Lewiston parents ask for neighborhood schools

LEWISTON — In the last redistricting meeting with parents of individual schools, Martel Elementary School parents had few questions for Superintendent Bill Webster Tuesday night, since redistricting wouldn't impact Martel students this fall.

Webster explained that long-range plans call for closing Martel in five or six years, replacing it with a new school for students in grades three to six from Martel, Farwell and Longley schools. That would only happen, he said, if and when Lewiston secured state funding.

In that plan, Martel prekindergarten to second grade students would go to Farwell Elementary, while Longley prekindergarten to second grade students would remain at Longley.

While Martel parents seemed satisfied Tuesday, parents from other schools attending the meeting did not.

They voiced objections to moving 223 students this fall and said students should go to school where they live.

On Feb. 11, the Redistricting Committee will recommend to the Lewiston School Committee that McMahon, Geiger and Montello schools' boundary lines be moved so 223 students attend different schools.

The committee's goal is to move downtown English language learner students from Montello to Geiger and McMahon. ELL students make up 37 percent of Montello's population, which is too high, the committee has concluded. All Lewiston students would be better off if all schools reflected the city's diversity of 24 percent, Webster said.

Several parents were unhappy to hear Webster report that the Redistricting Committee on Monday rejected four alternative proposals from parents, because, Webster said, they did not do enough to even out the ELL ratio in schools.

That frustrated McMahon parent Tom Gardner. Looking at Redistricting Committee member Marnie Morneault, who is also a Martel parent, Gardner asked: “What was the reason you guys do not like neighborhood schools? You rejected everything about neighborhood schools.”

“I don't think the committee was trying to reject neighborhood schools. They were trying to do both things (promote neighborhood schools and create schools with more equitable diversity),” Morneault answered. By moving some school lines slightly, that still left some neighborhood schools intact, she said.

Gardner disagreed and said he doesn't understand why, “when the community is asking for neighborhood schools,” Gardner said. “Let's keep these kids together.”

McMahon parent J.R. Davis said he also favors neighborhood schools. He's read articles the committee has researched that show students do well in racially and ethnically diverse classrooms.

Other research shows that parent involvement is the most important predictor of academic achievement, Davis said, adding that's more likely to happen when students live in the neighborhood where their school is.

“My preference is not to waste taxpayer dollars and school resources to bus students out of their neighborhood schools,” Davis said.

Peg Hoffman of the Visible Community said her group represents families of downtown students, both native Mainers and children of Somali immigrant families.

If the redistricting plan goes through, Hoffman said she's concerned about the reception children would receive in schools “where they'd be readily identified as children who live on Knox Street or Horton Street.” It's important that schools receiving downtown students “be compassionate. And not just children from Somali and Somali Bantu families, but from native Mainers who the only place they can afford to live is on Knox Street,” she said.

Lewiston School Committee Sonia Taylor said redistricting would impact ELL families, “and they are not representing themselves at these meetings.” If they have concerns “they need to step up,” she said.

She said she prefers neighborhood schools over redistricting. “Building up neighborhood schools is a stronger, better idea,” she said

The public will be invited to offer comments to the Lewiston School Committee on Feb. 11 when it receives the Redistricting Committee's final recommendation. That meeting will be at Lewiston High School at 6:45 p.m.

The School Committee, which has the final say, is scheduled to vote on redistricting on Feb. 25.

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Comments

ERICA THERIAULT's picture

Open Your Eyes!

Nathan McCarron, this has everything to do with class and bigotry! Why are kids from an expanded McMahon boundary ok and kids from Knox Street are not?! Stop crying about fuel costs, because guess what buddy...they already take a bus! Do you really think it makes such a huge difference in cost if a bus takes a left or a right to drop kids off? Give me a break! Your argument is weak and pathetic, be a big boy and dry your tears!

Nathan McCarron's picture

Answer the question...

This has nothing to do with it. I'm not playing this game with you or the reverend. It always seems when folks lose the arguement based on facts, they throw out these cards of class, bigotry and racism. It is horse hockey.

Do you think the kids coming from Tall Pines and the other housing projects are any better off than the kids coming from downtown?

They just live in different buildings, they still face the same economic realities.

My gripe is LPS does not follow through on plans. They throw around tax payer money because they get an itch which can't get scratched only to change direction months later.

Let's take Martel as an example. It is in rough shape. It is grossly over-crowded. Where are the 9 acres they'll need to build a new school? Next to McMahon.. There's a 40+ acre swatch of land next to McMahon that was donated to the city in the late 70's, early 80's. The only other feasible lot would be the Lewiston Mall property.

Geiger was built for 525-575 kids. Why are they at nearly 740? Because they was no thought or long term planning. Why did 138 kids ask to go to Geiger instead of their "district" school?

Piss poor planning on LPS and the school committee's part should not constitue a crisis for the general public. This is what you've got. An artificial crisis.

Look at the test scores of Montello. It was admitted at the Geiger meeting they will meet the criteria to apply for essentially a reset of the APR based on the number of kids being shifted around. Instead of addressing the low morale and test scores at Montello, they're going to shift kids around hoping it'll remedy the problem. Montello's issue has been over 30 years in the making. It won't be fixed by shifted populations.

Play all the cards you want, kids are kids. They aren't the issue here. They are the victims of a crumbling, poorly managed school system. Maybe Mr. Webster is on the right path. After 10+ years of a couple school board members treating LPS like their fiefdom, I just do not see LPS trending in a positive direction.

ERICA THERIAULT's picture

Grasping at straws

If your question is, "do I think kids from Tall Pines are better than kids from Knox Street?", the answer is no, but I'm not sure what that really has to do with anything. If your real gripe is LPS not following through then it shouldn't matter to you who is filling the 10 new classrooms at McMahon, and you should leave it out of your argument. I have two sons that attend Montello and my daughter will be starting next year. I can assure you that morale is not low, and the teachers are nothing less than spectacular. I would highly suggest you spend a day volunteering there, because I am far too busy to waste my time trying to shed light on people that refuse to see it, and the public misrepresentation of what Montello school is from people who have no first hand knowledge needs to stop.

Nathan McCarron's picture

Been there, done that...

I attended Montello for elementary in the mid 70's and early 80's. It was an awesome school. It is not now.

I have kids that attended Montello. I've volunteered there as well. My kids are part of the 183 that asked out of Montello.

The Montello principal is a warm, breathing rock. She has no business running a school. Need an example? My son attended preK a couple years ago. The bus didn't pick him up. I ended up bringing him to school just before the late bell. When we walked in to the entry, there was a short man wearing a red dress coat. He demanded to know why I was walking in with a child. As I tried to explain the bus never showed up, he made a threatening remark and reached into his coat as if to pull out something. I joked with him I was a foot taller, 100lbs heavier. If he planned on tazing/harming me, I noted he should be sure to stay clear as my falling on him could cause a serious injury. The principal came out of the office to see all the commotion and I asked if she was going to do something about this. She turned around and walked back into her office.

Ask the prinicpal exited, the older lady at the visitor/reception desk passed me a clipboard, asking if I could explain why the bus didn't pick up my son. I politely asked the woman if she was serious. She was. It was all I could do not to break out laughing. Thankfully, my son's preK teacher intervened, got Mr. Red Dinner Coat to stand down, and brought my son to class.

I'd had enough of Montello. We let my youngest attend as the preK teachers are great. Now that my kids are older, they attend Geiger. I'd suggest you spend a day at Geiger. It is night and day. Call it a breath of fresh air, an epiphany...Geiger has been wonderful.

Ball is in your court.

ERICA THERIAULT's picture

Wow!

Tazing! Thanks for the laugh!

ERICA THERIAULT's picture

Neighborhood schools argument holds no weight!

The comments quoted in this article make no sense. First of all, the kids that are being moved from Montello to McMahon take a bus to Montello, because Montello school is too far away for them to walk. They are not being moved out of there "neighborhood school" because if they were attending a "neghborhood school" that school would most likely be Longley, but Longley is overcrowded. As for "parent involvement" being key to a students success I would have to agree, and because it is highly unlikely that parents of these students are walking to Montello for parent teacher conferences, they will be able to be just as involved in their child's education at McMahon as they are at Montello. Longley is overcrowded and Montello is overwhelmed. Something has to be done to make sure ALL the children in Lewiston are getting what they need out of their education,. These kids will all be going to school together soon enough and if half of them aren't learning what they need to in their elementary years it will impact all of them in their middle and high school years. It's funny to me that two of the parents quoted in this article are parents whose children won't need to change schools,they will just have a few new faces in their classroom. They're just not happy with the new faces that will be sitting next to their child. Makes me have to wonder if the whole "neighborhood school" argument is nothing more than a disguise for bigotry and classism.

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

lol

Disguise for bigotry and classism. lol

Nathan McCarron's picture

Oh yes, let's cry wolf Reverend

You're crying wolf Reverend. This has nothing to do with class, bigotry, or racist.

The problem is LPS. LPS is rudderless. It has no direction. It has no plan of with tangible objectives. There is constant miscommunication, poor budget management, and lack of sticking to a plan by LPS and the school board.

Why on earth did LPS buy the land next to Geiger school a couple years ago and suddenly turn it over to the city aborist to be a tree farm? That is wasted money. Why on earth did LPS shell out 10,000,000 for an expansion at McMahon when a new school could have been built on the adjacent land for only a few million more? Why are we now shifting children from all over the city when they could have extended McMahon's boundary by a couple streets east of Pond Road? How much is this going to cost? Is fuel considered in the contract with Hudson Bus? How soon before they come back and ask to renegotiate?

There's no long term planning or thinking with LPS management AND the school board. That lack of long term thinking is wasting money. LOTS of money. Ask Mrs. Taylor how much the old dairy farm property next to Geiger cost the city to buy (and what the original purpose behind the purchase was). That is money (and land) which could have been put to good use. If you've ever been to Geiger during special events, you'd understand why the extra parking was SO badly need. This is why we need change.

When Mr. Webster was hired, one of his first acts was to visit the PTO's at each school. At Geiger, he chatted up all the things he felt were important... such as a roadmap of where Lewiston Schools would be in 5-10-15 years. Guess what doesn't exist? The road map. I asked him point blank at the Geiger meeting, he hemmed, he scuffled with his words, and danced around the question.

Before you start throwing out the bigot and class cards into a discussion, look to the underlying problem. Why did 183 kids opt out of going to Montello this past school year and chose other schools? Ask Mrs. Taylor to hang out at Geiger during dismissal and ask some of the parents why they go there. Because Montello is broken. LPS doesn't want to fix the problem, so they're going to shift the kids around and hope the problem goes away.

Have a good night.

Nathan McCarron's picture

Screw Job

Total screw job by the committee and school board.

I'm calling out Mr. Handy and Shannon, along with Mr. Webster. Since they're preaching from the soap box, they have no interest in listening to the voters.
This whole process has been a total sham, rife with inaccurate data from the get go. Heck, the presentation didn't even have the correct dates when schools were constructed or consistent population numbers.

I know voters have short memories but it is time to clean house come November. Let's put school board members in place who aren't afraid of "big budget numbers" or intimidated by Mr. Handy and Shannon's influence.

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

Sonia Taylor

Sonia Taylor is on your side. You should give her a call and support her because she has made some upset over her stand.

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

Sonia Taylor

Sonia Taylor is on your side. You should give her a call and support her because she has made some upset over her stand.

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

Sonia Taylor

Sonia Taylor is on your side. You should give her a call and support her because she has made some upset over her stand.

DOUGLAS TAYLOR's picture

Sonia Taylor

Sonia Taylor is on your side. You should give her a call and support her because she has made some upset over her stand.

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