Should Lewiston schools redistrict?

This animated gif shows the difference between the current and proposed school districts.Lewiston School Department/Sun Journal illustration

Green is Geiger, blue is Montello, tan is Martel, gray is Longley, orange is Farwell and brown is McMahon.

LEWISTON — On the second floor of Montello Elementary School Thursday, sixth graders in Michelle Agate's class worked on their writing projects as Agate offered individual coaching.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Brianna Woods, an English Language Learner education technician, works with sixth-grader Ahado Abdirahman on the 11-year-old's  research project on Alexander Graham Bell at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston on Friday. 

Opposed to redistricting
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Janet Beaudoin, left, Jodi Wolverton, center, and JR Davis, right, are McMahon Elementary School parents that do not think redistricting is the right thing to do the way the Lewiston School Committe has suggested.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

English Language Learner teacher Steve Maroon works with students on a lesson about Martin Luther King Jr. at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston on Friday. 

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Sixth-grade teacher Michelle Agate helps Jacob Caldwell, 11, with his research project on Edwin Hubble at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston on Friday.  

Lewiston schools redistricting public hearing Feb. 11 meeting

What — Lewiston Redistricting Committee will give its final recommendations to Lewiston School Committee on sending 223 elementary students to different schools this fall; impacted schools would be Geiger, Montello and McMahon. Lewiston School Committee scheduled to vote Feb. 25.

When — Meeting begins at 6:45 p.m., Monday, Feb. 11.

So what — The public will be allowed to give their comments Monday night to the Lewiston School Committee before the vote on redistricting, which will be held on Feb. 25.

Where — Lewiston High School

For school department information:

Redistricting mission statement: "We best ensure student academic and civic success by encouraging the location and development of schools that give consideration to both the neighborhood and entire community. Neighborhood schools contribute to a stronger community bond, but the schools also need to be reflective of overall city demographics to best ensure equity of opportunity. All schools across the city should have comparable facilities and equitable programming."

In the class of 24, seven were English Language Learner students. Just before noon, four were pulled out, receiving small group instruction in another class from ELL teacher Steve Maroon.

Back in Agate's room, students researched a scientist of their choice, said ed tech Brianna Woods. One girl wearing a hijab picked Marie Curie, a boy next to her chose Thomas Edison, and another boy was researching Isaac Newton.

The class was quiet and orderly; students were down to business.

One floor down, it was math time in Amanda Hammond's first grade.

Students sat on the floor gathered around their teacher. The white board displayed the problem: 7 – 3 = ?

Using markers, students wrote their answers on hand-held paddles.

“One, two, three ... hold up your boards!” Hammond said.

The class of 21, including seven ELL students, held up their answers. “Seven minus three equals four!” the students answered together.

One first grader offered an observation that pleased the teacher. The girl said she knows that seven minus three equals four because four plus three equals seven. "Those are the related facts," Hammond said. "Nice thinking!”

The class went to the next problem: 4 + 4 = ?

Redistricting reasons: Smaller class sizes, more equity

Montello has a student population of 714, of which 37 percent are ELL students, 75 percent from poor, downtown households. Those percentages are higher than the citywide average for elementary students, which is 23 percent ELL students, 67 percent from poor households.

At Montello, good learning is going on. Teachers work hard. But Montello has more than its share of students from impoverished and immigrant families. Those students often come to school less prepared to learn compared to students from middle-class families.

With a goal of providing more equity for all Lewiston students, the Lewiston Redistricting Committee is recommending redistricting 223 elementary students, 7 percent of the elementary population, this fall at Montello, McMahon and Geiger.

Of the 223, 131 would be downtown youngsters from poorer and/or immigrant families; 87 would go to McMahon, 44 to Geiger.

Meanwhile, 92 Geiger students, mostly from middle-class neighborhoods, would go to Montello.

That proposal is raising eyebrows, angst and distrust among Geiger and McMahon parents who oppose the change.

The public is invited to weigh in on the proposal before the Lewiston School Committee at 6:45 p.m. Monday at Lewiston High School. The school board will first hear the redistricting committee's recommendation, then listen to the public. No vote will be taken that night.

The board is scheduled to vote on Feb. 25.

One big reason for the need to redistrict is to create more room in crowded classrooms.

“Lewiston enrollment is growing, picking up 100-plus students a year, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster has told parents. While most Maine school districts are losing students, Lewiston enrollment is projected to grow from 5,000 to 6,000 in 10 years. “We are atypical,” Webster said. Schools have run out of room and are at capacity.

A school renovation at McMahon means this fall it will have 10 new classrooms that need to be filled. When they are, there'll be smaller classrooms at other schools. Average class sizes at McMahon will fall from 24.5 to 21, at Geiger, 22.5 to 21.7.

Everyone's happy with that.

It's the second reason that has some riled — making Lewiston's elementary schools more equitable.

While Montello has 75 percent poor students and 37 percent ELL students, McMahon has 52 percent poor, 15 percent ELL; Geiger has 58 percent poor, 14 percent ELL. If redistricting is approved, Geiger would have 61 percent poor, 19 percent ELL; and McMahon, 60 percent poor, 24 percent ELL.

Proponents: Changes 'long time coming'

Redistricting committee members have said if all elementary schools more closely reflected the city's diversity, more students would have more success.

“I'm proud of the direction of this committee,” committee member and Longley school principal Linda St. Andre said at a Jan. 7 meeting. Spreading out students with greater needs to more schools “has been a long time coming,” she said.

Montello grandmother Louise Elie said with the higher numbers of poor and ELL students, parents are reluctant to send their children to Montello. “That's one of the reasons this redistricting is so important.” Too many parents opposed are being self-serving, she said, encouraging committee members to “keep in mind the greater good.”

At a Jan. 9 meeting, Montello parent Rachel Dymkoski spoke in favor of reducing ELL students at Montello, and against an alternative proposal to fill McMahon classrooms by moving that school's boundary so it would take in more middle-class families, boosting Montello's ELL population to 40 percent. That plan would bus her student from Montello to McMahon.

“Why is my child good enough to come to your school, but a Knox Street child isn't good enough to come to your school?” she asked.

Somali parent and community activist Gure Ali said he approves of the committee's redistricting plan.

At first, Somali parents weren't sure about it, he said. Now more understand it. Spreading out poorer students and those learning English to other schools will create “more assimilation,” benefiting both Somali and white students, Ali said.

“When you're speaking to the child next to you, you will learn English better. It's going to be a broader opportunity for them to assimilate,” he said. For non-ELL students, “it will give them the opportunity to learn a foreign culture without traveling,” Ali said.

Bates College anthropology associate professor Elizabeth Eames, who has worked with Lewiston's immigrant population, applauded the move to make schools less homogeneous. Her son graduated from Lewiston High School in 2010 and is now at Yale.

The short-term plan doesn't go far enough, she said, because it doesn't change Longley Elementary, the school with the highest number of poor students (93 percent) and those learning English (61 percent).

Eames likes the long-term plan that proposes to, in five years, close Martel Elementary, create a pre-K-2 school for Martel and Farwell students at Farwell, a pre-K-2 school at Longley and, if Lewiston gets state construction money, build a new grade 3-6 school for Longley, Martel and Farwell students.

The benefit of mixing students in the early grades are several, she said. “It puts students in the same boat, getting the same opportunities.” When students of similar backgrounds attend the same schools, “you're depriving the Lewiston population of understanding itself, depriving the city of bonding, coming together and acting like a community.”

When students suddenly come together in one building at the middle school, as is what now happens, “there are bound to be problems,” Eames said. Students look at others who are different and are mystified, she said. "The likelihood of blending is reduced.”

Homogenous groups is “not what public schools are for,” Eames said. “Public schools are for getting people together across class and ethnic lines, to produce American citizens and that melting pot.”

Opponents: Change could 'challenge what we have'

Those opposed to redistricting are skeptical of any benefits, and say they have lost trust in Lewiston educators.

“I'm not a fan of the proposal,” said Janet Beaudoin, the mother of two. “It's not a matter of race,” she said, but more a matter of keeping neighborhood schools.

Jodi Wolverton, mother of three and president of the McMahon PTO, said despite all the meetings Webster held with parents, one for each elementary school, “the process was unfair."

Their concerns haven't been addressed, she said. “Things like the value of neighborhood schools versus forced busing they're proposing, or drains on the resources at McMahon and how it's going to challenge what we have.”

If proponents acknowledged it would be a big change, “but this is what we're going to do to alleviate some of it,'” parents would be more comfortable, she said. It would also lessen concern if proponents said redistricting would be revisited in six months, or if benchmarks were set to ensure success.

J.R. Davis said he doesn't think redistricting “is fiscally responsible.” At first, parents were told it would cost two more buses. Now they're being told it won't. He suspects there will be costs.

And, he added, “they're not presenting any data, in my opinion, to show that's it's an appropriate move for the students.” If they had data that showed it would increase student achievement, “it would be an easy sell,” he said.

Geiger parent Robert Strong presented two alternative redistricting proposals to Webster. Last week, the redistricting committee rejected four alternative proposals from parents.

Strong said he worked with ELL parents to come up with the plans. One would move 87 downtown Montello students to McMahon. That would avoid trading students from one school to another and would not move students to a lower-testing school. It would also lighten the ELL teacher load at Montello.

Under Strong's plan, Montello's ELL population would go from 37 to 30 percent, McMahon's ELL population, from 15 to 24, and Geiger would be left alone.

The redistricting committee, he said, has lost its credibility with parents.

“I attended the last redistricting committee meeting and was surprised by individual (committee) members' disdain for ideas from parents and voters — disdain for full transparency with the public through the city council, and disdain for granting committee representation to parents from the affected schools.”

It's clear, Strong said, “that no proposal other than their own flawed plan will ever receive their stamp.”

While Webster has been available to answer questions, the redistricting committee declined to answer questions last week.

On Wednesday, the Sun Journal contacted redistricting committee member Jim Handy, also chairman of the Lewiston School Committee, asking him to react to parents' concerns.

Handy declined to comment, which is out of character for the ordinarily outspoken chairman. Handy referred the Sun Journal to email redistricting committee spokeswoman Audrey Chapman.

Chapman responded to the Sun Journal by thanking the reporter “for reaching out," she wrote. "I am not going to comment at this time.”

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I think the one thing

I think the one thing EVERYONE needs to think about is that all Lewiston schools are failing. Why is this? Is it the teachers? Is it the curriculum? Is it the diversity of the schools? Is it the ELL program? Is it the economics of the parents? Is it the fact that many parents use schools as a babysitting service without doing their part at home in making children do there homework? Is it the state tests?

Why are parents of middle class and upper class students so afraid for their children to mix with lower class students? We are not talking about moving every child in this city. We are only talking about 223 students. The long term solution for Martel is going to affect more children then that but it needs to come. Martel is in a poor location with no room to grow and it is one of the better schools in Lewiston as far as educational performance.

Something needs to change in order for Lewiston schools to be competitive and to prepare students for the world in which we live. Personally, I believe government needs to fully fund schools to give them the tools they need to teach. I believe we need to do away with the NWEA's and other tests that our students take as they do not take into account the big picture....ELL students are at a disadvantage with these tests and not every child is a good test taker. But since there doesn't seem to be full funding or a discontinuation of testing in the near future we need to do something. McMahon is a good school which has room for some children to ease crowding in other schools...lets use it. When Geiger opened it took staff from Montello and other schools to fill its classroom which disrupted many children when teachers weren't there to go to any more. My son used to go visit his kindergarten teacher at Montello on a daily basis until she left. My son also went to McMahon where he connected with his 4th grade teacher and would go visit him on a daily basis. Due to circumstances my so also attended Martel where he came into himself and found success socially that he hadn't had before. Now he is in the Middle School and he still stops by Martel to see his 6th grade teacher. The change when they get to the Middle School is drastic and many of our children are not prepared for it, whether it be socially or academically. We need to get our children on even ground to prepare them for this and starting when they are young is much easier and better than waiting until they are just about teenagers and then expecting them to accept others.

For those opposed to redistricting may I remind you...ALL Lewiston schools are failing so the ones catering to more of the upper and middle classes are no better then those working with the poor.

 's picture

Money is not the answer

I remember the case of Kansas City where the courts took over the schools and actually had a judge running the school system for a number of years. (For those of you who have any interest in history, not unlike Lewiston that was so corrupt in the years prior to World War II that the courts took over Lewiston and ran it for a time.)

The Feds poured millions into the Kansas City schools. Tens of millions. No improvement in educational attainment was the result.

I recommend reading the book "Switch." Look at the schools that are performing and go from there.

Lewiston is an incredible challenge to educators. Very unlike any other city in Maine and probably unique in the USA. I wish the city well. It will take a large number of tough decisions and great follow up to turn this very troubling situation around.

A successful educational experience requires (1) outstanding educators (2) determined, goal-oriented students and (3) firm and unyielding parental support. If just one leg of the triangle is missing, the outcome is very much in doubt.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Yes, and one could safely say

Yes, and one could safely say that at any given time, two legs of the tripod are missing.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

I agree Bob. Moreover, you

I agree Bob. Moreover, you also implicitly stated by absentia that more money, more money, more money... will not fix one of your pillars to success.

 's picture

More on Kansas City

This is a very interesting analysis of the KC story. In the end, the parents rose up, took over the school board, and forced a neighborhood school model.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

“I believe government needs

“I believe government needs to fully fund schools to give them the tools they need to teach.”
That is a broad meaningless statement. What constitutes fully funded? What tools other than a whiteboard and textbooks do schools need? Where is the quantitative stuff?

I’m not sure at this point if anyone knows why the schools are failing. Perhaps we need to look at the families; it has nothing to do about money and all to do with attitudes about education.


The voters of the State of

The voters of the State of Maine voted that the government would fund the schools at 55%....that amount has been cut so many times it is not funny. The kids do NOT have textbooks for all classes, they work from worksheets. The books they do have are so outdated that my college senior had them. And not to totally disagree with you but maybe people should consider that the mandated tests are the problem. Maybe if the hands of teachers were untied and they were allowed to actually educate instead of teaching to the tests our education system would improve....just a thought.

 's picture

Under the Maine Constitution,

Under the Maine Constitution, it is up the municipal government to provide funding to public schools. Only thing that the Maine Constitution states about funding schools, is being able to issue loans to Maine students for higher education. So the State of Maine doesn't HAVE to fund schools at 55% regardless of any vote because if taken to court it would be found unconstitutional based of that language in our state Constitution.

From the Maine Constitution-

"the Legislature are authorized, and it shall be their duty to require, the several towns to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public schools"

Keywords, at their own expense.

 's picture


I mostly agree with you, the tests do seem to be part of the problem. They are a real catch 22 when you get right down to it. We need to have an across the board standard to acertain that the teachers are teaching and that the students are learning at a sufficient rate and level. But, it seems my kids come home every other week talking about this test or that test. It makes me wonder when the heck they have time to actually learn anything!

I remember growing up we had the MEA's (Maine Educational Assessment Test) which was administered to 4th, 8th and 11th graders. I know it changed a few times over the years but it didn't seem like we were always testing. The system is in fact broken; both fiscally and functionally, and we need to do something. I think if we scale back a bit on the testing, as you mentioned, the teachers will actually have an oppurtunity to teach!

MARK GRAVEL's picture

If you don’t test, how do you

If you don’t test, how do you measure competency? How do you know the students are performing at the appropriate national grade level?


How many tests does it take

How many tests does it take to measure competency? Right now these kids take 2 different types of tests that consists of 3 separate parts each. They are tested twice (with 2 different tests) in the fall, a test in the winter, and a test in the spring. They need to take this many tests to judge competency why? Can't the people using the results to measure competency figure out where the students stand without so many tests? Or do the people assessing the tests need to go back to school and learn how to use the tests?

MARK GRAVEL's picture

That does not sound too

That does not sound too excessive to me.
When these kids get into the real world, they are tested and evaluated daily (metaphorically speaking) by their employer. This is good practice.

I’m perplexed why people are so afraid of testing; are they afraid of the possible negative outcome?

I’m also perplexed when people claim testing forces teachers to teach the test instead of teaching? Take for example a kid who is learning grade appropriate fractions. If the teacher teaches fractions, and this material shows up on the exam, is the teacher teaching the test or are they simply teaching grade appropriate material? I would say the later.

I support testing.

 's picture

Gail, Charter schools are not

Gail, Charter schools are not school choice. School vouchers are. Charter schools are nothing more than taxpayer funded schools minus an elected school board. Charter schools will follow government set rules with an appointed board of directors rather than an elected school board. You want real school choice, you want the parent to have a real say, you want competition to public schools? Support school vouchers. That is the only true school choice!

Gail Labelle's picture

Redistricting reasons ?

My question is why are you taking kids from one school which may be closer to thier home and moving them to another school which is father away? Please tell me how this is going to produce smaller classrooms in the future or equal out the playing field?

Maybe more parents may want to think about ways to bring Charter Schools to the table and work on the laws to speed up the approval process and this may solve allot of issues..I have seen how Charter Schools can improve the quality of education and choice for parents.

I really feel moving kids around is not a really great idea, solve the issues you have now with better ideas for education and keep kids in thier own neighborhoods. Take old schools, apply for grants, look at states who have charted schools and bring the kids back to thier neighborhood. And finally look at ways other states, and cities fund thier educational system and maybe see if something they do can help in Lewiston.

Robert  Strong's picture

Alternative Proposal ELL Working Group

The most important component of both the two alternative proposals I have put forward is not mentioned here: **the formation of an ELL Working Group composed of educators, parents, and community partners.**

The redistricting committee DID NOT discuss the ELL component of the alternative proposals when they voted on February 4 to “not accept” them. (A vote that does not bind the school committee.)

To be clear: the redistricting committee REFUSED to “accept,” or even discuss, a reasonable and cost-free ELL measure that is long-overdue in Lewiston. This is just plain weird-- and more than troubling.

Parents, voters, and educators should be disturbed that the redistricting committee gave zero consideration to the ELL Working Group. This committee claims its proposal is about equity for ELL students, but it did not discuss forming a body whose very focus would be ELL students.

On February 11, the School Committee is going to hear the redistricting committee's proposal, which justifies itself on ELL numbers, from a group unwilling to even discuss a serious and simple idea for working on ELL in our schools-- inexcusable.

The good news is that School Committee is not bound by the limited imagination of the redistricting committee's proposal; they are free to construct an intelligent plan from the many good ideas in front of them and their own best judgment.

~Robert Strong


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