PORTLAND — Even in this digital age, the library at King Middle School is still one of the most important, most visited and best-loved places in the building, according to Principal Caitlin LeClair.

The school library is a “communal space where students have access to books and other research materials,” LeClair said. “Our librarian, Kathy Hanley, is excellent (at) opening doors for our students by connecting them with books.”

She said that’s why the school community is so excited to receive a donation of new books, which were carefully selected for middle-school readers by teachers around the state.

“We are very excited to add these donations to our collection, (which will serve to) enhance the diversity of our book offerings,” LeClair said this week. “There are never enough resources to meet the interests and needs of our students.”

“King is extremely appreciative (of this donation) and we are confident that the new books will be shared among all students in our community,” she added.

The book donation was the brainchild of Karen MacDonald, the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year and a former long-time educator at King Middle who taught language arts to sixth- and seventh-graders for more than 20 years.

During her tenure as Teacher of the Year, MacDonald helped create the ECET2 conference, an annual event designed to give teachers across the state a chance to network, gain leadership skills, learn about innovative classroom practices and be celebrated for their work.

This year’s conference took place last month on the Colby College campus in Waterville and included two days of workshops “focused on leadership skills and innovative practice … problem-solving and sharing of successes and challenges,” MacDonald said.

She said about 150 educators took part, and since the event is free to the teachers and their school districts, MacDonald asked them to pay it forward by donating new books that would go to a school library somewhere in the state.

MacDonald said the conference is free thanks to the sponsors who step up to make it happen. This year’s sponsors were the Nellie Mae Foundation, UNUM, MEMIC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Harborview Investments, the Maine Department of Education, Educate Maine, the Maine State Teachers of the Year Association, the NBCTs of Maine, and Stenhouse Publishing.

She said the book drive resulted in the donation of between 80 and 100 books of all genres and “the teachers (really) enjoyed selecting the books. Many even donated a favorite book or a book that is popular in his or her classroom.”

MacDonald said that King Middle was chosen at random from a number of school libraries that were nominated to receive the books.

She said King Middle was nominated by Priya Natarajan, the parent of a student at King and a teacher at Casco Bay High School, one of Portland’s three public high schools. “A raffle was held at the conclusion of the (conference) and King Middle School won the books.”

This is the fourth year the ECET2 conference has been held, according to MacDonald. Last year, books donated by attendees went to the Granite Street School in Millinocket.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Karen MacDonald, left, was the 2014 Maine Teacher of the Year and a long-time teacher at King Middle School in Portland. This week her former school is benefiting from a book drive that’s part of an annual education conference she created. With her is former Commissioner of Education Stephen Bowen.

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