LEWISTON — From the front entrance to a longer school day, big changes are coming to Montello Elementary School this fall, Superintendent Bill Webster said Thursday after the state announced Montello will be given a significant school turnaround grant.
Montello, a large school where test scores fall below state averages, will receive a $1.8 million grant over three years, the Maine Department of Education announced Thursday. Montello joins 10 other schools in Maine that have received help to boost student achievement through the federal School Improvement Grant program.
It's good news for Montello students, Webster said.
The grant will allow students more time to learn, providing money to add 300 hours of instruction next year, Webster said. Faculty hours will be staggered and an additional bus run added to accommodate extending the school day by one hour.
More time in school “is definitely one of the biggest ways to improve student learning,” Webster said. "I am confident that during the three years we will see measurable improvements in student achievement at Montello.” Lewiston Chief Academic Officer Sue Martin and Principal James Cliffe worked hard on the grant application, Webster said.
Montello has 710 students and is among Maine's lowest-achieving schools. Student proficiency levels are below state averages, with 40.6 percent of students proficient in math and reading.
Of the school's population, 84.2 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and 37.7 percent come from immigrant families and are learning to speak English. Martin wrote in the grant application that Montello's performance “is understandable, but not acceptable.”
The grant requires a change in the principal, which has already happened. Principal Deb Goding retired and Cliffe, who was assistant principal, was recently named to take her place.
Unlike a turnaround grant that Longley Elementary School received three years ago, the grant does not require that 50 percent of the Montello teachers be replaced.
“We learned from the Longley experience that changing that much is not the way,” Webster said. In fact, the school has a goal of retaining more teachers. “We've had too high a turnover at the school,” Webster said. “We're not going to fire or transfer away improvement.”
In addition to a longer school day and a stronger, five-week summer school program in 2014, the grant will pay for professional development, a new math coach and coaches for teachers to deliver the most effective instruction.
There will be more involvement with parents, starting with an Aug. 26 open house from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Montello is updating its website to make it more inviting, and on July 1 the community can follow the school on Twitter.
Extra teacher workshops will focus on math instruction and more education technicians will relieve teachers of cafeteria duties. Instead of monitoring behavior at lunch, teachers will collaborate and “focus on teaching,” Cliffe said. The grant will allow new programs to teach behavior in grades K-3. Better behavior leads to better learning, Cliffe said.
Unrelated to the grant, Montello will get a $200,000 renovation to the school entrance. It “now feels like a hospital,” Webster said. “It will be much more inviting; also offer a higher level of security.”
Some of the programs that happened during Longley school's improvement grant will be replicated at Montello, Webster said.
Longley's three-year grant ended June 13. The school “isn't where we need to be” as far as test scores. “Longley students are a long way from reaching proficiency,” Webster said. “We're dealing with a population that has many living challenges.”
But the Longley climate “is a night-and-day difference” compared to three years ago, he said.
Older students take more interest and responsibility for their learning, and older students coach younger students. "Everyone is talking about going to college,” Webster said.
Longley students have been exposed to field trips that show students what careers they could hold. “They're all engaged,” Webster said.