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Teachers in Maine School Decide to Go Ahead and Run the Place

When their principal resigned due to illness earlier this year, the teachers at the Athens Community School in rural Maine came up with a novel idea for how the school should be led in the future: They would simply—or maybe not so simply—do it themselves.

Last week, according to a story on CentralMaine.com, the local school board (after some initial resistance) granted them approval to turn Athens, a 120-student pre-K through 8th grade school, into an officially teacher-led school on a one-year pilot basis.

After the principal's departure, a few of the more experienced teachers at the school had been asked if they might be interested in taking the job, but they were reluctant to leave the classroom. Under the new model, the teachers at Athens will be able to continue their instructional work, even as they collectively take on the administrative responsibilities that are normally the province of principals and other administrators.

According to the CentralMaine.com piece, the school will have a three-teacher leadership team responsible for the high-level organizational matters, such as budgeting and teacher evaluation. Other teachers will make up committees on steering, professional development, instructional leadership, and school climate. Teachers selected for the committees will receive stipends of up to $4,000 per committee (or $6,000 flat for those on the leadership team)—all told, about $30,000 less than the cost of hiring a full-time principal.

According to the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative, a partnership between the nonprofits Education Evolving and the Center for Teacher Quality, there are currently some 70 teacher-led schools in United States. They appear to vary widely in terms of governance structure, student demographics, and performance.  

In an article we published in February, Carrie Bakken, a teacher who works at teacher-led school in St. Paul, Minn., said the model gives educators more autonomy and a greater sense of ownership of their work.

Some experts have cautioned, however, that teachers may not have the preparation or management vision necessary to run schools effectively. Others have questioned whether the collective model of leadership is efficient or feasible over the long term.

But the teachers at Athens are excited about the idea of making their own decisions, at least for a little while.  

"Principals come; principals go," said David Hatch, a special education teacher quoted in the story. "They have their agendas. They have their educational initiatives. It's all good stuff. But these people know this house and that's why they said, 'We want to take care of our own house. We don't want somebody to come in and tell us how to run our business for a couple years and then go on to something else.'"

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