LEWISTON — When the pre-K–6 Longley Elementary School reopens this fall, among the changes will be:
— A new parent center.
— A Somali interpreter who will help launch a new parent–teacher organization.
— An onsite math coach and a reading specialist.
— A school-based health center administered by St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, which runs the health centers at the high schools.
— Professional development for teachers from the University of Maine at Orono experts.
— Early release for students every Wednesday to give teachers time for professional development.
Those are some of the extra resources coming to Longley this fall, Principal Linda St. Andre told the Lewiston School Committee Monday night.
Longley, cited as one of 10 schools in Maine needing improvement after years of persistent low student test scores, is receiving about $2 million from the federal government for school improvement.
The challenge is daunting. It is a school that historically has the city's poorest students; 96 percent of Longley students live in poverty. Many start school academically behind students their same age. Additionally, the school has the highest percentage of immigrant students learning to speak English, 62 percent.
Despite that, St. Andre said she's excited and optimistic. She's been the Longley principal for almost a month, and “lots of things are already in the works and many things are on their way. I'm feeling very positive.”
St. Andre said she's overwhelmed in a good way by so much community support. Individuals have offered to volunteer. Community organizations and the local universities are offering help.
“People are just coming forward,” St. Andre said. “They're excited and energized by the resources coming our way and want to lend whatever help they can.”
The two big focuses at Longley this fall will be improving teaching and reaching out to parents, she said.
Unlike most schools, Longley lacks a parent–teacher organization because, as one staffer said, parents haven't shown up.
The new organization will build ties between parents and faculty, but it won't be like a typical PTO, which focuses primarily on fundraising, St. Andre said. This one will allow parents an avenue to have a voice and learn what their children are doing in school. It will provide teachers opportunities to learn about parents, to have conversations in informal settings, St. Andre said.
An open house is planned for Aug. 26, right before school opens, to allow parents and teachers to meet.
Teaching at Longley will be different in that it will be “very, very focused on literacy, math. Reading, writing and math will be foremost,” St. Andre said. That will be helped by an in-house math coach, a literacy specialist and a new crop of teachers, since half of the school's teachers and principal had to be replaced as a condition of the grant. Some of the new teachers have backgrounds as social workers or other life skills that make them well suited for the school, St. Andre said.
Several school board members questioned releasing students early every Wednesday, asking don't students need that time in school?
St. Andre said she hopes to bring about programs that will keep most students in school Wednesday afternoons, such as one through Bates College. She said professional development has to happen for improved student learning. School will be released at 1 p.m. Wednesday, which means students will have more than a half-day.
Yet another partnership would be with Lewiston Adult Education. Discussions are ongoing about incorporating adult lessons with what Longley students are learning to foster greater school knowledge among parents, many of whom are adult ed students.
That prompted School Committee member Sonya Taylor to ask would Longley teachers be burdened with having to teach adults too? “Longley is not a pre-K through 95” school, she said.
St. Andre said no, that when adults are learning English, some of their learning material may be parental forms and other Longley documents or instruction materials.
Several school board members praised St. Andre and thanked her for what she's doing, her energy and enthusiasm.
“I'm so impressed with the collaborations and partnerships you have formed to transform Longley,” said School Committee Chairman Jim Handy.
St. Andre thanked the committee for the opportunity. "It's very exciting. I'm connecting with so many wonderful people.”