Board rejects grant funds for high school

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LIVERMORE FALLS — RSU 36 school board members voted 9-to-2 Thursday to not seek federal money that carries requirements of “rapid improvement” in students’ test scores.

After most teachers and board members spoke against pursuing the money during the special board meeting, the board voted to continue what they have been doing the past four years, a program emphasizing improvements in literacy and math.

Two weeks ago, officials learned that Livermore Falls High School had been named one of the 10 lowest performing schools in the state, per federal government standards.

With two school systems declining the Significant Improvement Grants, the $12 million promised to the 10 Maine schools over a three-year period dropped to $9 million. That would give each of the remaining eight named schools an average of $375,000 a year over the three-year period, high school Principal Shawn Lambert said.

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A non-binding letter of intent needed to be filed by April 2 followed by an application for the funds by May 7, giving the system one month to devise a plan. While being a non-competitive grant, the school would still in essence be up against the other eight schools for the amount of money received over the three years.

Some favored at least submitting the letter of intent then forming a committee to “do our homework,” said board member Denise Rodzen who felt the opportunity to improve more should be explored.

The money is substantial and could be used for professional development, Lambert offered as two pluses of the grant. The challenges outlined included replacing him as principal of the school and creating an evaluation system based on student Scholastic Aptitude Test results.

“There are some benefits to this but there are strings,” he said. “They are looking for rapid, dramatic change within the first year.”

What would happen if that didn’t come to pass was one of the many unanswered questions.

Several wanted to keep Lambert as principal and give him the chance to see the progress made over the last four years. Those students will take there SATs in May.

Many questioned the role of aspirations for many students at the school who are not college-bound but are successful in studying for trades like mechanics.

“To not pursue it (the grant) would be a mistake. We’re struggling to find money but the well is empty. If it helps our students, we should put in the letter,” Rodzen said.

Other members disagreed, saying they believed in what the school is doing now. They also noted other issues presently facing the school system including consolidation and replacing Superintendent Judith Harvey when she retires in June.

 abryant@sunjournal.com

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