New England Secondary School Consortium


The New England Secondary School Consortium Recognizes Champions at Annual Conference

Norwood, MA — The New England Secondary School Consortium’s state and regional Champion Awards honor the unique contributions of New England leaders working to raise graduation rates, lower dropout rates, and send more students on to college and postsecondary-certification programs. The seven 2016 award recipients were recognized for their extraordinary commitment to ensuring that public-school students across New England have a chance to succeed in school, live a fulfilled and meaningful life, and make a positive contribution to the world.

The New England Secondary School Consortium’s 2016 state and regional Champion Award winners:

  • New England Regional Champion: Nicholas Donohue, president and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation
  • Connecticut State Champion: Allan Taylor, chairperson of the Connecticut State Board of Education
  • Maine State Champions: Christine Hesler, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Regional School Unit 14; and Christopher Howell, principal of Windham High School
  • New Hampshire State Champion: Mark Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association
  • Rhode Island State Champion: Sharon Lee, former director of the office of multiple pathways at the Rhode Island Department of Education
  • Vermont State Champion: Helen Beattie, executive director and founder of UP for Learning (Unleashing the Power of Partnership for Learning)
Image, left to right: Mary Anne Butler, Nicholas Donohue, Bill Duncan, Chris Howell, Christine Hesler, Anita Bernhardt, Dr. Mark Joyce, Dr. Helen Beattie, Heather Bouchey, and Cali Cornell. Photo by Julie K. Gray.

“Ensuring high quality learning for every student is a broad-based effort that needs support from a variety of people—but in all cases, it’s individuals that need to accept this challenge, shape this work, and influence our collective efforts,” said David Ruff, executive director of the Great Schools Partnership and the New England Secondary School Consortium. “These champions do this through their deep thinking, their tireless energy, and their unwavering commitment to students they will never know. Far too few students will ever know that their lives have been positively influenced by the efforts of the 2016 NESSC Champions.”

The awards were given out on Thursday, March 17, at the annual High School Redesign in Action conference, which is hosted by the New England Secondary School Consortium in collaboration with the departments and agencies of education in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Now in its seventh year, the conference attracted more than 900 educators, students, policy makers, and business leaders representing 17 states. Nearly 30 New England schools, districts, and community organizations were invited to present at the conference. All presenters have made significant progress raising student achievement, graduation rates, college-enrollment numbers, or other indicators of educational success.

The New England Secondary School Consortium is a regional partnership working to advance forward-thinking innovations in secondary education that will empower the next generation of citizens, workers, and leaders. The Consortium’s goal is to ensure that every public high school student receives an education that prepares them for success in the colleges, careers, and communities of the 21st century. The Consortium is funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the largest philanthropy in New England focused exclusively on education, and coordinated by the Great Schools Partnership, a nonprofit educational-support organization in Portland, Maine.



Regional Champion

Nicholas Donohue is the President and CEO of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. As the leader of New England’s largest public charity devoted solely to education, Mr. Donohue heads efforts to reshape New England’s public education systems to be more equitable and more effective for all learners. Previously, he was a Special Master at Hope High School in Providence, where he oversaw implementation of the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s order to reconstitute the school. Before Hope High School, he was also Commissioner of Education in New Hampshire.

As a sought-after thought leader in education transformation, Mr. Donohue has worked tirelessly to promote equitable learning opportunities and close the achievement gap. Throughout his career, he has championed innovative approaches to expand access to high-quality learning opportunities for all students, especially for those who are underserved. His leadership in education reform continues to challenge traditional notions of schooling to respond to our changing world and prepare all learners to contribute to a thriving democracy.

In 2015, Mr. Donohue was named as one of the “50 People Shaping the Future of K-12 Education” by Getting Smart, a mission-driven organization and online community focused on accelerating and amplifying innovations in teaching and learning. He serves on the Boards of Directors for the International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) and Grantmakers for Education.


Connecticut State Champion

Allan Taylor has been a volunteer participant in education governance for nearly three decades. He became involved as a local education leader in 1989, when concerns about the quality of the Hartford Public Schools, which both of his daughters attended, moved him to run for a four-year term on the city’s Board of Education. During those years, he served as budget chair, vice president, and president of the board. He also served as a board member for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and as the chair of the Advisory Committee for Connecticut’s Strategic School Profiles.

In August 1994, Governor Weicker appointed Mr. Taylor to fill an unexpired term on the State Board of Education. He was subsequently appointed for full four-year terms by Governors Rowland (twice), Rell (twice), and Malloy. He was named chairperson of the State Board in 2005, and has held the position since then. In 2011, he served as president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, and he is currently in his third term as a member of that organization’s board of directors.

Mr. Taylor is a graduate of the North Haven, Connecticut, public schools; Harvard College; Harvard Law School; and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Before his career at a large law firm in Hartford, he served as a judicial law clerk to Judge J. Skelly Wright at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and to Justice Thurgood Marshall at the Supreme Court.


Maine State Champions

Christine Hesler is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the Regional School Unit (RSU) 14 in Maine, which serves the communities of Windham and Raymond. Before joining the RSU 14 team in 2012, she taught fourth and fifth grade and served as assistant curriculum director in Maine School Administrative District 6.

A graduate of the University of Southern Maine and Saint Joseph’s College, Mrs. Hesler continues to share her twenty-six years of experience in curriculum and instructional practice with undergraduate students at her alma maters. She serves on the board of directors for the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association representing Cumberland County. Mrs. Hesler has presented on RSU 14’s proficiency-based learning system at a variety of conferences and schools across Maine, including the Western Maine Education Collaborative and the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association fall conference.

Chris Howell is the principal of Windham High School in Windham, Maine. In addition to his five-year tenure as high school principal, he has served the communities of Windham and Raymond in a variety of roles during his twenty years in the district, including as a biology teacher, assistant principal of Windham Middle School, principal of Manchester Elementary School, and director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for Regional School Unit 14.

Mr. Howell currently serves on the board of Jobs for Maine’s Graduates and on the advisory board for the School of Education and Human Development at the University of Southern Maine. At the state level, he has served as a president and long-time board member for the Maine Curriculum Leaders’ Association. Mr. Howell also has served on several advisory councils for the Maine Department of Education, including the lead team for Next Generation Science Standards and the Commissioner’s review committee for Common Core.


New Hampshire State Champion

Dr. Mark V. Joyce is now completing his 44th year as an educator. He has taught students in grades 7–12 and at the graduate school level, and has served as both a secondary and elementary school principal and an assistant superintendent of schools in New Hampshire. He has also been a superintendent of schools in both New Hampshire and Maine.

Dr. Joyce earned his BA from Niagara University and a teaching certification and Masters in Education, specializing in Educational Administration, from the University of New Hampshire. In 1986, he earned his Doctorate in Education from Boston College, graduating with highest distinction, and specializing in leadership, curriculum, and instruction.

Dr. Joyce has served for the last twenty years as the executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, a private nonprofit organization that represents all school system administrators in New Hampshire and advocates on behalf of all children and public education. In addition, he is a frequent speaker and consultant to businesses and organizations on the topics of education, leadership, and communication.


Rhode Island State Champion

Dr. Sharon K. Lee recently retired from her position as the director of the office of multiple pathways at the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE). Dr. Lee’s responsibilities at RIDE included supervision of adult basic education and general education development (GED), career and technical education, secondary education, Rhode Island graduation requirements, and virtual learning education.

The focus of her work, at both the state and regional levels, was the development of a high-leverage policy framework and associated implementation strategies to provide all learners with access to high-quality personalized-learning environments to ensure college and career readiness.


Vermont State Champion

Dr. Helen Beattie is the executive director and founder of Vermont-based UP for Learning (Unleashing the Power of Partnership for Learning) and co-founder of Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST). As a licensed school psychologist and educational consultant, she specializes in strategies to build school cultures in which youth are both engaged and empowered as learners and change agents. Action research is often central to her efforts. She has co-authored a statewide student leadership curriculum, “Our Voices: Our Community,” and has implemented a project-based middle and high school curriculum titled “Lights, Camera…Leadership!”

Currently, UP for Learning, in partnership with the Vermont Agency of Education and the Vermont School Boards Association, is helping build understanding and support for educational change in Vermont. The “Communicating School Redesign” initiative builds the capacity of high school youth and adult teams to develop and implement research-based communications campaigns.

Helen holds a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University and a Doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts. She is also a graduate of the Vermont Snelling Center for Educational Leadership.


Contact: Blythe Armitage, Communications Associate, Great Schools Partnership: 207.773.0505 |

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