Gov. Paul LePage made headlines recently when he drew criticism for saying teachers “are a dime a dozen” while praising vocational training and mentorship at the grand opening of a workforce development facility at Cianbro in Pittsfield.

The governor’s remarks seemed to imply that there’s a shortage of vocational and technical education in Maine amid an abundance of traditional school educators.

But state and local data and interviews with tech education instructors show a more complicated picture, wherein schools are struggling to fill traditional education jobs even as vocational-style instruction gets more attention and gains popularity. In addition, a national nonprofit group that monitors efforts to increase career and technical education efforts found Maine adopted one of 139 policy actions in 2016 taken by state governments to aid that effort.

Meanwhile, schools statewide are struggling to fill teaching positions and the governor’s open disregard for the profession is partly to blame, said Lois Kilby-Chesley, president of the Maine Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

“It’s a hard time out there for education right now,” she said. “And when you have people who continually disrespect what we do and give the public the idea that it can be filled by anyone … that makes it even harder for us.”

Overall, there were a total of 16,533 teaching positions in Maine during the 2016-2017 academic year with 13,436 classroom teachers, which included 343 career and technical education teachers, according to the Maine Department of Education. There were also 155 English Language Learner teachers, 49 gifted and talented teachers, 209 literacy specialists, 2,331 special education teachers, 149 longterm substitute teachers and 204 Title I teachers. Title 1 instruction is specialized reading instruction.

The previous academic year, 2015-2016, there were 15,610 teaching positions with 12,848 classroom teachers, which included 335 career and technical education teachers. There were also 127 ELL teachers, only six gifted and talented teachers, 197 literacy specialists, 2,164 special education teachers, 111 longterm substitute teachers and 157 Title I teachers.

Nationally, career and technical education programs, CTEs, are “offered in about 11,000 comprehensive high schools, several hundred career and technical high schools and about 1,400 area career tech centers, which serve students from several ‘sending’ high schools,” according to information from the Association for Career and Technical Education, an organization dedicated to advancing career-oriented education. “About 9,400 postsecondary institutions offer technical programs, including community colleges, technical institutes, skill centers and other public and private two- and four-year colleges.” Sending high schools are the schools that send students to the technical programs.

The Maine Department of Education has set a goal of doubling by 2020 the enrollment of students in the state’s 27 regionally dispersed, hands-on CTE learning centers, formerly known as vocational schools. The department reports that students who participate in CTE education have a higher graduation rate than those who don’t and that low-income families are able to reap the benefit of the opportunities presented by the programs.

In 2015, just over 8,000 students were enrolled in high school CTE programs in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Education. Nearly 3,200 received a diploma that year from their sending schools. In 2016, both those numbers increased, with just over 8,500 students enrolled across the state, which accounts for 14 percent of Maine high school students. Just under 3,300 received a diploma from their regular high school.

Despite a year-over-year increase of Maine teachers, there is still a glaring need for more educators in Maine, said Kilby-Chesley, of the Maine Education Association.

She pointed to the website ServingSchools.com, which lists various jobs that need to be filled in schools. Nearly 100 positions had been posted by mid-August, and between this past Monday and Thursday, another 17 were posted.

“That’s a lot,” she said.

Kilby-Chesley said that search didn’t include positions such as education technicians, who often provide one-to-one services for students who need it. She said for schools to be trying to find new employees so late into the summer — classes for most Maine schools started this past week — there will undoubtedly be positions that remain unfilled.

“I think it’s going to be a problem for schools this year,” she said.

Following LePage’s remarks, which included wanting to see vocational training “back in the front of the classroom,” Kilby-Chesley said the “dime a dozen” comment was wrong because Maine is struggling to fill many teaching positions compared to other New England states.

Kilby-Chesley said there are many reasons why traditional teaching positions haven’t been filled. Compared to other New England states, Maine’s salaries for teachers are relatively low. According to National Education Association statistics the average salary for Maine elementary and secondary teachers was $50,229, $7,835 below the federal average of $58,064. But Kilby-Chesley also said teachers trained in science, technology, engineering and math — commonly known as STEM — can often find higher paying jobs outside of teaching that come without the stress. Science, math and English Language Learning positions have become harder to fill in Maine in recent years, she said, and she didn’t anticipate it getting better.

She also said universities are not seeing the same number of students wanting to become educators.

‘EXCITED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT’

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Educate Maine, a nonprofit group that works to advance policies and practices that prepare Maine students for postsecondary education and the workforce, recently joined forces to close the skills gap in the state by taking steps to push the benefits of CTE, among them the introduction of CTE to younger students, a plan that appeals to David Dorr, director of the Somerset Career and Technical Center in Skowhegan.

The center, which operates at Skowhegan Area High School, served some 300 students from five surrounding towns in 2016-2017, providing them with a variety of career-oriented skills.

Dorr said the region his center serves is a poor one, where many of the students don’t have a ready financial path to college. He said he has to focus on those students who probably won’t be able to go to college after high school.

“What if a kid doesn’t know what they want?” he said.

The answer, as Dorr sees it, is to get them work experience.

Most students start in a CTE school in their junior and senior years of high school, but Dorr would like to see schools reaching out to students when they’re younger than that, in eighth or ninth grade.

“Get them excited about your craft,” Dorr said. “Get them excited about something.”

It may seem almost counter intuitive to think about reaching down as far as eighth grade to find students who want to follow a vocational path, but Dorr said these students — often from poor socioeconomic environments — can find good, high-paying jobs once they graduate.

While leading a tour of the facility he oversees in Skowhegan, Dorr said the programs he and his staff of 15 offer to the five communities serves — Skowhegan, Madison, Bingham, North Anson and the Maine Central Institute — provide students with hands-on experience needed in Maine industries. The school’s Outdoor Leadership Skills Program is tailored to the outdoor tourism industry with students trained in skills they need to lead an outdoor expedition in Maine, for example. But that involves more than just knowing where to canoe. Students learn cartography and extraction skills as well.

“There are people who call and say, ‘We need your kids,'” Dorr said.

Take a student who studies welding, Dorr said. Some students go on to study the trade at Cianbro — the construction firm where the governor made his remarks on education that lists CTE programs as partners in training. After school, Dorr said, they can get a job that pays $20 per hour. Over four years, he said, that’s $160,000 they have earned, without spending the enormous costs of going to college.

“Hopefully we’re moving the needle,” he said.

LePage made his controversial remarks about traditional teachers while praising Cianbro for being a place that values mentorship, which he said is “more than just teaching out of a book.” He said schools should offer more vocational style education, like home economics or shop class, since those kinds of classes “were really good for our society back then.”

Sending high schools are ultimately responsible for giving a student a diploma, according to the education department. However, students do receive certification for completing their studies at the career and tech school.

“Through CTE, students have access to hands-on learning, career pathways, articulated college credit with Maine’s postsecondary institutions, national industry certifications, employability skills, safety training and technical preparation,” the state website says.

Advance CTE: State Leaders Connecting Learning to Work, a national nonprofit that tracks career-readiness policy efforts, found that Maine accounted for one of 139 policy actions in 2016 taken by state governments. The 2016 State Policy Year in Review, the group’s fourth annual report, cited the Maine Legislature’s adoption of L.D. 1627, which phases in new proficiency-based high school graduation requirements enacted in 2012 and gives students more time to meet the new requirements.

“The legislation also allows multiple pathways to proficiency and graduation,” the report states, “including completing a state-approved CTE program of study, demonstrating proficiency in meeting state standards and either 1) meeting third-party-verified national or state industry standards; or 2) earning six or more CTE dual-enrollment credits. Finally, L.D. 1627 permits local flexibility and innovation in developing standards, and it recognizes the presence of core academic standards within CTE.”

MOTIVATED TO LEARN

At the Capital Area Career and Technical Center in Augusta, an even larger pool of students come for vocational training. Director James Holland said his center and staff of 22 serve eight sending high schools: Cony, Erskine Academy, Gardiner Area, Hall-Dale, Maranacook Community, Monmouth Academy, Richmond and Winthrop. Just under 400 students attended last year, taking 16 programs ranging from traditional skills such as plumbing and electric work to graphic design.

“Many kids go on to college here,” Holland said, an observation different from the one Dorr expressed some 40 miles away.

At both locations, programs are set up in traditional classrooms but also include areas where equipment specific to the trade are located. In Augusta, Holland said the electrical technology program existed as a classroom with desks and chairs and a dry erase board, but also included a construction site where a house was being built and the students did the electric work. A similar set up exists for the plumbing and heating program, which had several showers and bathrooms for students to work on.

“Kids come here motivated to learn,” he said.

Other schools around the region and state provide similar training to high school students. The Mid Maine Technical Center on the Waterville High School campus provides a number of career-oriented classes. Lawrence, Messalonskee, Waterville, and Winslow high schools all send students to the center for part of the day while students attend their home schools for academic classes. The Mid-Maine center is also affiliated with the National Technical Honor Society and SkillsUSA, a national organization that serves high school and college students.

There’s plenty of overlap among the schools. Most if not all offer a culinary arts program. Both kitchens in Augusta and Skowhegan were commercial in design with large, stainless steel appliances occupying the space. In Skowhegan Dorr said students range from those with special needs to those interested in becoming chefs and running their own kitchens.

The Augusta program teaches “the skills of cooking from the ground up,” said Holland, who called the facilities in Augusta “a very dynamic place” after showing off what the program has to offer from automotive technologies to early childhood education.

Holland said students choose to be in CTE programs and must apply. The curriculum is based on state-approved standards. Sending schools are responsible for conferring diplomas, while students who successfully complete their CTE programs earn certification, such as a “helper’s license,” or pass exams for certification. Students who pursue a law enforcement program find a door open to the military.

“There’s a good number that continue (on to college),” Holland said.

Beyond high school there are other CTE opportunities. Fairfield-based Kennebec Valley Community College offers a multitude of career-based offerings, from welding classes to solar technology installation, on the post-secondary level. Dorr said his school has a close relationship with KVCC, which will include emergency medical technician training this coming school year.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.