long Conversation. Although participants of the study point to 2009 as “year one,” discussions about proficiency-based and student-centered learning had been taking place in some schools of the district for nearly a decade. Hall-Dale Elementary School had standards-based reporting in place by 2001, and Hall-Dale Middle School had standards-based reporting in place for its 2009-10 school year. This “long conversation,” still continuing, is seen as essential for a movement that is as much about changing beliefs surrounding education as it is about changing structures and programs.
  2. Professional Development.In 2009, administrators from RSU 2 encountered the Reinventing Schools Coalition (RISC) at a state sponsored event in Hermon, Maine. Over the next two years, RSU 2 contracted with RISC to provide a concerted and comprehensive professional development sequence for all faculty and administrators, focusing both on how to make the change and why. The persistence, consistency and depth of this professional development has been key.
  3. Leadership and the Grass Roots. The spark of this transformation began with district and building leadership, but the fire came to the district when teachers began attending RISC trainings and thoroughly embraced proficiency-based, student-centered education. Managing this relationship between leadership and the grass roots so that they support each other, rather than conflict, has been essential, but tricky. At one point, for example, the faculty had moved far ahead, and had to be held back for a year as the community and school board caught up. Shared leadership structures linking all levels of leadership such as the District Curriculum Leadership Teams and various ad hoc committees have been essential.
  4. Community Involvement. As part of the development of the district’s vision, RSU 2 involved hundreds of community members in a months’ long, positive process. Overall, though, many participants feel that the district’s approach to community involvement has been imperfect and frustrating. For example, early opposition was encountered from parents, particularly parents of high-achieving students. In response, RSU 2 established several ad hoc committees comprising teachers, parents, board members and administrators to advise the school board and serve as a liaison with the community. Certainly, in a district of 2,200 students, there is no chance of every parent agreeing with any decision of this magnitude. The district’s stance in the face of vocal opposition has been to continue inviting these difficult conversations, while remaining steadfast in its goals and continuing to move forward.
  5. Getting Help. Throughout this process, the district has regularly sought help from outside organizations, including organizations like the Great Schools Project, RISC and the Maine Cohort for Customized Learning (MCCL), which RSU 2 joined in 2010. MCCL created a comprehensive set of measurement topics (K-12), which were adopted by the district for the 2011-12 school year. The lesson: it isn’t necessary for the district to do the heavy lifting entirely on its own.

The move toward proficiency-based, student-centered education has been central to RSU 2’s vision since the district’s inception. The experience of that move has been complicated and difficult, but, as one teacher staunchly asserted, “worth it.” The goal of this case study is to be helpful in describing the experience of that movement so that readers may discern broad lessons for policy and implementation, and also qualitative information that will inform educator experiences in the classroom.

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.