Longley school staff sad about changes

LEWISTON — In the Longley Elementary School cafeteria, pre-schoolers chatted as they ate together. When the bell rang, older students filed in for burritos and salad.

Longley School teacher transfers

Melodie Dionne-Klick, from Longley grade 5 to Farwell K;

Heather Blanchard, from Longley grade 1 to Farwell grade 1;

Kaitlynn Brown, from Longley grade 2 to Montello grade 1;

Louise Henault, from Longley grade 4 to McMahon grade 3;

Steve Gagne, from Longley grade 4 to Montello grade 5;

Kelsie Fahey, from Longley grade 5-6 to Geiger grade 5;

Linda Adkins, from Longley grade 6 to Montello grade 6;

Jodie Smith, from Longley English Language Learners to Montello reading recovery position;

Nina Webster, from special ed Longley to special ed McMahon;

Shelley Sansoucy, from Longley K to Geiger grade 1;

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Cheryl Robert, from Farwell special ed to special ed Longley;

Sally Smith, from Geiger grade 5 to Longley grade 4.

Source: Lewiston School Department

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Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Longley Elementary School lunch assistant manager Linda Hayes greets students with a smile as they make their way through the lunch line Wednesday.

For students, days here seem normal.

But for others, “it's very sad here now,” said veteran school secretary Pauline Valliere. “Everybody's bonded together. There are close relationships. … It's being broken up.”

Longley is one of 10 Maine schools offered federal money to improve persistently low test scores. Longley could get as much as $2 million to try to improve its test-score standings.

But the money comes with a catch: Grant providers want dramatic improvement and change. Half of the school's teachers, and the principal, have to go.

“No one is losing their job,” said Human Resources Director Tom Jarvis. “We were able to accommodate all the moves.”

Half of Longley's 20 teachers will be transferred to other Lewiston schools this fall; 10 other teachers will be assigned to Longley.

Longley Principal Tom Hood will become the principal of McMahon Elementary School.

McMahon Principal Althea Walker will become principal of Farwell Elementary School.

Walker will replace Farwell Principal Linda St. Andre, who will be the new Longley principal.

Teachers leaving Longley will fill vacancies at other schools created by retirements or resignations, Jarvis said. Two teachers who may have faced layoffs from budget cuts are transferring to Longley. The school department is looking to hire eight more teachers for Longley.

Staff feelings mixed

The changes have some Longley staffers feeling bruised. They're worried that new faculty may not understand their students.

Linda Hayes, who sees students come through her lunch line every day, has mixed feelings about efforts to improve the school.

“It's great to have the money coming in, but it's very bad some of these people are leaving,” said Hayes, assistant manager of the lunch program. “They are great people to these kids. They deal with these kids in a way you'd have to be here to see it. They know how to handle these kids.”

Longley students deal with a lot of issues, she said, a lack of social skills and language barriers.

And poverty.

An estimated 96 percent of Longley students qualify for free and reduced lunches; the state average is 42 percent. Situated in the city's poorest neighborhood, for years many Longley students began kindergarten already academically behind youngsters the same age in other neighborhoods. In recent years, Somali families have moved in, which means 62 percent of the students are learning to speak English.

Another telling sign is that at Longley there is no parent-teacher group. “We can't get parents to come in,” said secretary Valliere.

Help is needed, Hayes said, but she questioned what any teacher could do when her sixth-grade class has 26 students, half of whom cannot speak English well enough to learn their lessons.

“They needed this before,” Hayes said. Not meeting test-score expectations has nothing to do with the staff, she said. "We need resources. It's sad to lose our teachers. They're awesome.”

In the teachers' lounge, they said it was frustrating that resources they've needed may come and they won't be there to reap the benefits. It's hard, one said, to leave a school they love.

“The three of us here have collectively almost 70 years here,” said teacher Steve Gagne, nodding to teachers sitting near him. Gagne is being transferred to Montello. “But I went into education to teach kids," he said. "Which school isn't the most important thing.” He hopes the changes help. “We have to try.”

As far as she knows, Title I teacher Amy Gagnon isn't leaving Longley.

“I love it,” she said. “The moment I walked in the door, people were so friendly and welcoming. We all help each other out. It's like a big family.” Teachers work hard to help students, she said.

Hopeful about 'cataclysmic shift'

Jim Handy, chairman of the Lewiston School Committee, said it will take courage and time for everyone to adjust to the changes. He's excited about the possibilities.

The Longley plan in the grant application proposes to boost student learning in part through longer school days and a longer year for students who need more learning time. Teachers will use test data to monitor and adjust lessons.

Lewiston Adult Education will become a partner and an ally in involving parents. “That is a brilliant move,” Handy said. “They've got insights on how to bring parents in.”

Some Somali parents are learning English and other skills through adult education classes on the other side of the Multi-Purpose Building, the same one that houses Longley.

How much reform can be done will depend on how much money is awarded, Handy said. That won't be known until mid or late June.

He's optimistic reform will improve student learning, but it will take three years to see results, he cautioned.

“This is a cataclysmic shift we're talking about, a major shift in the way we do business,” Handy said. “It will allow us to take a school that has been traditional in the way it operates, look at the daily schedule, the start and end time. We'll have additional learning time, teacher preparation time, which none of our schools have.”

The changes will be positive for students, he said. “This opens the door to creativity.”

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

It's simple stupid!!!

"An estimated 96 percent of Longley students qualify for free and reduced lunches"

Too bad the jobs are now in China. This situation will never change here, and the oppertunities that Franco Americans had 60 years ago are no longer available. Tell me please, what chances do immirgrants have?
- No health insurance ( dying on the dime )
- No way to better their lives
- immirgrant muslims who do not share American values and look down on Americans which is only ammplified thru poverty and hopelessness. ( the American dream wakes up in China nowdays).
What can you expect?
Maine needs low skill jobs with a deceint income so that the next generation of immergrints have a chance to better themselves and make the economy function. If we don't support the US workers with trade barriers- import taxes, not even socialisim will help up. There won't be enough taxpayers to support the system. We'll be just like the DDR (East-Germany) before the wall fell.

 's picture

Money, not the teachers

None of these teachers should be given any blame. I think that, right now, Lewiston Public Schools is in a really difficult situation with the giant ELL population (and a very challenging population because the kids do not have a home life dictated by American values, then they are expected to become different people when it's time for school). But by doing some shuffling, they are getting funding, and I think that this funding shouldn't simply be put towards more staff and new materials, but in EXPERIMENTING... there is a distinct evasion towards experimenting in Maine public schools in general (for instance, there are no charter schools), and I think a failing school like Longley has absolutely nothing to lose. There should be a complete restructuring of the school, with different experimental methods enacted. LPS is facing an incredible challenge but not an impossible one.

 's picture

Not the teacher's fault

I was a student at the school in the late 80's early 90's and had some of the teachers that are transfering. You would think it would be the teachers fault if the grades are soo low, but under these conditions it is not. Over half of the kids in the school can't even speak english. If they cant speak english then of course the test would reflect poorly. Changing the teachers would have no impact. What needs to be done in order to improve the test is to either have the test printed in there language or teaching the kids English first before teaching them the curriculum. Think about it would you do well with a test in French when you speak and write in English I think Not. So how can you expect the same from the Somalis? You shouldn't.

 's picture

Mandatory

I like that mandatory in this day not going to happen . The teacher are not to blame like I said before it is the Lewiston School District . BUT let see if this does not back fire on them .

 's picture

bingo

nail on the head, kids are kids, but when you are not brought up speaking English in a family atmosphere it takes extra work for the teachers and drags the rest of the kids(not on Purpose)down with them, .....perhaps starting an additional course for young none English speaking children of families and including the parents....make it mandatoryFor the kids anyways.

 's picture

bingo

nail on the head

 's picture

Money is not the answer to

Money is not the answer to this problem. The Somali community has been dragging its feet when it comes to assimilating to this community for years and we have allowed them to get away with it. What is seen at the surface is not what lies underneath. Our caucasion welfare queens have been allowed to get away with being unresponsive, irresponsible parents, who shouldn't have had children to begin with. Being responsible parents is definitely not their strong point.

 's picture

ENGLISH

English do not give that ? Money talk's like I said before .

 's picture

THING ARE GOING DOWN HILL

If the Lewiston School District does not see what the teachers see maybe it is time to move them around to. Money talk I guess ?? That is all I am going to say ......

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