Risk-taking motivates Portland charter school's new leader

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PORTLAND — Showing what STEM-focused education can become is a key goal for Angela Atkinson Duina, the new principal of faculty and instruction at the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science.

Atkinson Duina joined the 5-year-old charter school Aug. 1 and said what she most appreciates about Baxter is its willingness to take risks and to question the status quo in traditional schooling.

Her career in education started with teaching middle-schoolers at an independent school that provided a free education to girls from low-income families. Atkinson Duina taught language arts, Spanish and science.

Most recently she served as director of research, assessment and data for Portland Public Schools, “where her emphasis was on continuous improvement and innovation,” according to a Baxter Academy press release.

Atkinson Duina has a master’s degree in education from Harvard and a doctorate in education from Boston University.

“Her approach to student-centered education will sustain Baxter’s commitment to individualized learning, while her emphasis on data-driven decision-making will help us continue to improve curriculum and instruction,” Kelli Pryor, executive director at Baxter Academy, said.

Atkinson Duina will work “in close partnership” with Angie Taylor, Baxter’s new principal of students and curriculum, the press release said. And both “will collaborate in steering the school’s STEM mission.”

Atkinson Duina and Taylor, who is also the dean of students at Baxter, replace Michele LaForge, the founding head of school, who was hired as the principal at South Portland High School this past spring.

Baxter Academy was specifically founded to provide a science, technology, engineering and math-based education that’s “aimed at building the 21st-century skills necessary for innovation, critical workforce development, and global competitiveness,” the press release said.

Atkinson Duina lives in Cumberland with her husband, Francesco Duina, a professor at Bates College, and their two children. Her son is entering high school and her daughter is entering middle school.

“As a family, we’ve also lived for short stints in Copenhagen, Denmark and British Columbia, Canada, but we keep returning to the wholesome virtues of Maine,” she said.

When the couple first moved to Maine about 17 years ago, Atkinson Duina worked at Poland Regional High School, where she was a Spanish teacher and then selected to serve as the dean of faculty. That’s also where she first met and worked with Taylor.

Atkinson Duina joined the Portland Public Schools central office in 2015, when she initially worked as the school improvement coordinator for the city’s high-poverty schools. In addition, Atkinson Duina chaired the committee that created the district’s new Family Partnership Policy.

“I’m attracted by schools and educators who believe that all of our children deserve a high-quality education, that high-quality education can look different than we’re used to seeing, and who are willing to take some risk to show that,” she said about Baxter Academy.

“The leadership and faculty have accomplished so much in the first five years (and) I’m confident that even greater things are in store for them. I’m excited to be a part of defining what the years ahead will look like at Baxter Academy.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Angela Atkinson Duina is the new principal for faculty and instruction at Baxter Academy in Portland.

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