SKOWHEGAN — A veteran special education teacher at Skowhegan Area Middle School has been named Maine’s Teacher of the Year for 2015 by the state Department of Education.

Jennifer Dorman, an English and language arts instructor, was announced as the winner Thursday morning at a school assembly. The assembly of 500-plus cheering, foot-stomping students in grades 6, 7 and 8 was called for another reason — a fundraising event — in order to surprise Dorman with the announcement.

She responded that she might have been tipped off by seeing TV news vans pulling into the schoolyard just after 9:30 a.m.

Dorman is the 50th Maine Teacher of the Year since the program began in 1954 and only the second special education instructor to be so honored.

“To my former and current students, your enthusiasm throughout this process has really kept me going and has made it a lot of fun,” Dorman told the assembly. “Your hard work makes my job fun. You’re the reason why I love to come to work and why I keep doing what I’m doing, so you’re good at what you do as well.”

This year’s selection was the first that began with an online public nomination process. Previously, only school principals and superintendents could put forth a candidate for consideration.

Through classroom visits, interviews and portfolio reviews, Dorman was chosen from the initial field of 377 nominees that was first narrowed to 16 County Teacher of the Year winners, then eight semi-finalists and later four state finalists who were from Androscoggin, Franklin, Penobscot and Somerset counties.

Education Commissioner Jim Rier was joined in presenting Maine’s top teaching award by School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry, 2014 Teacher of the Year Karen MacDonald, Maine State Board of Education Chairman Peter Geiger, Educate Maine Interim Executive Director Colleen Quint and business leaders including Bangor Savings Bank CEO Jim Conlon.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage sent a personal letter of praise for Dorman’s achievements.

In his remarks presenting Dorman with a ceremonial plaque, Rier said Dorman’s commitment to the betterment of her students, her colleagues and her school represented “the epitome of what teaching is about.”

She is “a teacher’s teacher,” he said.

“Mrs. Dorman takes time to really get to know students, not just as scholars but as young people who face challenges both in and out of school,” Rier said. “Because she understands the values and the uniqueness of every child, she can tailor her instruction and intervention approaches to them and has been very effective in closing achievement gaps as a result.”

In nominating Dorman, Principal Zachary Longyear said Dorman is focused on improving students’ academic lives.

“She is intent on building relationships with stakeholders and making them partners in academic success,” he said. “She has an aura of willingness, tirelessness and effortlessness with working with students and staff.”

Last spring, Dorman was named Somerset County Teacher of the Year.

Dorman, who teaches special education in seventh and eighth grades with a concentration on reading, said she knew should would be a schoolteacher when she was in kindergarten.

“I always loved school,” she told reporters after the ceremony. “I came home from kindergarten and I announced that I would be a teacher, and I just never wavered from that goal.”

Dorman said part of her success in the classroom is finding material that her students are motivated to read and material that is appropriate to their reading level. She said for struggling readers, those two things don’t often come together, so she creates a classroom that is stocked in rich reading material that is relevant to middle school students and at a level where they can find reading success.

“I introduce books. I read just pieces of books to get them hooked. I show book trailers to try to get them hooked, and we talk about what they’re reading,” Dorman said. “The more they understand about what they read, the more they want to read.”

Dorman’s students in one year advanced four grades in reading skills, Rier said.

Dorman, of Farmington, has taught at the middle school in Skowhegan since 2009. She holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master of education degree with a concentration in special education consultation from Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass.

She has 20 years of experience as a teacher and spent a total of 13 years as an elementary special education teacher in SAD 54 in Skowhegan, Norridgewock and Mercer. The district also includes Canaan, Smithfield and Cornville.

Colbry, the district superintendent, said Dorman’s award reflects the hard work performed by all teachers, not just in SAD 54, but across the state.

“Obviously, this is a very significant award,” Colbry said. “Jen said it very well, trying to recognize the fact that all teachers need to be recognized for their work. She’s done an outstanding job, and it’s a great reflection on our school and on our community.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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