The Enchanting Charter Schools Series, Volume 853: Remembering the Maine Idea at Baxter Academy of Technology and Science

Good morning, CharterFolk.

I’m starting a new series today, one prompted by my recent visits to charter schools in New Mexico, which left me completely enchanted. They deeply reminded me of why I made it such a priority to visit as many charter schools as I could during my days at CCSA. Nothing motivated me to keep going at it with everything I had more than making another visit to a charter school and seeing the remarkable things that CharterFolk were doing to help young people get the great educations they deserved.

When I started at CCSA there were approximately 650 charter schools in existence in California. My vow was that, if I kept at it over a decade or so, I would be able to visit every one. My colleague, Sharon Hicks, did a great job scheduling me to complete at least 70-75 charter school visits per year, meaning that, by the time I left, I had visited well more than 700. But charter schools grew so quickly over that period that I had as many schools yet to visit on my last day at CCSA as I did on my first!

My obsession with visiting charter schools has not been limited to California. The time that I traumatized the family by insisting that we visit the charter school at North Pole, Alaska before taking the kids to Santa’s workshop is a story I will never live down. And in my other work in charter schools – as a school developer in LA, as an authorizer in San Diego, as an operator sponging up great ideas from other schools during my days at High Tech High, and in recent years visiting almost 40 states to support advocacy strengthening across the country – I would estimate that I’ve been in at least another 150 charter schools.

So, call it 850 in total, give or take,

Which has made me ponder:

Do you think there is a Folk anywhere who has been given the chance to visit a thousand charter schools?

I’m not sure, but that’s my goal with the Enchanting Charter School Series – to make it to a 1000 in the next few years, and if fate will have it, to even more thereafter,

So, after having been welcomed so graciously by 851, Albuquerque Collegiate, and 852, Cottonwood Classical in New Mexico, I turn my attention to 853, another enchanting school that so graciously welcomed me this week:

Baxter Academy for Technology and Science in Portland, Maine.

Remembering the Maine Idea at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science

My son Quentin needed to make a trip this past weekend for college soccer recruiting. It gave me an excuse to be in Maine again.

So I pinged CharterFolk Extraordinaire Roger Brainerd and Judith Denton-Jones

… and asked whether any school might be willing to host me spur of the moment. I was delighted to learn that Folk would be waiting for me at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science located right in downtown Portland.

Baxter is, I must say CharterFolk, the walking definition of an enchanting place.

The school’s recently hired Executive Director, Anna Klein-Christie …

… was waiting for me at the front desk. And before I could even get a word from her about her own background, she whisked me off to the school’s Design Lab where I met Liam Yates, who was putting the finishing touches on the electric guitar he has been designing and building as his senior project.

Liam introduced me to his teacher, Sunny Stutzman who, along with Anna, acquainted me with all the machinery in the Design Lab.

Sunny has been at the school since its second year, and he and I had a chance to riff on the definition of authentic project-based learning, which he unequivocally states Baxter Academy is aspiring to and achieving as well as any school in New England. When I posited that the deepest form of PBL is learning where students end up creating work products that have useful lives outside the classroom, Sunny agreed and pointed out that a student designing and building his own musical instrument that he will be able to use for the rest of his life certainly meets that criteria. And he then went on to tell me about all sorts of other projects coming out of the Lab that clearly meet that definition as well, including one where students are designing, building, skiing on, (and sometimes breaking in action), their very own snow skis, which they then redesign, rebuild and improve over time.  Talk about useful life outside the classroom!

Sensing I could have stayed there all day, Anna wisely ushered me off to our next stop which was a hallway exhibit celebrating the school’s recent successes in the Maine State Science Fair …

… where two Baxter students had just been awarded full-ride scholarships and where the Bio-Science Team had won first prize (ahead, even, of the local elite private schools), in addition to other Baxter teams which had placed in the top three in the state.

But before I could inquire further, I was being escorted through several classrooms where advisories were happening and where we bumped into Peter Moxhay …

… a PhD-holding math, physics and photography teacher who shared the “oh by the way” news with Anna that Baxter’s Math Team, which had finished third out of 85 public and private schools in last week’s State Math Meet …

… had just been selected to compete in the All New England Math Meet coming up in a couple weeks.

As we proceeded further through the school’s art and music rooms, I finally found a two-minute period when Anna was willing to share a little about her own remarkable background. It turns out she came to her role at Baxter Academy after having worked for two decades in a number of nonprofits supporting education in both Portland and internationally, including a several year stint when she served as one of the senior leaders of Safe Passage, a school located within one of the highest need neighborhoods of Guatemala City.

And she underscored that what motivates her today is what has always motivated her: trying to improve opportunity for youth, especially those who need better education most.

We spent our last minutes together in her office, sharing observations about how nonsensical it is that some policy makers in Maine are not as supportive of charter schools as they should be …

… given the sad lack of educational equity in public schools across the state, a problem that was highlighted again in local journalism just this week …

… and given the stunning array …

… of successes …

… that charter schools like Baxter Academy are having with students, making many among the most respected public schools in Maine.

As I have said repeatedly here, the main idea at CharterFolk is that the most important asset we have within the charter school movement is the stunning people who have gravitated and continue to gravitate to it. And as long as those Folk stay full of the infectious moxie and verve that comes from being part of a movement that is so much bigger than ourselves, we know we will ultimately achieve our movement’s main idea, which is to ensure that public education in our country becomes greatly more public than it has ever been before such that every student finally gets the stunningly great education they deserve.

What I saw in Portland this week made it abundantly clear that the Maine idea for the charter school movement is in fact a shining example of the main idea that CharterFolk are living out everyday in communities across the country.

And so I offer a final thanks to all at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science for the inspiring work that you are doing.

You have left me …

… enchanted indeed.