June 21, 2015

Big transitions in the coming year for the REAL School - By Elizabeth Richards

This year at the REAL School, it isn’t just the graduating seniors who are in transition. At the end of June Pender Makin, director of the school, will be leaving the school for a new opportunity. Two long time staff members will be stepping into the top administrative positions at the school.
Martin Mackey, who has been the assistant director of the school, will become the director, and   Rich Meserve, a special education teacher at the REAL School, will fill the assistant director position.
Makin said she was not seeking other employment, but an opportunity presented itself. After a lot of personal deliberation, she accepted the position of assistant superintendent of schools for the Brunswick School Department. “For the past 12, almost 13, years I’ve been in my dream job. It’s been a very difficult decision to leave,” she said. 

Ultimately, two main factors steered her towards her decision. First, she said, she thinks she has more to offer to the work of public education. And second, she feels like the staff at the REAL School deserves an opportunity to move into leadership positions that only become available when someone leaves. “The professional staff here is such a cohesive team, and we have built, from within so much leadership that it is almost unconscionable to cap people out,” she said

The transition is a very difficult one for her, she said, as the school is fundamentally a part of who she is. At the same time, she said of Mackey and Meserve, “I have absolute confidence that they’re going to take the school to better places than it has ever been.” 

Mackey said he’s sad to see Makin moving on, but is grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her, to see the vision she’s instilled in the staff and students, and to use that vision to move forward. “She will be the legacy at our school of some of the most amazing programming, and developing some of the most unique approaches to working with students that are out there in the world,” he said.

In the nine years that he has worked with Makin, Mackey said he’s learned how to work with students, staff and families to help the students get what they need out of education. “The changes that have happened in the REAL School since she started are nothing short of a miracle,” he said. The staff and mindset is in place to continue finding creative ways to ensure that all students find the path they need to get to a high school diploma, he added. 

Meserve said his experience learning from Makin, who he called “the queen of best practice,” has made his experience teaching at the REAL School special from the very beginning. After 11 years in a teaching position, “I’m really excited to be able to take the next step and continue in the passionate direction that she’s led this school,” he said.      

The mission of the school will remain exactly the same, said Mackey, but there are some exciting changes in the works. Next year, the REAL School will operate two separate programs, an alternative education program for students with or without disabilities, and a self contained special education program. “Our mission is going to be the same, our mindset is going to be exactly the same, we’re just going to have two separate entities in this building,” Mackey said. The school has applied for a grant from the John T. Gorman Foundation to help fund the alternative education program, and is awaiting confirmation that they will continue their AmeriCorps partnership for another three years. Mackey said they also have a number of service learning trips planned.

Meserve added that they have also begun a relationship with Rotary, including having an Interact club at the REAL School. This year, he travelled to Romania with four students on a service learning trip. They plan to work collaboratively with people they met on that trip via avenues like Skype throughout the year, and hope to have another exchange next year. They have worked closely with the Sebago Lake Rotary Club, and other area Rotary clubs are showing an interest in forming relationships as well. “We’re pulling in the community partners, which is a big part of what we do here,” said Meserve. “We’re really excited about it.”

While students and staff alike are sad to see Makin go, they have been supportive in her transition. Students, who Makin said see the community as a family, are pleased that familiar faces will be stepping into the leadership positions. “They ask who’s going to take over and when I say Martin and Rich you can see the relief,” she said. 

While he is confident that the REAL School will grow and prosper in the future, Mackey says he doesn’t want to dismiss what Makin has done for the school. “She doesn’t like to toot her own horn, but she should,” he said. “Things are going to be great here, but we will all miss Pender tremendously.”

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