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Maine's Teacher of the Year, a USM alumna, is proud to be a 'Maine-ah'

Heather Whitaker '05G, courtesy Maine Department of Education

A University of Southern Maine (USM) alumna has been named Maine’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

Heather Whitaker ’05G, an alternative education teacher at Gorham Middle School, was awarded the title in an all-school assembly on Thursday, the Maine Department of Education (DOE) has announced.

Whitaker, who holds a MSEd in Literacy Education from USM, was nominated by her former principal, Robert Riley, for her “innovative, can-do nature, her refusal to give up on any student and her selfless contributions to our school community and to her students."

According to the Maine DOE, Whitaker is passionate about experiential learning, and is an advocate for combining learning opportunities with the needs of the community.

Among the many accomplishments of her 18-year career at Gorham Middle School, Whitaker started her school’s garden, which donates over 800 pounds of produce for the local food pantry each year. She also was a founding member of the Gorham BackPack Program, which provides students in her community, experiencing chronic hunger, with food over the weekend. Her alternative education students are active volunteers for both programs. The program was recently awarded a $25,000 State Farm Community Assist grant.

Whitaker was selected from a pool of more than 300 teachers who were nominated by a member of their community earlier this year.

The Teacher of the Year Program is a year-long process that involves educator portfolio and resume submissions, interviews, oral presentations, and classroom visits made by a selection panel comprised of State Board of Education members, school administrators, Maine Department of Education staff, former Teachers of the Year and other Maine business partners.

The Maine Teacher of the Year program is administered by Educate Maine, a business-led advocacy organization, in partnership with the Maine Department of Education and the Maine State Board of Education. Funding for the program is generously provided by Bangor Savings Bank, Dead River, Geiger, Hannaford, Maine Lottery, and Pratt and Whitney.

Whitaker’s biggest love is her family. Her husband, Marc, son Trent and daughter Maeve inspire her daily, according to the Maine DOE. She loves hosting friends at her house, can be found in the mountains skiing during the winter and is proud to be a “Maine-ah.”