Transcription of High-Quality High Schools #302

Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle, and recorded at the studios of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a writer and physician who practices family medicine and acupuncture in Topsham. Show summaries are available at Here are a few highlights from this week’s program.
Daniel M.: How do we reimagine school? How do we do that in a way that isn’t so bold that it pushes away people because they say, “Oh, that’s radically difference and it’s untested.” How do you straddle those burgeoning things that you know are going to be the new norm in time and how do you bring the school along with it?
Luke Shorty: There are 30 something kids in the audience and they’re interacting with you and you never know which way it’s going to go and so it really kind of appealed in that way and I thought it was a wonderful way to give back to the next generation and share that passion I have with the beauty that is mathematics.
Lisa Belisle: This is Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you are listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #302, High Quality High Schools, airing for the first time on Sunday, July 2, 2017. Maine is for known for its commitment to education at all levels. Today, we speak with Hebron Academy Head of School Daniel Marchetti, and with Luke Shorty, the executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, a top-ranked charter school based in Limestone. Thank you for joining us.
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Lisa Belisle: My next guest is Daniel Marchetti, who joined Hebron Academy as Head of School in 2016. Before that, he served as Head of School at The Grammar School in Putney, Vermont and in multiple positions at The Hillside School in Massachusetts. Thanks for coming in today.
Daniel M.: Thanks for having me.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve actually had a long … Well, you’re not that old, but you’ve had many years in the private school setting. Why did you decide that you wanted to do this for your life, your job?
Daniel M.: Lack of creativity probably. I grew up in a boarding school. My father was at The Loomis Chaffee the 43 years so it’s born into it and fell in love with it from an early age.
Lisa Belisle: I’m guessing it’s not really a lack of creativity. My dad’s a doctor and I became a doctor. I hope it’s not because I’m not creative but there is something about the culture that if you’re raised in …
Daniel M.: Absolutely, absolutely. Boarding schools themselves I think are wonderful opportunities to pull together intentional communities from around the world in a diverse setting under a common mission and common shared experiences and so I think for me at this point with my young kids, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to bring a global community together in a rural spot like Hebron and have that intentional approach to education and to our work with kids.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about Hebron because I know it’s a name that we hear a lot but it is a little bit removed from … Well, I-95, let’s just say.
Daniel M.: It’s not that far removed.
Lisa Belisle: All right. Tell me about it.
Daniel M.: Absolutely. Hebron was founded in 1804. We think we’re the thirteenth oldest boarding school in the country and we’ve been a diverse place since the beginning. We’ve taken people from as far as Middle Dam and Siam and other places ever since the early origins of the school. While the modalities have changed in terms of the kind of education we’re delivering now versus 1804, the location and the mission have really not strayed which I think is wonderful in that it’s a community that works with students from diverse backgrounds to empower their best self in mind, body and spirit. It’s a super strong liberal arts education that really focuses on critical thinking skills and communications skills so that students are well-prepared for college and life beyond.
Lisa Belisle: How does the size of your school compare to some of the other boarding schools in New England like say Phillips Andover, Phillips Exeter.
Daniel M.: Much smaller. We are mid 200s, probably topping out at 300 at the biggest that we would ever consider getting. I went to a school of 700 kids and it was great and I enjoyed it but there’s a familiarity that happens between teachers and students and students in the community at the smaller sizes that I find really meaningful and powerful and personalized. I think our size allows us to be rather competitive with athletics and offers the ability to have diverse programming but has that familiarity and closeness of community that I really value, that can be sometimes lost in the larger schools, or harder to maintain.
Lisa Belisle: From my understanding, you have a fair number of people who come right from within the state of Maine itself.
Daniel M.: Absolutely. Hebron was … I think it was in the fifties or sixties when we were still single sex, the tagline was The Maine School for Boys. We would love to serve as many students from Maine as possible. We’ll be continuing to work on that. We definitely draw kids that even sometimes board from Maine. We’ve got kids from … Boarding that are from an hour away, we’ve got day students from the town of Hebron and everything in between and we try to be connected to our Maine roots as much as possible and I see that as something that will continue to grow through a focus on place-based education utilizing our massive campus with its diverse ecosystems and also all the terrific opportunities within the state of Maine. We’re going into a strategic planning session this summer. We’ll be looking at a lot of things like how can we better represent Maine and better serve the students from the local area and also use Maine as a teaching tool and our campus as a teaching tool which I feel really strongly about.
Lisa Belisle: What are you currently doing to emphasize this idea of place based education?
Daniel M.: That’s a good question. We certainly could be doing more. We do quite a bit of local outreach, [inaudible 00:07:06] volunteering in local schools with our community service program, school will go and partner up with small businesses in places like Norway. We’ve done some things with the Center for Ecology Based … I always forget the last ECB, they’re awesome and we’ve done some work with them. We can continue to do more. I know that for our sciences certainly, we use our campus and our 1,500 acres for live outdoor experiments and things like that. There’s so much more we can do.
Lisa Belisle: What are you hoping to see?
Daniel M.: I’d love to potentially have … I hope my trustees aren’t listening. I come from an outdoor education background and worked for Knowles for a few years and that expeditionary learning is a real passion of mine. I had a pretty wonderful experience in college on a winter climbing trip into Katahdin. We were in there for 11 days. I think every kid hat graduates Hebron should have climbed that mountain and there are so many things we could do. We could be paddling boats that we make ourselves down the Allagash. There’s so many experiences that kids could have and I include the presidentials as sort of a … I guess Maine’s sisters there. There’s so much we can do with the outdoors in our local area to give kids those experiences that connect people and pull them together through shared common experience and hard work.
Lisa Belisle: You obviously have a strong New England connection and having just been from Vermont, and you have a growing up, a boarding school connection. Why Maine? Why would you come to Hebron?
Daniel M.: Why not? This is just a beautiful campus. There are so many different opportunities in the local area that fit the lifestyle that my wife and I feel really strongly about. We are really connected to the outdoors. We’re both passionate alpine and Nordic skiers and we want our kids growing up with those experiences right out the door. I’m 100 yards from 20 kilometers of perfectly groomed trails and for biking, running, skiing. Those are personal things but Hebron, Hebron is a school that I grew up knowing of and hearing about. My father went to Bowdoin and his college roommate was a Hebron alum. I sort of always knew that Uncle Ken went to Hebron but it never really connected until the search happened and I was contacted about it and thought, “Wow. Hebron. Cool.”
When I started to get under the hood I realized that I didn’t know Hebron all that well. I mean, I knew of it certainly, I had respect for it as a name school, but when I started to peel back the onion, I realized that it was a school that’s really focused on community and focused on personal development. When I found out about the kids from 28 different countries and the way diversity was celebrated and focused on, I thought this is something I really got to pay attention to. We really fell in love with the opportunity at the school. We got a very progressive board that understands that the landscape of education is changing and that we need to be tactical and strategic in making sure that we remain affordable for a vast array of students into the future so that we can think creatively about what we’re offering, how we’re offering it, what we’re pricing it in terms of cultivating a sense of economic stability into the future for our industry and I think Hebron’s really well-poised to make some bold moves in that area.
Lisa Belisle: You mentioned that the landscape is changing. What have you seen over the course of your time as a student and now in the field yourself?
Daniel M.: The education model is … Let’s see, the industrial model, let’s call it, of sort of sage on the stage and filling kids’ heads up with information so that they can bring it back to you. That’s broken. It may never have worked. It set students up to get sort of a complicit sense of order of sort of the manufacturing style education and really what are we seeing now? It’s not about knowledge retention, it’s about how you apply knowledge. It’s about how you access information and we all have so much more readily available to us on our phones and our computers. It’s about how you sort through that and then how you use that knowledge to make good decisions, either in business or in life, and then your communication skills and your applied thinking skills. Those are the things we need to be working with students on.
Our teachers at Hebron are realizing, “Okay, how can we study the way that blended learning could help the way that we deliver our education? How is it that we’re able to cultivate in students lifelong curiosity and love of learning? How are we able to teach them to work across teams, to work with kids from different cultures, to be critical, independent thinkers, to ask more questions than they answer.” Those are things that I think schools are flirting with and just like we’re flirting with and yet we’re still trapped by rigid forms of schedule and we’re still trapped by buildings that were built in the 1800s. How do we reimagine school? How do we do that in a way that isn’t so bold that it pushes away people because they say, “Oh, that’s radically difference and it’s untested.” How do you straddle those burgeoning things that you know are going to be the new norm in time and how do you bring the school along with it and so that’s really exciting to me and I think it’s exciting to all the people that are Hebron who are sort of digging in and looking at this.
We’re piloting a new schedule in two weeks which we’re looking forward to failing forward with it. I guarantee you this isn’t the schedule that we will ultimately use but the iterative process of saying, “What are the implications of trying this? What went well? What didn’t? What did we learn from it?” That’s good role modeling for kids to see. We don’t have to always have the answers. We have to prove to them that we’re gonna learn from our attempts and our mistakes to be able to show them that they need to do the same thing and take those same risks as learners that we’re gonna take to make sure that we’re giving them the best experience they can have.
Lisa Belisle: Are there students that you believe are more likely to thrive in a boarding school environment? Obviously you can offer a great education to really anyone but are there some students who you think are particularly well-suited?
Daniel M.: That’s an interesting question. I look at the diverse portfolio of learners that we have at our school and I see the successes that these students have and experience and the way that our teachers pour energy in their hearts into these kids and I think any kid really who is open to it would be successful and probably get a lot out of it. I think that maybe students that are in an area where their passion isn’t being fed and whether that’s through a lack of resources or them being just really interested in something that isn’t available to them. I think certainly students locally, if they’re in areas that are not as culturally diverse. Many of the boarding schools in Maine offer a wonderful opportunity to live and learn in a global community which I think is a terrific resource. I really think that any kid that wants to learn to be an independent learner in a supportive community would really thrive.
Lisa Belisle: You mentioned a couple of times your wife and your children, and a boarding school situation, as you know, because you grew up in one with your father being in the boarding school, how many years did you say?
Daniel M.: 43.
Lisa Belisle: 43.
Daniel M.: My mother too.
Lisa Belisle: Both of your parents, you grew up in the situation … It’s a family decision, in many ways, more than just if somebody decides to get a job as an attorney somewhere. How did you and your wife come to that?
Daniel M.: Yeah. It’s absolutely a family decision. My wife went to boarding school. She went to Killington Mountain School Ski Academy in high school. She had her own experience with that which she loved and she is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and before we came here she had a private practice working with children and adolescents in Brattleboro. Obviously we’re both in fields working with kids and working with people and prior to that Courtney and I worked together at Hillside where she was the director of health services overseeing counseling and health and wellness in the nursing department. The concept of coming back to boarding school I think was a no brainer and she’s involved in every decision I make, officially or not, at the school, and her counsel is the best I could get and when my son Oliver is in the same school as my daughter, Courtney will have a more formal role at the school but right now we’re doing a lot of driving, getting kids where they need to be.
Lisa Belisle: How old are your children now?
Daniel M.: Three and six.
Lisa Belisle: What has that been like for the two of you to basically start over in a new place with a three and a six year old and two working parents?
Daniel M.: Sure. Hebron’s a really family-focused school. We’ve got … I would say approximately 20 kids under 11 on campus as faculty kids and so there’s a wonderful concept of neighborhood there. If we go to the dining hall there is at any given night, there are going to be 10 kids that my kids can interact with and faculty. Students who will come over and know my kids by name and give them a hug and ask them to go play in the hallway or something. In some ways, I think for some people that concept of life in the fishbowl or under the microscope would be intimidating but if you sort of lean into it, you realize that you have this opportunity for your kids to have exposure to kids from all over the world and also to benefit from those relationships and to get some of the support from a community that I think many people who live in less connected ways don’t experience. For us I think that’s been a wonderful thing.
Our house is very centrally located on campus as it should be and we have students to dinner every Monday night in advisee groups so we have 15 students and 3 advisors every Monday on a rotating basis because my goal is to get every student to dinner with us and with our family before the end of the year which has been harder than you think with my travel schedule but they’re the best nights ever and the funny part is our kids. Some nights our kids sit there like little angels and some nights they’re running through the house naked on a hobby horse. That’s okay. They’re kids. That’s what they do. It’s I think helpful for everyone in those interactions. Kids get to be kids. Kids get to see us being parents and it’s again, shared experience.
Lisa Belisle: First I need to also say people can work in and outside the home so when I said to have two working parents, even if you’re staying home with your children, I acknowledge that people are still working. Anybody who’s listening who’s gonna call me up and say, “I work and I am inside the home with my kids.” I completely acknowledge that. Moving onto the next, I guess I’m wondering what you like about this age group. I’ve raised two highschoolers who are now college and beyond and now I have a 16 year old and it’s a fun age and there’s a lot of change that takes place and there’s a lot of … It’s not just academic development that these kids are going through at this stage. What is it that you enjoy about this?
Daniel M.: This is the first time that I’ve worked in a high school in a long time. I was not sure what I would like or not like about it because I had done the middle school thing for so long which is an age that is really challenging for a lot of people and an age that I really enjoy and continue to enjoy. High school for me was a new challenge and a new opportunity to challenge myself and learn a new skill set. I found this to be a lot of fun in that these students … Because we do have a small middle school, primarily of all-day students, about 30 kids in the middle school, and so they’re a lot younger than the high school kids. Even the age range between ninth grade and post graduate, you still have a really diverse developmental spectrum there of what it’s like to interact with those kids.
I’ve enjoyed their level of independence and their level of creative engagement. I tell the kids all the time. Your job is to make sure that you have the best experience that you can have and if that means that you need to challenge us on something that’s not working or something we’re not offering or you want to have appropriate discourse about changes you want to have made, then that’s your job to advocate for and it’s our job to see what we can do or to better explain why we do things the way that we do. That creative give and take has been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed that.
Lisa Belisle: Contrast it with what you enjoyed about the middle school.
Daniel M.: Yeah. Hillside where we worked for nine years together is a really great place and we loved it and I kind of grew up there as an educator and as an administrator and it holds a special place for me in my journey and so I have to separate that I guess from the age group piece but what I loved as well, it was a all boys junior boarding school. Chances were, you found yourself there because something wasn’t working where you were before. Sometimes, kids came somewhat reluctantly, but really, they were just such great, open kids who were ready to take on new challenges and I think middle school’s really a hard age and if you can get out of middle school with a sense of confidence and self-esteem intact, then you are gonna be fine. I loved what can we do to help these kids grow their confidence and their self-esteem as they start to figure out who they are as learners and as people and it was a really malleable time and that was a lot of fun.
Lisa Belisle: Having known personally and interviewed a fair number of educations. My mom’s a teacher, high school … Actually, middle school teacher. I know that not everybody chooses administration. For you, it sounds like this was a very specific choice and you talked about your own evolution. Why? Why did you decide that this was the path you wanted to take?
Daniel M.: There are so many different interesting aspects of running a school. It is a business obviously and so for me, being head of school allows me to always be on my toes and always be learning and always be challenging myself to grow in new areas. I found that I really enjoy the myriad challenges but also the connection to community and to people and so for me I just feel like I’m always learning in this role and I also feel like I’m challenged to be my best self for this community and so that’s a wonderful personal challenge and charge that the job can inspire and so if that’s what calls to me, then that works for me. Always learning.
Lisa Belisle: Is there anything about Hebron that has surprised you over the last year?
Daniel M.: Yeah, where to start, you know? Yeah. One of the things that surprised me about this is how you can be 200 years old and have people say, “I don’t really know much about your school.” For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to better tell or retell our story and to define what that is and can be for people who are just recently discovering us. Because it’s a good story and it’s a good place with so much opportunity for kids and for the adults who work there.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve told us a little bit about the Hebron backstory. What would you like the Hebron story going forward to be?
Daniel M.: I think two of the threads that I predict, predict, not guarantee, will be a part of our strategic plan will be a renewed commitment to diversity and renewed commitment to sustainability. Albert LePage is one of our most dedicated alums, committed ten million dollars to the school last summer, five of which is earmarked to a permanent endowment for diversity and that will include the Center for Diversity at Hebron which we’re still forming and formulating as the funding comes through and what that means is we’ll be able to hire a new position at the school, as a director of diversity, and I’m really excited about that. I think that diversity and inclusion are lenses that should really be used as frames for any leader and any teacher working with people and working in schools and so there’s a lot of work we can do there to grow and I’m really excited about what that will mean for us as a school. As we say, what does this mean? What does this imply for Hebron and how can we live up to this and make it a core strength of ours?
With sustainability, I think that … Where to start … I think that the young people today are primed to really be game changers in embracing lives that are ethical and sustainable and whether it’s through their diet and where their food comes from and how they’re thinking about that or the choices they’re making regarding energy, where their clothes come from and how they’re making conscious decisions about the geopolitical implications that come from all of that. This generation needs to leave and head off into college at least being aware of the impact they and their lives and their families can have and the way that their good decisions can make a major impact in the world.
I’m really excited that at Hebron we’ve got some great opportunities to on a large scale to make renewed commitments to sustainability and we’re currently working with SMRT on a new science center that is shovel ready, pending small donations left, that will be basically net zero. We’re really committed to that. We have the largest rooftop solar array in Maine that we put up this October. I’m sure it will be surpassed at some point and how great is that, right? That’s good for Maine. That does 26% of our total electricity and we’d love to see that up to 100 or more at some point. There’s just so many different things that my wife and I are both really excited about in terms of what that can mean for Hebron and how it can be an integrated theme into the education process.
Lisa Belisle: We will put a link to Hebron Academy in our show notes page and I encourage people to maybe even go up and visit. It’s a beautiful location. I must admit, having been on the campus or toured around, but even driving by, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. It’s almost, you’re right, surprising that people don’t know that it exists or what it’s all about. I encourage people to find out more. I’ve been speaking with Daniel Marchetti who is the Head of School at Hebron Academy. Thank you so much for coming in today and for representing your school well.
Daniel M.: Thank you.
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Lisa Belisle: I have in the studio with me today Luke Shorty, who is the executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and a 1998 graduate from the magnet high school in Limestone, Maine. The U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the school as the tenth best high school in the nation for STEM education, the nineteenth best overall high school, and the sixth best magnet school in the nation. Pretty good stuff there, Luke.
Luke Shorty: Pretty exciting, I would say, for sure.
Lisa Belisle: Yeah. How does this feel for you as someone who graduated from the school in 1998 coming back and seeing this success?
Luke Shorty: A little bit of pride, not necessarily in myself and the work that I do but kind of in the state of Maine as a whole because the ranking really comes from the faculty we have at MSSM, the teachers from all over the state of Maine who prepared these kids for MSSM, and then the students themselves, really kind of rolling up their sleeves and immersing themselves in the curriculum we have at MSSM. Really, it’s pride for the state as a whole and what we’re doing in education is kind of the feeling I get when I see those numbers.
Lisa Belisle: Did this take you by surprise or did you think, “Wow, we’re pretty good. I think we could do well here.”
Luke Shorty: For the last couple years actually, we weren’t ranked due to some actual reporting standards they have for Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act like you can’t release so much data if your count is below a certain amount. The last couple of years, we weren’t within that threshold so they didn’t release the data. Previously, we had done pretty well with the rankings. I guess I am surprised that we broke the top ten, especially for STEM schools and magnet schools but I’m not surprised that we performed as well as we did at U.S. News and World Report’s ranking.
Lisa Belisle: STEM schools, I think most people are familiar with and we’ve talked about it on the show before but for people who aren’t, what does that mean?
Luke Shorty: It’s a great point. STEM schools are not schools that have to do with like stems of plants or anything like that but it has to do with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You take the first letter of all those words and you get STEM and it’s been a pretty hot topic for the nation as a whole and for the state of Maine and actually speaks to a lot of foresight that Governor McKernan at the time had when MSSM was formed in 1994 to say, “I’d like a STEM school.” There was talk about putting an agricultural school up in Limestone when Lauren Air Force Base closed and it was Governor McKernan who said, “No, I want a science, technology, engineering and mathematics school up there.”
Lisa Belisle: I believe that some people are now talking about STEAM, where they add an A in there as well.
Luke Shorty: Yes, absolutely. I’ve also heard the acronym STREAM which the A in STEAM is for arts and the R in some schools stands for religion. IF you look at some of the private Catholic schools, they’re looking at STREAM and saying how do you put the lens of religion, morality, theology, in that whole aspect of STEAM? I found in education that the more you actually look into the universe around you, everything starts to blend together. Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, they’re creative people. That creative aspect is extremely important I think to the human being. Though it may be catchy to say STEM all the time, I think you can easily fit in the A for arts, STEAM, religion, I think when you really start delving into learning, you’re looking at the universe as a whole and all aspects of reality. I wouldn’t be surprised if you started seeing more letters popping up into this acronym as time goes on.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve been reading some Edward Wilson and he was a professor, I think he may still be a professor at Harvard but he is a scientist who also talks a lot about the humanities and how science in its current form is relatively young but we’ve had the humanities for thousands and thousands of years now. So now trying to understand the intersection and what each can learn from the other is an interesting place to be in.
Luke Shorty: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, when a lot of people think of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, they’re probably thinking of the science and math, it’s right in our name, but believe it or not, we’ve got a very strong humanities program. The Aroostook County Teacher of the Year in 2016 was Michael McCartney, who is our humanities instructor up at MSSM and it’s important when you’re looking at science and mathematics to put it through that perspective of what does it mean for humanity? What’s the human aspect of this? I think you’re right, there’s this place where they kind of blend together like you had said. Humanities has been around for well, since humans have existed. That lens is an important lens to have on when you look at any aspect of reality I think.
Lisa Belisle: Let’s talk about the magnet school idea. This is also something that I think has certainly been within my lifetime, the last several decades, and increasingly more accepted.
Luke Shorty: Yeah. So the magnet school idea, from my understanding, especially the specialized science and mathematics magnet schools, really kind of came out in the mid eighties. There is a couple other magnet schools like MSSM that are residential. They’re in North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Illinois. We are the only one that is in New England that is a residential magnet school for science and mathematics. The key and the thought on that is that in our statute that creates MSSM, we’re supposed to exceed Maine state educational standards, right? You’re supposed to provide a curriculum that is above and beyond what students could get anywhere else in the state of Maine. Now if you look at all the school districts in the state, you may have one or two students who would be able to handle that type of curriculum. It’s not cost-effective to do that for every single school district in the state, so that magnet school brings that certain capacity and density of students that really make it cost-effective to offer that type of curriculum. That’s kind of the idea behind the magnet school is you’re attracting students from all over the state and beyond to really get an immersive, high quality, high end, robust educational experience.
Lisa Belisle: When I was growing up, it wasn’t to be someone who studied a lot or who was a little bit more academically oriented and perhaps into the maths and sciences. It wasn’t really the cool thing to do. Of course it seems like it’s become the cool thing, maybe I just missed it by a generation but I wonder if by bringing these students together, you actually validate this idea that what they’re doing is really important and really very normal and appreciated.
Luke Shorty: It’s interesting you say that. When I went to school there in the late nineties, there really was that sense of belonging where you get these students from all over who may not have found a peer group that resonated with their interests and what their passions were. When you get 150 students living together in a dormitory, sharing that passion, it really is phenomenal. You don’t just see it in the high school program. We have a middle school summer program. There are six weeks during the summer where we offer week-long camps for science and mathematics in the dormitory for ages 10 through 14 and you see it in these young folks who … You hear it from the parents all the time. When they go home, they’re like, “My son or daughter just wouldn’t stop talking about MSSM and all the friends and the people they met there.” You form this community, and this community that feeds off from each other where they’re like, “Wow. There are other people who are interested in what I am interested in and I never thought of things that way and really, that’s part of the magic of what happens as MSSM is that community that forms up in Aroostook County in the dormitory up there.”
Lisa Belisle: How do you feel like this helped you in your own career? Did this propel you forward in some specific direction because of the experience you had?
Luke Shorty: It’s interesting you say that because after I graduated from the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, I actually went on to study film at the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. I had always been interested in the arts, speaking of STEAM, and it wasn’t until I was in Bozeman, Montana, at graduate school, that I realized how much of an impact MSSM had had on my life. It’s the first place I ever got an F, ever, in my life, and I shared this on Maine Live when we did that this fall and that was a shift. You lean yourself outside of your comfort zone, you have a view of who you are as a person. When that’s questioned, when you get bumped through that, that’s where a lot of growth happens.
I didn’t realize the amount of one, work ethic I developed at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, and two, the comfort of realizing I can fail and it’s not the end of the world. I can grow from this. There’s this idea out there about a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. At MSSM, I think it may be something that shook me out of a fixed mindset and put me more into a growth mindset. It may be not the trajectory like, “I’m now the executive director there.” At least as a person as a whole and how I moved forward through my life, through my graduation of MSSM to where I am today, those are some of the cornerstones that I think really had an impact on who I am as a person and how I react to the world around me.
Lisa Belisle: What was the pivot point and when did you decide, “Oh, I think I’d like to work in education?”
Luke Shorty: That’s a good question. Like I had said, I studied film at first and then I came back to Maine. I studied physics for a little while and then mathematics. Ultimately, I ended on mathematics which is a story in and of itself how math snagged me but why I thought about education is there’s a certain … It kind of blends the arts, at least the performing arts, with STEM with mathematics if that’s the subject you’re teaching which it was for me, it kind of blends those two things together so it was kind of this way of giving back to the next generation of folks to share my passion that I have about mathematics in general in a way that also was fulfilling to my interest in performance art I guess so to speak. You blend those two things together and you’ve got this beautiful type of magic that happens in the classroom where you may have a lesson plan all set up ready to roll but there are 30 something kids in the audience and they’re interacting with you and you never know which way it’s going to go and so it really kind of appealed in that way and I thought it was a wonderful way to give back to the next generation and share that passion I have with the beauty that is mathematics. That’s what got me into teaching at least.
Lisa Belisle: I guess I can’t leave that on the table then. Why math?
Luke Shorty: That’s a great question. I used to be really big into physics. It was my favorite science because it was like, “Oh, you can explain the whole universe in just those elegant equations, et cetera.” Then I took a higher mathematics course at University of Maine at Orono. It was there that you start delving into these ideas that are just mind blowing if you think about them. For example, Georg Cantor came up with this argument to show, “You know, some infinities are actually bigger than others.” You say, “What?” Not only that, there are an infinite number of infinities that can become than the infinities previous to it.” These ideas just kind of blow your mind that there are also things in reality such as the number pi, 3.14159265, it goes on and on forever, never repeats, is transcendental, but it’s everywhere in the universe. You take any circle and you measure its circumference, divide by its diameter, and you always get this number. There’s just this beauty in the thought space that is mathematics that allows you to really explore and go wild and creative and throw out these wild ideas and see how it all plays within this system of assumptions that you make about the universe around year. When I took that higher level math class, it kind of blew my mind and the rest is history. I just couldn’t get enough.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about growing up in Fairfield.
Luke Shorty: All right. I grew up in a small little town called Fairfield Center and I went to Lawrence High School. It was really nice actually growing up there because my mother’s family, we had our little house here and then across the little field was my aunt’s house and then my grandmother’s house and then across the street was my other aunt’s house and a little further down the road was my uncle’s farm. That was a really nice way of growing up because you always had some place to go, whether it was to your aunt’s house or your grandmother’s house, and it’s just a beautiful little area in the Kennebec Valley. It’s one of the places that … I mean, my parents still live in that house so it’s kind of a nice place to kind of go and hang out with family and kind of enjoy that space.
Lisa Belisle: It sounds very idyllic and yet you still chose to go up to Limestone which is … Got to be at least three or four hours away from your home to study.
Luke Shorty: It is. It’s about four hours north. That was actually … I mean, when I first went up there, the school had only been open for one year when I heard about it. I went up the second year in the school’s existence and to be honest with you, the school had kind of a rocky started. They never knew whether or not it was going to be open the following year, if the state funding was going to come in, how this crazy experiment was going to work out. There were I’d say about six of us from Lawrence that year who had heard about this place, heard of the amazing educational opportunities that were up there, and we all applied and kind of went together. That kind of helped a little bit with the transition. It’s a decision that I’m thankful that I made and that I actually went and took that trip up to Limestone. It was tough for Mom for sure, but I think they would agree with me that it was definitely worth the investment.
Lisa Belisle: You’re an interesting person in that you have all these different kind of tentacles to your interests and your personalities. The fact that you were willing to come down and be a Maine Live speaker, it wasn’t a one time thing. You had to come back and forth and back and forth and do training to actually do this speech that you gave last fall, and you came back down again here and I’m gonna just tell people, we’re talking and that you came in at 8:45 a.m. from the county. Why is it important for you to continue to do this sort of outreach? Why does it matter so much to represent MSSM in a positive way?
Luke Shorty: I think because one of the things is we are a small state as far as connections are but we’re a very large state geographically. I think sometimes when you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. The first word in MSSM’s acronym is Maine. We are the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and I think it’s important for every citizen of the state of Maine to realize what an important and beautiful gift they have given to themselves as an amazing educational opportunity for the youth in Maine. We’ve got a lot of challenges facing us as a state, right? We are an old state, we aren’t very diverse, there are concerns about out migration, especially with young people. You hear all the time, “My gosh, how are we going to fill all the jobs that are going to be opening up from these retirements?”
I think it’s important that the state realizes that there are things that are going on that allow students and people to take pride in what their state does and say “How can we leverage this asset we have to take on these challenges?” I think the best way to make sure people are aware of that is to get out and let them know. I think this idea of two Maines I think is an unfortunate one and I think that whatever we can do to help dissolve that mindset, I think the better off we can be. I love to go out and talk with folks and share the experience I’ve had and the amazing things going up in Aroostook County because I think that’s important to the Maine people.
Lisa Belisle: How has Aroostook County and specifically Limestone changed in your opinion?
Luke Shorty: When I was a student there, I didn’t have a car so I didn’t know much of Aroostook County except for the mall trips we would take into Presque Isle every weekend. Going up with there a vehicle, it really has opened up my mind to the types of cultures that are up there in the St. John Valley with the French Acadians and the Quebecois who are up there and it’s just this amazing, beautiful place. I went to graduate school in Bozeman, Montana and they call Montana Big Sky Country and I feel like Aroostook County is Maine’s Big Sky Country. You go up there and you can see for miles and miles and miles and in that sense, that’s how Aroostook County has changed for me in the sense that I didn’t realize all the opportunities there and all the exciting things going on even across the border in New Brunswick over in Quebec … Quebec actually is closer to Limestone than Portland is. That’s kind of the big city for us is you go up and around to Quebec. That’s something that was new to me from when I was a student to now.
About Limestone as a whole, Limestone is a smaller town, believe it or not, than even when I was up there in the nineties. They are some of the most kind, caring and open individuals for the students who are coming up to MSSM. They’re going through a discussion right now on whether or not they want to withdraw from the regional school unit that they’re with and one of the things that’s come out of that is some really good dialogue between MSSM and the town and the town sharing their appreciation of MSSM and me sharing the appreciation that the students have with the Limestone community. In that sense, that’s one thing that hasn’t changed. Even though the town has kind of shrunk in size, that spirit they have of being welcoming and open to new faces and new people in Limestone hasn’t changed. Those are some aspects of how it’s kind morphed and evolved. That’s what that is I suppose.
Lisa Belisle: We know because U.S. News and World Report has told us that clearly your school is excellent. How do you know that your school is excellent? How do you know that you are succeeding as a school that is putting new math and science students out into the world to do good work?
Luke Shorty: A couple of ways. I think some of those, it’s always the kids, right? It’s always what are the alumni saying. How are they doing after they leave MSSM. What are some things that we’re doing as a school in order to break through some barriers that some students from around the state of Maine may have getting into higher education. If you look at the schools that the MSSM students are going to, you could use that potentially as a measure of success and we do have students who are going to MIT and Harvard and Oxford and all these other places but there are a lot that are also going to the University of Maine and I think to me that’s another measure of success if is you can keep students here in the state to see what opportunities the state of Maine has for them, whether it’s at the University of Maine or the Jackson Laboratory or down here in Portland if somebody is interested in marketing and advertising because we have students who even though they like math and science, are interested in those humanities. The more we can do with that, with our internship programs and stuff we do during our small January term, I think that’s a measure of success. How well are we connecting kids to the state?
We have a partnership with the University of Maine Presque Isle where students actually can get enough college credit through attending MSSM where you could graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. To me, that’s a sign of success because that’s two year’s savings on your undergraduate education which as many of us know is not getting any cheaper. U. Maine system has done a pretty good job with that tuition freeze for the last couple years that they’ve been doing that but at some point they’re going to have to consider do we have to bump tuition up?
Those are some of the symbols of success that I feel make us successful, where you can tap into young people’s passions, hold the bar high, and support them to reach that bar and then from there show them the opportunities in the state of Maine and make sure they’re going to a college that feels like a good fit for them, and stay in touch with them, right? Figure out what are you up to now. We had a huge reunion in June last year where we had 300 plus alumni, all come back up to Limestone. We had a tent city out on Trafton Lake. We filled both dormitories that we had at the time. It was quite a turnout to see so many faces from every single class from 1996 all the way to the graduating class of 2016. It was pretty cool.
Lisa Belisle: You graduated from high school about ten years after I did. I think you actually knew my brother Matthew. We’ve talked about this before because he was at MSSM very briefly. You and I are both native Mainers. We both came back to our state so we weren’t really part of … I guess we were a brain drain because we went away but we came back. When people talk about brain drain, what does that bring up for you?
Luke Shorty: Oh. That’s a good question because I think it’s important for people to go away and to come back. I think that’s important because when you leave an area, it’s again like leaving your comfort zone. You’re seeing different points of view, different ways of doing things, different cultures, and with that, you’re learning stuff through the lens of how you grew up in the state of Maine. Ultimately, you get this boomerang effect I think for the most part where people say, “You know, I’ve been all over the place and I haven’t found a place as special as Maine and so now I’m coming back.”
I think people need to … When they say brain drain, they may be thinking of the very short term. You graduate and they’re gone. Hold onto that a little while longer. Give it five, six, seven years, right? Give it some time and then tell me if brain drain is happening. Are people staying away? If they are staying away, then it’s time to kind of look at that issue and tackle it that way. I think to be honest with you, it’s becoming more and more frequent in my opinion that people are looking for short term solutions. Brain drain, it’s happening right away. There’s this difficulty with patience, right, because we’re in this place where oh, instant gratification on my smartphone. I tweeted something, somebody’s gonna get back to me right away. I think it’s important to look at the long game of it.
When I hear the word brain drain, it brings up a lot of questions to say well, what do you mean by that? What time period are you looking at? Then try to hone it down a little bit. Brain drain’s a fun little clip to throw out there but I think there’s a lot more questions to ask to try to figure out what exactly it is people are talking about.
Lisa Belisle: Spoken like a true science/math minded person, I would say.
Luke Shorty: Thanks.
Lisa Belisle: I guess your education has served you well.
Luke Shorty: I hope so.
Lisa Belisle: I’ve been speaking with Luke Shorty who is the executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics which has been recently lauded by the U.S. News and World Report for really being very good in many different areas so congratulations to you and to all of the people who work to give an education to our students here in Maine.
Luke Shorty: Thank you very much Dr. Lisa. It’s been a pleasure this morning.
Lisa Belisle: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, Show #302, High Quality High Schools. Our guests have included Daniel Marchetti and Luke Shorty. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-newsletter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page. Follow me on twitter as Dr. Lisa and see our Love Maine Radio photos on Instagram. We’d love to hear from you so please let us know what you think of Love Maine Radio. We welcome your suggestions for future shows. Also, let our sponsors know that you have heard about them here. We are privileged that they enable us to bring Love Maine Radio to you each week. This is Dr. Lisa Belisle. I hope that you have enjoyed our High Quality High School show. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your day. May you have a bountiful life.
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