Name: Jana Boody-Billings
Town: Garland, Maine
Major: Public Policy with a concentration in Education
When Jana Boody-Billings started her education journey, she expected to get a bachelor’s degree and maybe a master’s. She planned on being a lobbyist in Washington D.C.
More than 30 years later, she’s a Portland High School social studies teacher who will graduate with a PhD in Public Policy this week — her fifth time graduating from the University of Maine System and her third time from USM.
Initially, she chose USM because it was local. She kept choosing USM because of the people
“I quickly began to know the faculty and felt like I had a personal relationship with them,” she said.
Boody-Billings received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Maine in the late 1980s and earned her master’s degree in History from there in the mid-1990s. To help pay her way through graduate school, Boody-Billings got a job in adult education — and she fell in love with teaching.
“Many of my students were high school students who didn’t complete traditional high school. . . I enjoyed helping them understand the connection between history and real life,” she said. “In teaching in a more traditional high school for most of my career, it is fascinating for me to see students come in in September and then the growth that they make as students and as young people when they leave in June.”
In the early 2000s, as she moved her career from the classroom to school administration at the local and state levels, Boody-Billings earned her Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership from USM. After she had her daughter in 2008, she decided to return to teaching high school.
But she realized she needed more education herself.
“In Portland, so many of my students struggled in reading or their first language wasn’t English,” she said. “If I could make them good readers, I figured I could make them good social studies students.”
Boody-Billings returned to USM, this time for a Certificate of Advanced Study in Adolescent Literacy. She graduated in 2013.
The knowledge she gained was tremendously helpful in the classroom, where she now weaves literacy work into her social studies lessons.
“Other than interest and engagement, I would say being a good reader and writer is what makes a good history student,” she said.
Four years ago, Boody-Billings returned to USM for the third time. In the classroom she’d seen firsthand public policy’s impact — for both good and bad — and she thought she might like to become a policymaker herself one day. Who else but a teacher could understand the amazing things public policy could do in education?
She considered a number of schools, but USM offered everything she wanted: in-person classes, a cohort model, a focus on policy, quality instructors, an alliance with experts in the field through the Muskie School of Public Service. And it was local.
The PhD program exceeded her expectations.
“I’ll never look at education policy the same. The way that they have taught me to analyze and evaluate policy — and not just the policy itself but all of the people who are involved in making that policy — has been really important,” she said.
For now, nothing will change in Boody-Billings’ career. She remains committed to Portland High School and her students. But the knowledge she gained will be invaluable if she moves to public policy later in her career. And there’s the fact she’s leading by example.
“My dissertation focus was first generation students in Maine. I feel like being a high school teacher is one of the best leverage points for supporting first generation students and helping them understand their post-secondary options,” she said. “In addition to teaching students about history, I feel like inspiring them to go on to education after high school is one of my major priorities.”