ANSON — Teachers’ unions have historically protected the interests of teachers, custodians, cooks, education technicians and bus drivers when contracts are negotiated and grievances are filed.

But small, rural School Administrative District 74 is changing that definition and drawing national attention.

The Carrabec Education Association is broadening its traditional role by planning specific ways to improve the education of students in Anson, Embden, Solon and New Portland. It intends to increase opportunities for teachers’ professional development, strengthen community ties and purchase more locally produced food.

“It’s amazing what you can get done when you don’t care who gets the credit,” Superintendent Ken Coville said, referencing a quote by former president Ronald Reagan. “That’s how I feel about this … (It’s) a very welcome thing, a very positive thing, and I’m 100 percent for it.”

Eligible because it accepted federal turn-around money to improve its test scores, SAD 74 is the only district in Maine participating in the National Education Association’s Priority Schools Campaign.

As the smallest, most rural district of the 35 sites participating in the program in 17 states, it will be the feature story in the NEA’s next newsletter, which is distributed across the nation, according to Rose Mahoney, with the Maine Education Association.

The local union recently outlined its improvement plan, which is funded by the NEA and complements efforts already underway with a federal School Improvement Grant to boost scores in reading and math, according to Carrabec Education Association President David Ela.

No total dollar amount has been allocated yet, but these are some of the union’s plans:

* The union will host free training workshops on evenings and weekends this year not just for its staff but for teachers from surrounding school districts.

* This spring it will hold a free community supper to introduce residents to the union members.

* At graduation, each student will receive a gift relevant to their chosen post-secondary pursuit.

* Next school year the union will plan and fund a full training workshop for all staff in the district.

* It will partner with the Farmington chapter of the Student Education Association of Maine to bring in University of Maine students as tutors.

* The district’s support personnel, such as education technicians, bus drivers, cooks, custodians and maintenance and groundskeeping workers, will examine ways to help the district use more locally grown food and improve students’ nutrition.

In November, representatives of SAD 74 traveled to New Orleans for a conference that was part of the Priority Schools Campaign. There, they learned more about how the teachers’ union can enhance student learning.

“Initially in attending the conference there was a certain amount of guardedness,” Coville said, referring to the new, union-led approach. But, “in fact, there has been a real open good faith approach to the entire process on the part of the association to really want to stretch beyond their historical roles into a proactive role of supporting the success of students.”

Teachers work relentlessly to improve students achievement, Ela said, but the focused effort is “a wonderful opportunity.”

Staff “do an awful lot more than just the 7:30 to 3 thing. A lot of us go above and beyond what we have to do. So in that sense it’s not really much of a change,” he said.

He said he’s particularly pleased that the support staff are involved, too. “A lot of them don’t get the recognition that they deserve, and they do a great job,” he said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

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