LePage Taps Desjardin for Maine Commissioner of Education

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Tom Desjardin has been chosen by Maine Governor Paul LePage to be the state’s next commissioner of education.

An internal email sent out by Department of Education communications director Samantha Warren said Desjardin had been sworn in as acting commissioner on December 23, although his nomination will not reach the Legislature until it reconvenes next month.  Desjardin will continue to simultaneously serve as one of the governor’s senior policy advisers until a replacement is found.

The internal email is the first physical piece of evidence that Education Commissioner Jim Rier will not be returning next year.  He had gone on indefinite medical leave in November just one year after accepting the position.

“Outgoing Commissioner Rier is finally at home where he is fully focused on continuing his recovery and remains appreciative of our cards and well wishes,” Warren wrote in the email. “While he does remain on medical leave, he continues to keep in close communication with [Desjardin] and the leadership team and may return to the department as deputy commissioner in the coming months, if he is able.”

Rachelle Tome, who had been acting as education commissioner since Rier went on leave, will be returning to her role as chief academic officer.

Although Desjardin had been sworn in on December 23, that information was not released to the public until the following Monday, almost a week later in a news release, which did not mention any prior experience in education administration or with the department.  Desjardin’s own LinkedIn profile only lists positions as governor’s adviser and as a historian, writes Mario Moretto for The Bangor Daily News.

No immediate comment was offered by the governor’s office as to why Desjardin was chosen for the role, causing some stakeholders, such as the union that represents many of the state’s public school teachers, to begin to ask questions.

“While it is not clear now what qualifications Mr. Desjardin has in the field of education, the MEA is eager to work together to ensure every student is given a chance to receive the best possible public school education,” Maine Education Association president Lois Kilby-Chesley said in a written statement.

Once confirmed by the Legislature, Desjardin will work to fulfill LePage’s education goals, including removing the cap currently in place on the number of state-licensed charter schools allowed to operate.  According to state law, only 10 charter schools are allowed to operate within the state, reports Steve Mistler for The Portland Press Herald.

Earlier this year the state celebrated the opening of its first virtual charter school, Maine Connections Academy, which enrolls over 290 students statewide.  The school offers online courses for students in 7th through 12th grades taught as “live” lessons.  The school features eight teachers who, in addition to teaching the courses, monitor each students’ progress, offering daily reports and feedback, writes Vivien Leigh for WCSH.

Maine also recently joined together with four other New England states to form the New England Secondary School Consortium, which has been collecting and reporting data on high school graduation rates and other related data since 2009 in an effort to allow for easier data sharing across state lines.