Levesque: Some students will need longer school year

LEWISTON — While many Lewiston students take advanced classes, some come to school with barriers to learning: poverty, drugs, disabilities, emotional and physical problems, tough home lives and lack of English skills.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Superintendent Leon Levesque responds to questions from the public after speaking at the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

Jose Leiva/Sun Journal

Lewiston School Superintendent Leon Levesque responds to questions from the public after speaking at the Great Falls Forum at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

Another barrier to learning is being a child in a family that moves often.

“That's one of the biggest issues we have in under-performing schools,” said Lewiston School Superintendent Leon Levesque, who will retire Dec. 31.

In some classrooms, 40 to 50 percent of the students will not be there next year because they've moved, Levesque told a Great Falls Forum audience at the Lewiston Public Library on Thursday.

The barriers to learning are challenges, not dead ends, he said.

“If you accept them as excuses, you give up,” Levesque said. If the challenges are recognized and addressed, “we're on a track to succeed.”

With that, Lewiston has built many tracks in Levesque's 12 years. He listed initiatives to help students succeed:

- A comprehensive English language learner program for Somali immigrant students;

- An autistic program at Geiger Elementary;

- An aspirations lab at the middle and high schools to help students go to college;

- An Early College program that allows students to take college classes while in high school;

- Programs to help students at risk of dropping out; and,

- Pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, among other initiatives.

Asked what advice he has for his successor, Bill Webster, Levesque said he wouldn't leave a to-do list. He'd tell Webster, "Don't worry. The job will find you.”

Levesque, 63, grew up in Augusta. He graduated from high school in 1968. "That June, I was in the Army,” he said, soon on his way to Vietnam.

After his tour, he returned home in 1969, worked double shifts during a summer job at the Statler paper mill, then went to college. As he read about the philosophies of education, “I thought this would be a really good career.” He became a French and English teacher.

'Power in that'

During his years as Lewiston superintendent, Levesque said he worked to build needed programs and to save taxpayers money.

Credited as a frugal manager, Levesque led Lewiston in building three new schools, Farwell and Geiger elementary and the high school's Green Ladle culinary school. The three schools cost $31 million; Lewiston taxpayers' share was $1.5 million, Levesque said.

He cautioned the audience that tougher budget times lie ahead. Federal stimulus money is scheduled to disappear in 2012, when superintendents are predicting significant red ink. If the federal government does not intervene, it could mean severe school cuts or tax hikes.

Meanwhile, many Lewiston students will need more help, Levesque said, as evidenced by the growing enrollment in summer school.

“We have to accept the fact that they're going to need a longer year,” Levesque said. They can't learn all that they must in the time allowed, he said.

Making school tougher is a shift in the philosophy of American education, he said. The philosophy used to be to teach the whole child: "If you focus on the heart, the head will follow.”

Today, there's so much stress and pressure on test scores and student performance that teachers are discouraged from taking the time to build the relationships that motivate students, he said.

“The philosophy has gone completely toward robotic, standardized testing” and punishments for schools that don't meet standards, he said, adding that schools must find a balance.

But for all of Lewiston's challenges, the city has much going for it: the community, Levesque said. Many agencies are working with schools. Remarkable successes are being achieved. The trend of working together is growing, and needs to continue to grow.

“There's power in that,” Levesque said.


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 's picture

What I see is the biggest problem...

...has been the "No Child Left Behind" program. I have several friends that are teachers, and they've told me they HAVE to "teach the test", or their school/district lose Federal moneys. There's GOT to be a better solution; I just hope and pray that we can come up with a better way to WHY we spend MORE than most nations per pupil, yet our test scores are still tanking.

I say leave it up to the educators; yes, there are a few bad teachers, but most of them really DO want to make a difference. Why else would they work for a pittance? I remember teachers that really CARED, and tried to help the underachievers. I totally understand that a lot of kids now have horrific home lives; it was so rare in my days. (50's-60's) But with all the distractions children have now (TV, cell phones, computer in their rooms), that they can easily not buckle down. It always comes back to the parents- if you love your children, you HAVE to try every way you can to keep them engaged. And, it's a bonus, too, because I have learned with MY children, that I have also learned a lot when I help them with their homework! lol

There just has to be a better way- I wish I knew the solution.

 's picture

As someone who both went to

As someone who both went to Lewiston Public Schools for several years under Levesque and briefly worked in them under him, I think he did a decent job. He has no blaring academic successes, but he did a solid job leading the schools in a tough transition period. The LSJ calls Levesque a "frugal manager", and from what I understand on their coverage of Webster, he will lead in a similar light. It's always important to have a superintendent who can manage money correctly, of course, but I think I'd rather see someone coming in who wants to be known for shaking the system up. Going with the flow and slowly changing certain things is partially why education in this country is so messed up. Things need to be seriously messed around with.


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