This is a great story. For eight years, Maine had a hot-headed Tea Party zealot as Governor. Paul LePage appointed a homeschooling parent as Commissioner of Education. He made racist remarks. He followed Jeb Bush as his idol.

In November, Democrat Janet Mills was elected. Competence, intelligence, sanity. Wow!

The educator she chose as Commissioner of education was stunned. She is amazing!

BRUNSWICK — The Saturday morning after Janet Mills won the gubernatorial election in November, Pender Makin sat in bed with her computer, sipping some coffee and preparing to compose a letter to whoever would be the next commissioner of the state Department of Education.

“I was on the one hand so filled with hope for a much better future for Maine, and also filled with exasperation due to some significant issues that I was concerned about at the department,” she recalled Dec. 28.

“‘Dear new commissioner,’” the Scarborough resident’s letter began.

Then, she said, “I basically laid out what I thought should be the most immediate strategic goals for that post.”

Makin, Brunswick’s assistant superintendent of schools since 2015, had no idea she was writing a letter to herself.

Even though she never planned to send the letter, deeming it just a way to organize her thoughts and feelings, Makin had started to establish a platform of issues and priorities that would serve her well in the weeks ahead.

The state Senate and Education and Cultural Affairs Committee are due this month to confirm Mills’ nomination of Makin as Education Department commissioner. She would replace Robert Hasson of South Portland, who former Gov. Paul LePage tapped for the role in March 2017…

Makin said she was asked out of the blue in early December to attend an interview in Augusta with a cabinet screening committee.

“I said, ‘of course I will,’” she recalled. “How would I ever not? … I wake up with a sense of urgency; I consider it a complete mission, public education across the board.”

Makin saw the interview as a chance to share her beliefs about education with “a bunch of smart, powerful people,” but didn’t imagine herself much of a contender for the post…

Taking the reins of the department at the dawn of a new administration, “I see Maine as being in a prime position to be influencing national education policy, rather than reactively responding to every little whim that’s happening (at the federal level),” Makin said.

“We have the most unique demographics, we have innovative people in our classrooms all across the state,” she added, plus “a lot of passion and determination, hard work, and all the things that make Maine a real leader educationally. I feel that we maybe have squandered every opportunity to highlight that at the national level.”

Makin also said she sees Maine striving to achieve a world-class education for its students and pushing back against federal policies with which it doesn’t agree, instead of “absorbing blindly whatever gets handed down to us.”

She recalled implementation of the “No Child Left Behind” initiative in 2001, which launched a period of externally driven policies that created a culture of fear-driven accountability. Non-educators were telling educators how to teach, she said, and using sometimes punitive methods to try to bring about success.

But educators “don’t respond to carrots or sticks,” Makin noted, pointing out that the new teachers she meets each year come with a passion and idealistic desire to do the best for their students.

“They arrive pre-motivated,” she said. “… They don’t need to have their professionalism stripped away and replaced with something to implement.”

“Government’s role should pull back, and focus on bills and initiatives that provide infrastructure,” Makin said. “Let’s look at innovative ways to provide … universal (pre-kindergarten). How can we raise up teacher bottom pay so that they’re recognized for the amount of education and work that they do to become teachers? How do we create equity across the state?”

“These are great, big things,” she continued. “I think government should stay out of the classroom; I think government should stay out of the transcripts,” and retreat from “micromanaging the actual operations of our schools.”

“When you take leaders, and you strip from them their leadership and you replace it with stuff to manage, you’re not fostering leadership,” Makin said. “So I think we need to just have a different lens.”