Opinion: Mary Alice McLean

Pearls, Rubies, and Structures in RSU 71

Thu, 12/31/2020 - 11:15pm

This article offers an inside view of organizational structures in Regional School Unit 71. 

I often refer to the structural organization in RSU 71 as “flat.”

By flat, I mean that communication is horizontal and two-way. All voices are valued, and all staff and students have a working team to which they belong. Staff can bring ideas and good news to meetings, as well as questions and problems of practice. Some teams are comprised of grade-level teachers, some organized by subject, and some by area of expertise, such as our Bus Garage Team. Students have advisories (K-5 Classrooms, 6-8 Pride Time, and 9-12 Academic Homerooms) in which restorative circles are practiced, and relationships developed and nurtured.

We continually work to improve our teaming practices so that meetings are increasingly productive. Each school has a Leadership Team comprised of principals and team leaders. A focus for most teams in 2021 will be data-analysis. What do various forms of student data tell us about how well our students are learning, and what might we do differently to improve student outcomes?

Part of having a flat organization is clarity around decision-making. Our A, B, C, D Decision-Making Protocol is known and used. A = Administrative Only; B = Administrative But with input from stakeholders; C = Collaborative with administration being one voice among many; D = Delegated such that administration delegate decisions to the staff, students, or families. A-level decisions are rare, mostly used in emergencies, such as when we moved from in-person to remote learning in March.  B, C, and D-level decisions are more the norm. Families were asked to decide whether to send students to school in-person during this pandemic or keep them at home in remote-learning, an example of a critical D-level decision.

Hierarchy does exist in RSU 71 in compliance with state law. The Board of Directors and Administrative Team also rely on the traditional Chain of Command to address the concerns, sticky wickets, and dicey dilemmas that are an inevitable component of life in any human organization. 

It is our TEACHERS  and STUDENTS who are the stars of the RSU 71 show:


I think of the teachers as royalty because teachers are best positioned to impact students. Here is a quote from my favorite living writer Marilynne Robinson. It comes from a sermon given by one of the title characters in her new novel Jack. It is shared here not to sermonize but to convey the  importance of the work of teachers in a historical context:

Teaching is a sacred vocation … it wasn’t so long ago that a man had to anchor a craft in the middle of the Mississippi River to teach our children at the high school level because it was illegal to do that in Missouri and Illinois. That was a sacred work he did. Now we have Sumner High School, where this very sacred work goes on today. It is a rare thing among us to enjoy a real education, and it is a heavy burden on us that schooling is what we lack. So those among us who are teachers are like pearls and rubies, the best help we can find for our children. Our teachers must be honored and assisted in this sacred work ( pp. 272 - 273).

Yes, “our teachers must be honored and assisted.” All staff members are educators in unique ways. We lead, manage, intersect with, and provide for our students’ health, safety, nourishment, guidance, and transportation while maintaining the physical structures in which students learn and grow.  All of that work is secondary --  in support of -- teachers’ instruction of students in classrooms, on stages and playing fields, and remotely during the pandemic. We are fortunate to have a legion of inspired teachers in RSU 71. Let’s all do our part to retain great teachers, honor their work, and attract and retain their replacements as they retire. Great teachers are the royalty we most need for the sake of our young people and the future of our communities.

Mary Alice McLean is superintendent of schools in RSU 71.