Lewiston School Committee faces negative feedback at redistricting hearing

LEWISTON — Most residents who spoke at Monday's School Committee meeting criticized a proposal for redistricting that would affect 223 current students at McMahon, Montello and Geiger elementary schools.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Parents listen during the Lewiston School Committee meeting at Lewiston High School on Monday. About 90 people attended the meeting that focused on redistricting.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Robert Strong of Lewiston speaks out against the redistricting committee recommendation during the Lewiston School Committee meeting at Lewiston High School on Monday. Strong is a parent in the Geiger Elementary School district.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Redistricting committee member Audrey Chapman speaks about how difficult the process of coming up with a recommendation has been.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Robert Strong of Lewiston speaks out against the redistricting committee recommendation during the Lewiston School Committee meeting at Lewiston High School on Monday. Strong is a parent in the Geiger Elementary School district.

The move would redistribute a percentage of English language learner students, moving them from Montello to McMahon and Geiger to help fill newly available classroom space at McMahon and make schools more representative of the city's demographics, Superintendent Bill Webster told a crowd of about 100 at the meeting.

The School Board and the Lewiston Redistricting Committee are set to hold a work session Feb. 25 to consider points made by residents Monday.

Some residents, like Robert Strong, questioned why only the schools closest to the average percentage of ELL students would be affected. Longley, where 61 percent of students are ELL students, won't be affected by the proposal. Nor will Farwell or Martel, which are 5 percent and 9 percent ELL, respectively.

Strong, like many, said the plan needed more research and criticized the committee's citing a study on how students perform better in racially and ethnically diverse classrooms. Strong said that the study doesn't address ELL students, who need extra attention to learn the language along with regular schoolwork.

Several, including Sarah Morin, questioned the effect on property values, as people who buy homes for their school districts could lose a main selling point and that some neighborhoods could be vacated.

“There will no longer be the days of better neighborhoods with better schools, therefore our property values will strongly be affected,” Morin said.

Others asked why the process was being rushed. “I feel as if the entire process has been flawed and, quite frankly, kind of sneaky,” Janet Beaudoin said. She said the decision should take more time and consideration.

“The idea of pulling children from the opposite end of the city and busing them to McMahon is disruptive to all students,” Beaudoin said. She said neighborhood schools were preferable and that the plan “seems like a strange social experiment on Mr. Webster's part.”

Jodi Wolverton, president of the McMahon PTO, blamed the harsh reaction on the way the committee and school board presented the issue, ignoring concerns and not studying the issue in enough depth. "We have a divided community because of the approach."

Some pointed out that two members of the committee are on the school board and said they shouldn't be allowed to vote on whether to implement the redistricting proposal.

It wasn't all complaints, however. Several people, both Somali and white, said their children had benefited from having classmates and friends from different backgrounds. One woman, Cynthia Taylor, said that after four years of homeschooling and an unsatisfactory stint at a private Christian school, she and her husband regretfully sent their children to Montello.

Taylor said they were fearful, having heard “horror stories” about violence at the school and about the attitudes of the Somali students there. “I had heard that a lot of the African children, that they fight, and that there were weapons at the school,” Taylor said. “I believed that.”

She said that's changed. There's no more talk of race in her home. Taylor listed off the names of her children's friends, including Jacob and Muhammad, Anastasia and Abdullah.

“I believe that my way of protecting my children is by preparing them for the future,” Taylor said. She said that exposure to diversity is part of that. “My kids are very, very safe at Montello.”


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Jennifer Chretien's picture

Let me start by saying I

Let me start by saying I don't live in Lewiston nor do I have children. I have read many articles about this restructuring proposal and honestly I can't believe the attitudes of some of the parents who are against the plan. As someone who is not from this area I have to say this is what I am hearing...The rich white parents are more concerned with their property values, which quite frankly I find pathetic. The parents who are opposed to this plan come across as elitist. Whether or not this decision is being rushed, I can't really say, there may be some validity to that argument. On the whole I think it's worth looking at and doing. The school board has a responsibility to ALL students. To offer them the best environment to give them the best education they can provide. I am sure that my comments will be torn apart but I really don't care. Everyone has the right to their opinion and this is mine.


Very well said!

Very well said!

Robert  Strong's picture

ELL Working Group idea stripped from proposals

Students in racially and ethnically diverse classrooms do, in fact, perform better—all students. In addition, the single research study cited by the Redistricting Committee concludes, all students perform better in majority-white classrooms. Leaving aside that this study has nothing to say about ELL or immigrant populations, its ideal kind of diversity is a McMahon or Montello diversity. If we must make the mistake of using ELL as proxy for race, as the Redistricting Committee does, the study they cite would demand that Longley (61%) and Farwell (5%) be desegregated. This study certainly does not point us to redistrict our three “best diversity” schools and leave our three “worst diversity” schools untouched.

In the period of time projected in the Redistricting Committee proposal, our ELL population will go from 23% to 30%. This projection is not included in their presentation, and it reveals the current Montello numbers (37%) to be our closest approximation of how our classrooms will develop in coming years. We should embrace this future with good cheer, positive community bonds, and solid planning from the School Committee.

The two very different alternative proposals I put forward, so that the School Committee would have the widest range of information and options from which to build their own best redistricting plan, both contained a mechanism for addressing ELL with some substance—something we see in no other proposals—an ELL Working group composed of educators, parents, and community partners.

I was shocked to see that this simple, and much-needed, mechanism was **stripped** from my alternative proposals in their form presented to the School Committee last night. The Redistricting Committee did not inform me they would revise a good ELL idea right out of my proposals.

This is a no-brainer: a cost-free, rational mechanism for moving forward ELL instruction in Lewiston. Or, at the very least, for creating a space where people can come together, work together, and think together about one of the most important things for our good schools. Why this simple mechanism, which is something everyone can agree on as a positive, was stripped from my proposals last night is beyond me. The School Committee is still free, of course, to build it or something similar into their own final redistricting plan.

~Robert Strong


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