AUBURN — When Ron Potvin went to high school in the early 1970s, his school had thousands of students more than Edward Little, and there weren’t a lot of assistant principals, he said.
As Potvin and other Auburn School Committee members worked on a 2014-15 budget Wednesday night, he was told EL has between 980 and 1,100 students, one principal and three assistant principals.
“Why does Edward Little need all these people at the high school?” Potvin asked.
Looking at a list of duties of the three assistant principals, Potvin said he works as a corrections officer. “I do some of the same things for $35,000 a year.” The assistant principals are paid about $90,000 each. “Is that the best use of that money?” Potvin asked. Could some of their tasks be done by lower-paid staff?
High school today isn’t like the ’70s, Potvin was told. In the post-Columbine era, administrators need time to build relationships with students to foster learning and maintain safety, said Assistant Principal Steve Galway.
“In the ’70s students who smoked pot in the parking lot spent the day high in school,” said Superintendent Katy Grondin. “You could carry a pocket knife in school.” Students bullied others, skipped class. “Nobody cared if you didn’t come to school,” she said. None of that is tolerated today.
When Bonnie Hayes went to Portland High School in the ’60s, she and other students were “scared to death” of getting in trouble. “We were all afraid,” Hayes said. “These kids now are not afraid. They have no fear.”
The combination of schools not tolerating bad behavior and students with more problems requires administrators to act as parents, protectors and educational leaders, administrators said. It takes time to build relationships, help students solve problems and prevent tragedies, Galway said, sharing his typical day.
Galway, who is retiring this year, arrives at 5:45 a.m. The doors don’t open until 6:30. But, “if I wasn’t there, there would be a young man standing in the cold,” Galway said. He works until 4 p.m. And often attends night events.
Before school, Galway walks the halls, checks doors, the cafeteria, the gym. He supervises bus loads of students as they arrive and flood the halls.
Galway attends meetings with students and parents, and helps students and parents who lack food. He makes calls to homes of students who miss class, and sometimes he makes home visits.
Galway works with school resource police officers in investigations. For example, on Thursday he and a police officer will have to deal with a student “and we may need backup when we attend to this individual for his actions.”
While school shootings around the country have become a reality, Edward Little was among the first in Maine to develop a response team, Galway said. “Thank goodness we have not had a Columbine.” Prevention takes “eyes and ears,” it takes time to build trust with students who will repeat what they’ve heard to prevent violence.
When he was in high school, he got detention because he went up the down staircase, Galway said.” As an assistant principal, he helps students dealing with homelessness, drugs, social problems, poverty and mental illness. “That’s how things have changed.”
Assistant Principal Jim Horn agreed. In addition to evaluating and coaching teachers, “there are always issues,” he said. “We don’t stop,” adding that he didn’t get a chance to eat lunch Wednesday until 3:15 p.m.
Edward Little parent Michelle Breton said her high school student struggled academically as a freshman. She asked Assistant Principal Leslie Morrill for help. Morrill called a meeting with her student’s teachers and spent hours helping Breton’s son, she said.
“He pulled up his grades. He passed,” Breton said. “My son is one of 350 kids” under Morrill’s care. “He is by no means a troubled student.”
The school can’t afford to have one less assistant principal, Breton said. “I can’t imagine having that availability reduced.”