WILTON — Fourth-grade teacher Brenda LaVerdiere was shocked to find out that she was one of three finalists for Maine Teacher of the Year when she checked her email Saturday.

“I was so impressed with the other teachers, I really had not picked myself as one of the finalists,” LaVerdiere said Wednesday. “I’m delighted and I’m excited and waiting to see what happens next.”

LaVerdiere, 62, is heading into her 38th year as a teacher and has spent her entire career in Farmington-based Regional School Unit 9, where she started as a Title I teacher. She currently teaches fourth grade at Academy Hill School.

“I love the fourth-grade level because the kids are still curious and they’re very open,” LaVerdiere said from her classroom, where she was preparing for the start of school. “They’re excited about school, and those are all things that make me love it. In the fourth grade, the kids are beginning to work a little more independently, too.”

LaVerdiere and the other two finalists will be interviewed Thursday by a state review panel at the Department of Education in Augusta.

The interview is one of the final steps in the selection process before the Teacher of the Year is announced this fall, said Rachelle Tome, acting deputy commissioner of education. The department and Educate Maine, a nonprofit group focused on the postsecondary success of Maine students, present the award annually.

The other two finalists are Tayla Edlund, a third-grade teacher at Pond Cove Elementary School in Cape Elizabeth, and Mia Morrison, the technology integration specialist and a language arts teacher at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.

LaVerdiere grew up in Waterville, where she inherited her passion for teaching from her father, Clement Boulette, a music instructor who taught guitar at their home and at the Al Corey Music Center.

“I loved the dynamic that I saw between my father and his students, and I think that kind of nudged me to become a teacher,” she said. “But I think I’ve always known that that’s what I wanted to do.”

She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Maine at Farmington and a master’s degree in education from the University of Maine. She lives in Wilton with her husband, Charles LaVerdiere, chief judge of the Maine District Courts. The couple has two grown children who are both engineers.

In February, LaVerdiere was nominated for Maine Teacher of the Year by Arin Hilton, a parent of one of her students and a special education technician at the school.

Teachers must accept the nomination to move forward with the selection process, which includes several rounds of essay writing, presentations and interviews.

“I thought it would be a good challenge, so I decided to do it,” LaVerdiere said. The first step in the process was a series of four essays, including answering the question “Why did you want to become a teacher?” LaVerdiere wrote about her father.

In May she was announced as the Franklin County Teacher of the Year along with 15 other teachers around the state who were also named Teacher of the Year for their counties.

Last week, a smaller group of eight finalists made oral presentations before the state review panel in Orono. The teachers were picked randomly to answer one of four questions that they had prepared for ahead of time, and they had five minutes to make the presentation, LaVerdiere said.

The question she was given was “What was the most difficult ethical dilemma you’ve had to deal with in your professional career?”

LaVerdiere spoke about a bullying problem in her classroom that took place several years ago. She couldn’t speak about the specifics Wednesday, but she said she was able to help resolve it by working with parents and the students.

“It’s important to communicate and to have an ongoing conversation with kids, with parents and with administrators,” she said. “When dealing with a bully, it needs to be a collaborative effort.”

Many schools have come a long way in dealing with bullying, and LaVerdiere said she sees less of it today than she did when she first started as a teacher, but that it is still a problem.

“The kids that are the bullies need help too,” she said. “They need someone to tell them that what they’re doing isn’t OK, and we can teach them things to do and how to build relationships. I think some kids do it just for attention sometimes. If we can teach them more productive ways, that’s what they’ll do most of the time.”

RSU 9 Superintendent Tom Ward said LaVerdiere, with her many years of teaching experience and tireless enthusiasm, is a good role model for younger teachers in the school district.

One example of her contributions to the district outside the classroom is the Kids Can Club, an after-school program for at-risk kids that Ward said LaVerdiere started years ago by forging an ongoing partnership with Hannaford supermarkets to finance the club.

“What she’s been able to do with the club is expose these kids to all kinds of opportunities, particularly making use of our vocational tech programs,” he said. “She’s had kids learn how to do graphic arts, culinary arts, a number of programs, and it’s been very successful.”

Tome, acting deputy commissioner of the Department of Education, said all of the County Teachers of the Year exemplified teaching philosophies that are relevant to students and their needs.

“Ms. LaVerdiere has a number of years of experience, but it was really clear that there was a sense of individualization and a strong support that she built for students in her classroom,” she said Wednesday.

The contest is also a way to acknowledge teacher leadership and get teachers involved in giving feedback on policies and procedures to the state, Tome said. The winner will be invited to participate in the National Teacher of the Year Program.

This is the second time in the last two years that a teacher from RSU 9 has been a top-three finalist in the Maine Teacher of the Year contest. Last year Sarah Reynolds, of Cascade Brook School in Farmington, was also a finalist, though the award ultimately went to Skowhegan teacher Jennifer Dorman.

A total of 311 teachers around the state were nominated for the state and county awards this year, said Dolly Sullivan, program director for the Maine Teacher of the Year and County Teacher of the Year programs at Educate Maine. She said applications have increased greatly since the County Teacher of the Year program was added last year. There were just 14 nominations for the statewide award in 2013, and a total of about 400 nominations for the two programs last year, she said.

Although the selection process for the award is rigorous, LaVerdiere said she would recommend it to other teachers.

“It is without question the best professional development (a teacher) will ever do,” she said. “It is rigorous, so you have to be prepared to work. But whether you make it to this level or not, the whole process is worth it. I learned a lot about myself and many layers of education I had never considered before.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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