Ms. Pryor began her career early—as a sixteen-year-old reporter at her hometown newspaper. From that lucky jump-start, she developed a keen respect for the power of letting young people do the real work of the world. That respect is what attracted her to being part of the founding board that secured Baxter Academy’s charter and helped open the doors for students ready to get their hands on projects they love.
After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Ms. Pryor pursued her career in New York City, where she worked as everything from an intern at Life magazine to head of the research department at New York Magazine. She was on the start-up team for Entertainment Weekly, an experience that deeply informs the work she is doing at Baxter in its rigorous early years. Kelli is the author of both nonfiction and fiction books and is also a Sundance Screenwriting fellow, writing for studios such as Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, and Sony Pictures Entertainment, as well as for television.
Since 2002, she has also been the director of the CAFAM Chinese School in Portland, where she has helped engineer a program that inspires learning through meaningful explorations of Chinese innovation, art, language, and culture. Her work at the Chinese School was inspired by her twin daughters’ love for Chinese culture, and it was their interest that first brought Baxter Academy to her attention. Her daughters will be part of Baxter’s second graduating class in 2017.
Michele LaForge is an exemplar Baxter Academy’s mission. The Head of School needs to be someone naturally sees the interconnectedness of one subject to another and that is Ms. LaForge. She has a background in both math and Russian literature. She is an avid reader who has worked in academic publishing. She is a creative and versatile educator who brings math alive in the world around her students by using her own curiosity to engage theirs. She is also a highly competent leader who inspires the confidence and trust of teachers and administrators alike. Parents revere her.
Bob Strong, principal at Freeport High School, says of her: “Michele is a natural leader. She has great ideas and presents them well, and brings people along. She has faced tough challenges but has moved her team by example. Her interpersonal skills are just remarkable.”
Her former principal at Freeport (now at USM), Tom Edwards, adds that “one fantasizes about who might be a successor, and I would’ve loved if Michele would have considered that [when I left four years ago]. Now she’s ready.”
Chris L’abbe, principal at Holy Cross, worked with Michele for many years at Freeport and says of her: “In Michele, you have a great leader who will bring your staff, students, and community together. She is one brilliant person who has leadership and people skills. She doesn’t shy away from anything hard. She is the best of the best.”
Michele herself states her philosophy best: “Everyone can learn. Learning is a product of the activity of the learners. Teachers are the guides, they create the best conditions for learning, they set guideposts, they ensure the standards are being met. They are model learners. They are professionals who act on the research in the field.”
Ms. LaForge lives with her husband and two daughters in Brunswick, close enough to walk to the bakery.
Fun facts about Ms. LaForge: She quilts. She likes to read Jane Austen and science fiction and fantasy. She is learning to play the banjo. She likes new music better than she likes old music. She does not like peppers.
Ms. Driver has spent the last six years working as a school counselor in the American International School of Rotterdam and at Gray-New Gloucester High School, where she has been the Director of Guidance. She grew up in southern Maine and pursued a BA in psychology at Skidmore College, and then a Master of Science in Counseling at the University of Southern Maine.
Working with students from diverse backgrounds, Ms. Driver emphasizes helping young people plan for their lives beyond high school and college: “My hope is that all students will leave high school with the skills to make healthy decisions in many areas of their lives,” Ms. Driver says. “I like to help students feel empowered.” She has helped hundreds of students navigate the college admissions and financial aid process. Her approach involves creating a four-year academic plan with students, as well as working with them to develop necessary skills, such as writing college essays and interpreting test scores. Many of her students have participated in dual-enrollment programs at local colleges and universities to earn college credits while still in high school. She has also advised students interested in other post-secondary opportunities, including AmeriCorps, gap year programs, vocational training, and military options.
As schools nationwide begin the transition to standards-based grading, Ms. Driver has already been instrumental in working toward a proficiency-based transcript and diploma. She has created master schedules, working to ensure all of her students’ credits are in order for graduation.
To provide targeted support for struggling students, she works closely with teachers, parents, and administrators, and she has deep experience coordinating necessary referrals to alternative education programs and resources. She takes a proactive approach to individual and small-group counseling, as well as academic and crisis intervention.
Ms. Driver says, “I like a challenge. I believe in public education, but I also believe that continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is madness. I’m ready to try something different. Baxter Academy's student-centered environment, collaboration between faculty, parents, and students, and passion for learning are inspiring, and I'm very excited to be a part of the community.””
Fun facts about Ms. Driver: She plays bass in various bluegrass ensembles and is learning to play old-time banjo. She likes to cook, boogie board, and tend to her urban garden. “I am most excited about my tomatillo plant,” she says, “but I keep that quiet because I don't want the other veggies to get jealous.”
Mr. Cooper graduated from Gorham High School and studied Broadcast Communications and Film Studies at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. He is now back in Maine, serving as the IT Manager for Baxter Academy.
At Susquehanna University, Mr. Cooper was the Technical Director for the student-run radio station, where he helped keep the station running smoothly and dealt with any computer and audio issues. In addition, he was the treasurer for the Model United Nations Club. He managed all of the club’s funds and organized fundraisers.
Mr. Cooper came to Baxter after doing in-home computer work for clients of Techport, a technology company in Portland. He loves the environment at Baxter, especially how it encourages self-taught learning, critical thinking, and personal responsibility. He is constantly impressed by the outstanding work that students do, especially on their Flex Friday projects.
Fun Facts: Mr. Cooper really enjoys playing music, especially the bass guitar. He has been in several bands with friends and plays gigs in pit bands for musicals. In the winter, he loves to snowboard at Sunday River, and in the summer, he enjoys fishing at Pine Point. Mr. Cooper loves to read for pleasure; his favorite authors are Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut.
From her command center in the school’s office, Ms. Talbot has been the up-front smile and go-to problem solver of Baxter Academy during its first year. She has managed the logistics of major projects, has created organizational systems, and has kept track of who was where when. And she has done it with such grace and attention to detail, that she’s moving in Baxter’s second year to serve as the program coordinator of special education.
Ms. Talbot grew up in Pittsfield, Maine, and graduated from Maine Central Institute. At the University of Maine at Orono, she started as a chemistry major but switched to abnormal/social psychology with a minor in child development and family relations. Her honors thesis was “Sentencing and Treatment of Juvenile Offenders: A Review and Critique.”
She is currently board treasurer of Port Veritas, a local nonprofit focused on creating community through the art of spoken word and poetry.
Fun facts about Ms. Talbot: She spends much of her free time playing table-top RPG, such as Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu. She built a pair of pentagonal speakers for her high-school senior project and likes to surprise people by whipping out traditional Russian dance moves. She always knows where to find the best chai within walking distance of the school.
Mr. Nunez has been teaching for over ten years. Most of his work has been with disadvantaged youth, and with special needs students. He comes to Baxter directly from Spurwink Services, where he has been a special ed teacher and case manager. Past positions for Mr. Nunez include being a faculty member of the English department at the Cambridge School of Weston, an instructor at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and a guest lecturer at the University of Rochester. Mr. Nunez has also worked for the Department of Labor, has written for the National Academy of Sciences, and has consulted for several city/county school districts on issues related to youth violence.
His academic passions are focused on the relationships between teenagers, schools, and their communities. While in Rochester, he designed, and oversaw Project New Beginnings, an academic program for incarcerated and at-risk youth, that continues to this day.
Mr. Nunez is a graduate of Hampshire College and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine. He is currently working on a second masters in Special Education administration. At Baxter, he will be spearheading the Special Education services, as well as supporting his fellow teachers on effective student engagement strategies. He’ll also teach a course or two. He lives in Portland with his wife (and brilliant sculptor) Christine. Mr. Nunez says, “I am beyond excited to join this team and grow this school!”
Fun facts about Mr. Nunez: Everyone calls him Mo. His first language is Spanish. He produces music and performs under the name mosart212. He has a dog named Count Basie Caswell Nunez.