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Teacher Network Rebrands its Commitment to Arts Education

Introducing ‘MAEPL,’ the Maine Arts Education Partners in Leadership

The Teacher Leader network known as MALI, or Maine Arts Leadership Initiative, has taken on the new mantle of MAEPL, Maine Arts Education Partners in Leadership, with a revised mission to “develop and promote high quality arts education for all.” MAEPL is a unique teacher leader development program specifically for preK-12 visual and performing arts (VPA) educators from across the state. It is one of the very few in the country. 

Led by active educators, MAEPL focuses on classroom teachers and teaching artists in all arts disciplines. Over 120 Maine VPA teachers as well as teaching artists have participated in the last ten years of professional development which included community-building, structured mutual accountability, and leadership development.  

Leaders of MAEPL say the new name and mission statement better encapsulates what this community of arts educators has been and will continue to be.  The rebranding process evolved as a result of bringing in new staff and expanding the organization’s leadership structure.  Jake Sturtevant, a music educator at Falmouth High School and longtime MALI member and Chair of the MAEPL Vision Team said, “We are still committed to partnering with each other to be resilient, compassionate, and curious teacher leaders for our students and in our communities.”

Even before the pandemic, teachers of the arts often felt isolated, said Kate Smith, a 2014 York County Teacher of the Year and MAEPL Program Team Leader. Whereby school district-level trainings are often geared towards general or “core” subject teachers, “I’m only one of two in my district teaching elementary music.  We are in our little islands, far from anyone else doing what we do,” Smith said. “MAEPL changed all that.” 

 In 2020 MAEPL took a deep dive into their organizational structure and assessed and clarified their policies.  Through the pandemic the leadership teams met and solicited input from their entire membership, and determined a new name, a refined mission, and a new logo.  “We chose the whirling maple seed pod as our new symbol because we felt it reflected the best of what we do – taking new ideas, learning and sharing together, then planting them throughout our school communities,” said Jen Driscoll, visual art educator at Brunswick High School and Vision Team member. “It’s got our energy.”  

 “MALI grew a wealth of resources and committed members over the years,” said Martha Piscuskas, the current Director of Arts Education for the Maine Arts Commission. “We wanted to build on those strengths.” In addition to the professional development programs, Piscuskas said the next steps include creating an advisory council, streamlining their web presence, and continued advocacy for the sector. 

When the group first formed in 2010, the members focused on student assessments, which was an emerging need for visual and performing arts teachers at the time.  After learning from other states, a small group of educators created the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative.  They established a framework and best practices for successful arts assessment in the classroom, and quickly became the assessment experts in our schools, Sturtevant said. 

In 2015 the group added “teacher voice” and advocacy to their mission, becoming the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI). With the successful initiative, VPA teachers have sought out leadership positions, continued their graduate studies, and have presented at conferences with the support and influence from the organization.

artwork by Mik Smith 

Maine Arts Teachers Set Resiliency Goals for School Year 2020-2021

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"The arts are responsible for the well-being of a culture.” 

This is just one of many critical messages that keynote speaker Dr. Larry McCullough of the Pinetree Institute shared with almost 50 arts educators at an annual retreat, hosted virtually by the Maine Arts Commission.  Since 2011, the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative, (MALI), as of 2021 now called MAEPL (Maine Arts Education Partners in Leadership)  a network of visual and performing arts teacher leaders supported by the Commission’s Arts Education Program, has gathered every summer, and COVID-19 was not going to stop them. 

“Despite Zoom fatigue and just coming off of a very challenging end to the school year, we knew that arts educators needed a chance to be together, to rejuvenate, and gear up for the fall,” explained MALI leader Kate Smith, a music teacher at Central Elementary School in South Berwick. 

The MALI Program Team organized the Institute around Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a cornerstone of all arts education and particularly pertinent for teachers and students facing such uncertainty in their classrooms.  “We always seek to address emerging needs in the field and minimizing the trauma of this current crisis was clearly number one on our radar,” Smith said. 

They tapped longtime Leadership Trainer and Emotional Resiliency Expert Larry McCullough, of the Pinetree Institute in Eliot, to guide the webinars and discussions that occurred throughout the summer.  Dr. McCullough founded the Pinetree Institute in 2012 to promote the well-being of individuals, families and communities, and brought to the MALI Summer Institute his particular focus on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and the buffering effect of positive experiences in approaches to trauma-informed care.  He shared new research by Dr. Christina Bethell about 7 Positive Childhood Experiences (PCE’s) that can inform how arts educators beneficially impact their students.

Each year, the MALI Institute invites a new cohort of visual and performing arts teachers and teaching artists to join the statewide network of educators leading in their communities and their fields.  Over 120 teachers and teaching artists have now engaged in higher collaborative learning on assessment, advocacy, and leadership through MALI, resulting in stronger arts education programs throughout the state. This year, 17 music, visual art, theater and circus arts teachers from all over the state were accepted into the program. 

The new cohort included:

Reba Askari, Director of Theatre and Education at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine

Bryan Bergeron-Killough, Music Teacher at Eliot Elementary School

Melissa Birkhold, Music Teacher at Crescent Park, Woodstock Elementary Schools in SAD 44 and Andover Elementary School

Josie Davis, Violin Faculty and Envision Chamber Music Workshop Director at Bay Chamber Concerts & Music School

Eustaquio Dones, Music Teacher at North Berwick Elementary School

Aaron Gagnon, Music Teacher at Elm Street and Minot Consolidated Schools in RSU 16

Alison Graichen, Music Teacher at Wells Elementary and Wells Junior High Schools

Joshua Lund, Music Teacher at Benton Elementary School in MSAD 49

Kari McCarthy, Art Teacher at Brunswick Junior High School

Pamela Moulton, Visual Teaching Artist in schools and eldercare facilities in the Greater Portland area 

Courtney Naliboff, Music, Theater and Language Arts Teacher at North Haven Community School

Jack Pneuman, Circus Arts Instructor in southern Maine

Megan Rogers, Music Teacher at Union Elementary, Friendship Village, and Prescott Memorial Schools in MSAD 40

Linda Vaillancourt, Music Teacher at North Yarmouth Academy

Jude Valentine, Public Programming Coordinator at the Farnsworth Art Museum

Colin Wheatley, Strings Teacher at Waterville Public Schools

Christina Zahn, Music Teacher at Brownfield Denmark Elementary, New Suncook Elementary, and Molly Ockett Schools in MSAD 72

Integral to every Institute is professional goal-setting for each participant.  This year’s goals truly reflect topical issues.  “Creating an inclusive, decolonized, non-performance based curriculum that explicitly connects SEL to music,” is one participant’s goal for the year.   Other goals focus on embedding emotional resiliency in lesson plans, racial justice, improving the remote experience for students,  leading in advocacy for the arts, teacher self-care, and staying connected with other arts educators.

 “It’s very exciting to see the work that all the veteran MALI teachers, combined with the energy of the new cohort, will bring to the field this year especially,” said Martha Piscuskas, Director of Arts Education at the Commission.  This is a “very dynamic, engaged group,” added Dr. McCullough. “I so enjoyed working with them.”

Below is a 2020 flyer describing MALI and the Summer Institute.  


Maine Arts Leadership Initiative


The Maine Department of Education launched the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative (MAAI) in 2011. In 2014 the initiative changed its title and moved to the Maine Arts Commission. The Maine Arts Leadership Initiative (MALI) is committed to the development of teacher leaders to ensure deep understanding and meaningful implementation of high quality teaching, learning, and assessment in the arts. The Maine Arts Commission continues to provide professional learning opportunities for educators. Over 100 teacher leaders and teaching artist leaders provide workshops at the local, regional, and statewide level. Their work continues to transform arts education in Maine classrooms and communities.

The Maine Arts Commission is fully committed to excellent visual and performing arts education for every learner in Maine: 

"It is critical that every child in Maine is ensured access to a quality, comprehensive arts education - and that arts educators are given all the tools necessary to achieve that goal.  We at the Maine Arts Commission are committed to strengthening arts education throughout the State through several means including the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative.  The Maine Arts Assessment Initiative provides arts educators the time and space to learn, share and advance arts education in this state.  It is a wonderful model for the rest of the country to follow in supporting and strengthening arts education everywhere."     

 Since the spring of 2011 the MAAI accomplished the following:

  • One hundred and twelve PK-12 teacher leaders and teaching artists have participated in summer institutes, building on their knowledge and classroom practice. The focus has been leadership, assessment, technology, and creativity and teaching in a student-centered environment.
  • Teacher leaders provide workshops on a variety of topics throughout the state. At the last statewide biennial conference on October 9, 2015 Arts Education: The Measure of Success, almost 200 visual and participated in 9 workshops. The workshop leaders created resources, including videos, assessment tools and other valuable items.
  • In September 2014 the Maine Arts Assessment Resources website was launched that contains a plethora of outstanding resources to assist those providing quality arts education to students in Pre-K through grade 12. The website is continually growing and providing updates.
  • In the fall of 2015 the Maine Arts Leadership Initiative unveiled the Resource Bank. The bank includes a comprehensive searchable bank of resources developed by MALI Teacher Leaders and divided by disciplines including dance, media arts, music, theatre, visual arts, and creativity. This work is very useful to arts educators, curriculum leaders, and others responsible for teaching and learning in the arts. 
  • Ninety-five arts educators have taken graduate courses available through the New England Institute for Teacher Education.  
  • “Another Arts Teacher’s Story” and Another Teaching Artist Story series of 94 blog posts highlighting the work of Maine arts educators and teaching artists are posted at Maine Arts Education Blog.
  • Seven webinars facilitated by Rob Westerberg and Catherine Ring are archived with meeting plans.
  • Over 2,000 Maine arts educators have participated in one or more professional development opportunities to date including regional and statewide conferences. 

Regional Arts Teacher Leader and Teaching Artist Leader: 

The Maine Arts Education Partners in Leadership will continue looking for visual and performing arts teachers interested in taking a closer look at effective teaching and learning methods based in the arts. If selected, you will be required to attend the three-day summer institute, create a plan for the school year, share what you've learned with others in your region and beyond, and participate in MAEPL conversations online and in person. MAEPL provides opportunities to build on and develop leadership skills.

Program Contact Information

For information about any of the Maine Arts Commission’s arts education funding opportunities or programs, please contact Martha Piscuskas, Director of Arts Education at vog.eniam@saksucsip.ahtram or 207/287-2750.