My name is Pamela Rawson. I’ve been teaching high school mathematics for more than 25 years and I’m still learning.
Currently, I teach at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, a public charter high school in Portland, Maine with a STEM focus. Prior to helping start Baxter Academy, I worked for 25 years in traditional public high schools in and around southern Maine.
Sometimes, when I tell people that I work in a charter school they ask me,
- “Oh, what kind of school is it?” or
- “Which program do you follow?” or
- “Who makes all the decisions about what you’re supposed to do?” or
- “You know, are you a ‘No Excuses School’ or a ‘Kipp School’?”
- A few close colleagues sometimes ask, “Don’t you feel guilty taking money away from the other school districts?” (That one stings a bit, really.)
I was quite taken by surprise the first time this happened. I wasn’t all that familiar with negative aspects of charter schools – my only real example was the Francis W Parker Charter Essential School started by Ted & Nancy Sizer. I had worked at schools that were part of the Coalition of Essential Schools and had met and talked with Ted Sizer about teaching and learning. My charter school, the one that I helped to create, would follow these ideals that I held so dear.
We are a public high school. We have to do all of the things that public schools do. We have to meet the same state standards as all of the other high schools in Maine, our kids have to take the same state assessments. Plus, we have to meet the benchmarks set by our Board and the state’s Charter Commission. We have an annual review – imagine an accreditation review that happens every year – it’s rigorous. But we are a public high school. We have a responsibility to the taxpayers of the State of Maine, to show that we are not wasting their dollars (as apparently happens in some other states, and with some other schools that I’ve read too much about).
So my answers to the above questions are:
- It’s a STEM school
- We don’t follow a “program” – we decide our own course
- We make all the decisions – the teachers, the students, and our administration, working together
- We’re not any kind of school, except the one that we create – I guess that makes us “independent”
- I’ve thought long and hard about that last question. Truth is, I do feel a twang of guilt on occasion, but then I think about the kids. If they were getting all they needed from the school they were attending, they would still be there. Truth is, we are there to serve those kids. The ones who have been home-schooled up through 8th grade; the ones who experienced severe bullying in middle school; those who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder; those who are searching for their sexual and gender identities; those who are really just didn’t fit in to where they were.
Yes, we have really bright kids. Yes, we have special ed kids. Yes, we have transgender kids. We get ’em all. By lottery. We don’t get to choose. We have to teach all of the blueberries. Just like every school I’ve ever taught at. We are a public high school. Everyone is welcome. And I will do my level best to teach them all that they can do mathematics, and love it!