“In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.”

— Christina Rossetti

As 2017 ended, frigid and snowy, Christina Rossetti’s poem reminds us of the harshness that Maine winters often bestow upon those who choose to live here. As 2018 begins, my hope is that it brings rising temperatures, new beginnings and renewed resolutions, resulting in improvements for all Maine families.

Among my many other hopes, at the top of the list is that we cultivate communities that support students in aspiring to acquire a college education.

College should be affordable for every student wishing to attend. A well-educated workforce is imperative if Maine and our nation are to be competitive and thrive. According to the Mitchell Institute, the proportion of Maine public high school graduates enrolling directly in college has increased from 57 percent of the class of 2006 to 62 percent of the class of 2014. While we celebrate this improvement, of Maine students who graduated high school in 2008 and enrolled in college within two years, only 57 percent completed college.

It is known that college graduates earn on average much more over their lifetime than those with a high school diploma. While we applaud those who succeeded in graduating from college, we should aspire to build communities where more supports are available for students to pursue post-secondary options, including college being free to every high school graduate who cannot afford to pay. If other countries can do this, why can’t we?

Maybe it is because I am in a position of leadership, but I can’t help but hope that all our leaders succeed in 2018. When our leaders fail, it is more difficult for our students, families and communities to thrive. We must seek ways to have more respectful discourse, and less uncivil bantering among our populace. It is beneficial for communities to have differing opinions and engage in meaningful discussions, but it is important to remember to disagree over ideas, and do away with the personal attacks.

What we need to attack is a way to eradicate food insecurity for Mainers. According to the USDA, 16.4 percent of households in Maine, or more than 200,000 people in Maine, are food insecure. Maine has the unenviable rank of seventh in the nation and first in New England with food insecurity. One out of every five children in Maine do not have the food they need, and 12 percent of the elderly population experience food insecurity at some point. This seems like a problem that Mainers, who succeed in withstanding our harsh winters, should be able to solve.

Lastly, I hope that we appreciate the good in each of our lives, including the privilege to live in this country. May this year be a time to look inward for reflection and to reach out in supporting others, with the aim of having 2018 end with all Mainers feeling more optimistic about their futures and Maine, where the harshness of winter always leads to the glories of summer.

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). She can be reached at [email protected].