AUGUSTA — Gov.-elect Janet Mills has nominated a Brunswick school administrator with a long track record in education to run the state Department of Education.

Mills said Wednesday that Pender Makin, assistant superintendent of the Brunswick School Department, a recent Maine principal of the year and a former teacher, is well-suited to be commissioner of the state’s second-largest department.

Mills said the decision was personal because her own mother was a public school teacher who taught high school English in Farmington for 37 years.

“Yep, 37 years,” Mills said. “And all the while raising five children. So as the daughter of a teacher, I understand both the importance of the work our educators are engaged in as well as the challenges of it today.”

Makin, 54, thanked Mills for the opportunity.

“If confirmed I will work tirelessly to support our public school teachers, administrators and students, and I will work to provide steady, trustworthy leadership at the Department of Education. Most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to what, I believe, is the most important work of all – public education,” Makin said at a State House news conference with Mills.

Makin’s nomination received broad support from various players in the education arena, including the Maine Education Association, the state teachers union.

Union President Grace Leavitt told Maine Public she was encouraged by Makin’s resume, including her work in the classroom and with at-risk students.

“So really knowing that this is somebody that will be championing what is needed for all students in our schools is just refreshing,” Leavitt said.

Others supporting the nomination included state Sen. Rebecca Millet, D-Cape Elizabeth, the Senate chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee, the Maine School Management Association and the lobbying organization Educate Maine, which represents businesses.

‘START WITH REBUILDING TRUST’

Pender Makin, 54, of Scarborough, a longtime educator, is Gov.-elect Janet Mills’ choice to lead Maine’s Department of Education.

Makin, a Scarborough resident, would take over for Robert Hasson, the fifth commissioner to serve under outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The department saw significant changes and challenges under LePage’s administration, including the creation of the state’s first charter schools and its first virtual charter school. LePage also implemented a controversial public school grading system that was largely abandoned in 2016.

Both Makin and Mills spoke of the frequent leadership changes in the department under LePage, and said they intend to guide education policy with a steadier hand.

“Our work must start with rebuilding trust, first in the Maine Department of Education, and then, of course, in our schools, our educators, our administrators, certainly in our students,” Makin said, “and ultimately in the institution of public education overall. For too long, a negative culture has been crafted around public education.”

She said critics who bemoan public education are participating in a “false narrative.”

“The truth is that miraculous successes are taking place in our public schools and in our classrooms every single day and public education in Maine outperforms any reasonable expectation, especially given the magnitude of our responsibilities and the scarcity of our resources,” she said.

She said the U.S. has faced a culture of “punitively enforced accountability” under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but changes under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act gave states new opportunities to “transform this culture to one of positivity, optimism and hope.”

Too much emphasis has been given to standardized test scores, Makin said.

“We’ve been giving math and literacy scores inflated importance because standardized test scores are easy to measure and easy to plot on a graph,” she said. “But those scores are mere snapshots in time and they should be considered very small factors when we are assessing the great work done by our schools and our educators.”

OUTLINING HER PRIORITIES

Makin has been an educator for 20 years, first as a junior high school teacher in Westbrook. From 2003 to 2015, she was principal of The Regional Education Alternative Learning School in Falmouth, which serves high-risk students from multiple school districts. She distinguished herself for being accessible to her students – she installed her desk in the school corridor so she was always available.

Makin was named Principal of the Year by the Maine Principal’s Association in 2013-14. She won a Milken Educator Award in 2001, a national honor recognizing her skill and potential in the field.

Mills said Makin would be working closely with her new staff as they develop a proposal for the next two-year state budget, due to the Legislature in February. Mills said she hopes to budget funds to expand the availability of pre-kindergarten programs across Maine, and career and technical education in high schools will also be a priority, she and Makin said.

“I think (those programs) should be accessible to more students and a more diverse range of students’ abilities and interests,” Makin said. “They should be integrated. We should have comprehensive high schools that would offer kids the opportunity to learn their academic subjects within the actual context of some of these awesome technical and vocational subjects.”

Makin also said she wanted to focus on teacher recruitment and retention while improving baseline pay to at least $40,000 a year.

She said many of the controversial reforms foisted on school districts in Maine “are pretty heavily micromanaged from some top-down and externally driven – frankly – mandates, initiatives, bills and laws.”

GRADUATE OF THORNTON ACADEMY

Makin will be responsible for administering both state education subsidies and state and federal grant programs. The department oversees spending of about $1.6 billion per year in state and federal funds. The department also provides professional development, information, support and resources, as well as a system for educator credentialing, and leads a range of collaborative partnerships in support of local schools and districts.

Makin’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate after a public hearing on her nomination before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee sometime in January.

Makin grew up in Saco, attended local schools and graduated from Thornton Academy. She worked as a mate and deckhand on her father’s deep-sea fishing charter boat during the summers beginning at age 8. She earned both her B.A. in English Literature and her M.S. in School Leadership from the University of Southern Maine, and received her teacher certification from the University of New England in 1996.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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