Paul Tough’s book entitled "Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why" (2016) was given out to every staff and school board member in Regional School Unit 71 to articulate a main theme in our school district this year. Perhaps it shouldn’t need to be said; yet it does: Our mission as educators and leaders is to help all children succeed.

RSU 71 parents and community members are welcome to join district staff in the book study already underway at the central office from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the following dates: Dec. 13; Jan. 10, 2019; and March 14, 2019.

Please call the central office (338-1960) or email me ( if you would like to join us for pizza, salad and conversation. If you’d like a copy of the book or need free babysitting on any of those dates in order to attend, please let that be known. If you can’t join us for these meetings, but would like to know how you can become involved in helping our school district, let that be known, too.

It wasn’t always the case in public education that we were looking for all children to succeed in school. The Puritans first established public schools in Massachusetts and Maine in the 1700s primarily to teach children to read the Bible as ammunition against the wiles of the Great Tempter, who in the wilderness was thought to be even more dangerously potent than in the settled communities from whence they had come (Urban and Wagoner, 2004).

A hundred years later, Thomas Jefferson proposed public education for all children in the entire country to ensure that all children, not just the progeny of the wealthy, would be educated. Jefferson proposed that families should send their children at no expense for three years to a local public, though the aim was to achieve what we now call “tracking” of boys, in order that “geniuses will be raked from the rubbish.” Successful students would continue to be provided a public education at no expense to the family, while other boys would go to work (Notes on the State of Virginia, 1781-2).

Our needs as a society changed drastically in the centuries that followed, as has our understanding of the various dimensions of human giftedness and intelligence. While in agrarian economies it was not really essential that all students learn to think, to reason and to solve problems, for example, in the 21st century it is increasingly necessary that all boys and girls learn what we now call “21st-century skills.” Why? It is because we really really need everyone, and also because the skill sets required for gainful employment and fulfillment in day-to-day life in 2018 are more rigorous than those of previous generations (Paul Vollmer, NSBA Conference 2018, “Schools Can’t Do It Alone”).

The moral imperative is strongly against selecting so-called geniuses these days, and leaving it at that. Think of NCLB and ESSEA, which stand for No Child Left Behind and the Every Child Succeeds Act. While we as Americans have usually been an idealistic people, we have also been a profoundly pragmatic people: We don't just dream big, we actually figure out how to realize the dream. On a very practical level, we truly need all of our children to become aware of and invested in cultivating their unique assets and strengths, and confident enough to use them daily in school and, later, in their family and work lives.

How can we as a school system realize the dream of enabling every child to become successful in school? And what might an ordinary citizen, one invested in helping the precious resource that is our children, do?

Stay tuned for future columns. And in the meantime, warm wishes for joy and inspiration this holiday season.

Mary Alice McLean is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 71, serving the communities of Belfast, Belmont, Searsmont, Morrill and Swanville.