Lewiston redistricting plan to be aired at schools

LEWISTON — A plan to disperse poorer and English-learning students throughout the city's six elementary schools is necessary, some say, but not everyone agrees.

Redistricting committee members

Members of the redistricting committee who have worked since last year on how to disperse poorer and English-learning students throughout elementary schools are:

  • John Butler, city councilor
  • Audrey Chapman and Walter Hill, community members
  • Bruce Dumont and Jim Handy, School Committee members
  • Steve Gagne, teacher
  • Tom Hood, McMahon Elementary principal
  • Joe Julias, school department technology director
  • Nadine Massey and Dikra Mohamed, Longley Elementary parents
  • Marnie Morneault and Angie St. Hilaire, Martel Elementary parents
  • Joe Perryman, school facilities director
  • Butch Pratt, transportation coordinator
  • Linda St. Andre, Longley Elementary principal
  • Steve Whitfield, Martel principal
  • Bill Webster, superintendent

Schools Superintendent Bill Webster presented the proposal to the School Committee on Monday night. It calls for sending about 8 percent of elementary school students — an estimated 234 out of 3,036 — to different schools next year. Fourth through sixth grade students and their siblings would be allowed to stay at their schools, so the number would likely be less than 234.

It “would impact a very small minority of students in each school. And there would be school choice,” he said Tuesday.

The plan will be aired at each elementary school in the coming months, and information on those meetings will be sent to parents next week, Webster said. The proposal will be taken up by the School Committee in February.

The city's education chief pointed out that when each school represents the makeup of the entire district, students do better academically and socially. Citywide, 23 percent of students are English Language Learners, many of whom are from Somali families; and 67 percent of students qualify for free or reduced meals.

Some schools have a disproportionate number of poorer or English-learning students, Webster said. Longley Elementary has 93 percent of students who receive free or reduced-priced meals and 61 percent are English Language Learners. Montello Elementary has 75 percent of students who get free or reduced-priced meals, and 37 percent who are English Language Learners.

At Geiger Elementary School, 58 percent of students get free or reduced-price meals and and 14 percent are English Language Learners. Farwell school has 64 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price meals, and 15 percent who are English Language Learners.

The redistricting plan would mean, for instance, that Geiger Elementary School would have 61 percent of its students receiving free and reduced-price meals, up from 58 percent; and 19 percent who are English-learners, up from the current 14 percent.

“Research shows schools that are more reflective of the type of diversity are more successful, have greater equity and opportunity, and expose students to situations they're going to experience in middle school and high school,” Webster said.

Next fall there will be 10 new classrooms at McMahon Elementary, which means more students will be moved to McMahon to fill those rooms.

“This provides us an opportunity to rethink the district lines in Lewiston that have evolved over many years,” Webster said.

If nothing is done there will be empty classrooms at McMahon next fall while other schools are overcrowded, he said. “We need a plan.”

School Committee member Sonya Taylor on Tuesday questioned the plan's fairness to families “who have worked hard to buy homes in the more affluent part of town.”

The Ward 5 representative said each school has qualified teachers and programs to help all children succeed, but sending poorer students to different schools would mean less involvement by their parents, who may not have access to a vehicle.

Her other concern is for middle-class families who live in “the more affluent part of town so that they can offer the very best environment for their children,” she said. While some parents have worked “to get what they want in life, there are those who have unfortunately fallen into a cycle of dependency on state aid.”

"Let's be real," Taylor said. There aren't many parents who would be willing to bring their children downtown to play with a classmate “at an apartment building that has bug-infested mattresses laying out front.”

Responding to her concerns, Webster said redistricting would be “sensitive to the impact it has on families who have made decisions to where they live.” That's why the proposal is recommending that fourth- through sixth-grade students and their siblings stay at their schools.

Marnie Morneault, a member of the redistricting committee and Martel Elementary School PTO president, acknowledged redistricting students is tough.

“We recognize this is an emotionally charged proposal” and parents have bonds to their schools,” said the mother of three, but change is needed.

She said redistricting is needed and would be best for all Lewiston students.

Redistricting “would make school sizes more equal, classroom sizes smaller and more equitable. A lot of thought has gone into this,” she said.

The meetings at each school will allow parents opportunities to ask questions and offer suggestions, Morneault said.

What's needed is to “step back and realize this is about the children, not my emotional attachment to a school,” Morneault said.

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Comments

Sonia Taylor's picture

Better equipped for low income and immigrants

To Tina, you are wrong in saying that the schools in the more affluent parts of town are better, they just meet the needs of the children that attend there. Apparently you are not familiar with all the changes that they have made at Longley School to improve teaching skills and offer many many more programs that adjust to the special needs of the children that attend there. Not to mention how they go at great lengths to help parents help their own children. There is also a clinic located at that elementary school that there is not in any other school. Longley at this point is better equipped and better funded to meet the needs of low income and immigrant families. Shuffling the kids around may actually decrease the amount of programs available to them because they are not offered as extensively in the other schools. As for the name calling don't worry I not only have a big mouth I have big shoulders. Just be careful because it sounds like you may have the same attitude about the middle-class. If you are a parent of LPS students I encourage you to attend the meeting at your child's school, a notice will be sent home.

DONALD FERLAND's picture

Apparently you misread what I

Apparently you misread what I said. I NEVER said the schools in more affluent neighborhoods were better. I claimed that the LPS are failing even in the affluent neighborhoods. In fact it was you who made the mention to affluent neighborhood schools..."Her other concern is for middle-class families who live in “the more affluent part of town so that they can offer the very best environment for their children,” she said." I am a parent of a student currently in LPS and a parent of a former student who has gone on to college. I am aware of the changes made at Longley and my point was and is....ALL schools should be offering the same standards to ALL students whether poor or rich, English speaking or ELL. The shock when the children go to the middle school is all consuming for some. It is easier for children to adapt to cultural differences when they are young, by the time they hit that pre teen age it is more difficult for them to be accepting of others differences. As far as the special needs programs, they are NOT all equal and they should be. Redistricting would give the schools a chance to improve test scores and get the state and federal government off our backs but as long as there are school committee members who want to continually compare based on whether children are rich or poor, can speak English or not then we will go no further then we are and are apt to lag behind. It is time to get with the times, stop comparing and start doing.

According to you..."From grades 1 through 8 I attended a private school. My parents were hard working people, my mother worked in a shoe shop and my dad worked for at the time Pioneer Plastics. The majority of my peers at school came from prominent neighborhoods and for the most part had parents who were well educated individuals and had good paying professions. I say all this to say this, it was hard going to school with kids who always had more than me, who had nicer and more expensive clothing than me, who at Christmas time got all the big new toys. To me it was just an added stress in trying to get a good education." Do you think this becomes easier for the children once they attend the middle school. It would be easier for them to learn, understand, and adapt at a younger age.

I would attend the meetings but at this moment in time any redistricting would not affect me or my children and as angry as I am with the attitude of poor or rich, English speaking or ELL I would be more of a distraction then a help.

Sonia Taylor's picture

Is it really better for all?

Although this article shows a few sides of why we should be making these changes it does not show all possible outcomes or scenerios. I was raised on Blake St. in Lewiston most of my childhood, my parents were Canadian immigrants, which I guess that would have made me an ELL student. From grades 1 through 8 I attended a private school. My parents were hard working people, my mother worked in a shoe shop and my dad worked for at the time Pioneer Plastics. The majority of my peers at school came from prominent neighborhoods and for the most part had parents who were well educated individuals and had good paying professions. I say all this to say this, it was hard going to school with kids who always had more than me, who had nicer and more expensive clothing than me, who at Christmas time got all the big new toys. To me it was just an added stress in trying to get a good education. At times it made me feel that even though my parents were doing their best their best was inadequate compared to the lifestyle my fellow classmates could have. The thought of evening out the poverty and ELL students ratio in our schools is very unnecessary to me. Who is it going to help, the children who now are placed in a particular school because of their families socioeconomic standings and language diversity, or the parents of students who cannot or can keep up with the Jones'? Could the overcrowding be resolved by the redistricting of a few streets?

DONALD FERLAND's picture

So the affluent neighborhoods

So the affluent neighborhoods have the best schools? Get real, how many of Lewiston schools are actually meetings standards? All 6 of the elementary schools end up merging into a middle school that handles students from EVERY neighborhood in Lewiston. I agree we need to redistrict and try to even out the demand on all the schools. And I resent someone who has a husband preaching the word of God taking such a bigoted stance on this plan. As a city we need to provide the BEST EDUCATION for ALL students and not just for the ones from affluent neighborhoods. I think the plan should not focus just on moving ELL students and poor students but should focus on moving ALL students so they are able to spend more time in school then on buses, we should even out the number of students in ALL schools so that class sizes are about the same across the board, we should make sure our teachers have everything they need to meet the needs of ALL students, we should make sure our special ed programs in all schools are equal and not focus our special students to just a few areas. This is about ALL children and not just rich or poor, English speaking or ELL. And Ms. Taylor from the sounds of your comments you are more about segregating then integrating. I feel sorry for the district you represent.

Catherine Pressey's picture

Wow! those that have fallen into dependency

Do to the fact that there are no jobs, for most that wish to have one, to better their place in what this article seems to imply a class division in our schools, we had busing of students long ago. Just because someone can not afford to live in the upscale area, the comment in the story that they the parents that had worked hard to make sure their kids are educated in the best of the areas schools. This is implying that others that can not find work that is sufficient to allow for that same prosperity have not and do not want to work hard also. I luckily do not live in those school districts, however it has long been know that some have and some do not. And since when did parents let their upscale kids mingle with the masses in the first place. We all attended the same schools, but that did not mean that some of our class mates parents allowed those friendships to come to pass. Yes there is class and discrimination in our country, still. I found this story sad indeed. GUESS THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 1% TORS OR UPPER MIDDLE CLASS, and the 50% or below that are now in this so called great country in poverty. So was this story necessary pointing out the lunch programs, etc. I guess this is news, I think not.

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