Superintendent Judith Harvey gave a remarkable presentation to the RSU 36 school board Wednesday night, part scathing indictment of past management and a spirited defense of its new direction.
Still, the board should think hard before accepting Harvey’s recommendation that it reject a federal program that could be a true game-changer for their struggling high school.
The Maine Department of Education announced last week that Longley Elementary School in Lewiston and Livermore Falls High School were among 10 schools in Maine that qualified to share $12 million in federal funding.
The schools had to be economically disadvantaged and failing to make progress on low test scores — two distinctions that are tough for any community to accept.
As Harvey pointedly told the board Wednesday night, there are many schools in Maine and across the country that may be worse than Livermore Falls High School.
However, they may not be as economically disadvantaged. Or, they may have even lower test scores, but are showing progress, so they did not qualify for this new program.
The problem with the federal program is that it contains some difficult, even odious, requirements, the most objectionable being cursory dismissal of the school’s principal.
Both Longley’s Thomas Hood and Livermore’s Shawn Lambert would have to go, and without a shred of evidence that they are responsible for their schools’ problems.
Both men were gracious about this possibility last week, balancing their personal disappointment with the realization that the new federal money could make a big difference.
“We really need to focus on the kids,” said Hood in Lewiston.
“Give us lemons and we’ll make lemonade,” Lambert told the Sun Journal.
And that’s the attitude the RSU 36 board should adopt.
While advising the board not to take the money, Superintendent Harvey suggested putting money into professional development at LFHS and reinstating an assistant principal position.
Meanwhile, she said, if proven teaching and learning practices are developed, they could dramatically affect student performance.
Harvey, who has been with the district less than a year, said that when she came she found a system lacking accountability at all levels, from the school board down.
“When I see that only 20-some percent of students are proficient in reading and math, huge red flags go up for me,” she told the board. “That means that 80 percent aren’t.”
She said she did not buy the argument that coming from a poor family or community means a child cannot receive an excellent education.
“As a professional, it is an embarrassment to me when we use this excuse. Bottom line is we aren’t doing our jobs,” she said.
“The vast majority of students can be positively affected if certain proven teaching and learning practices are part of the fabric of the school,” she said.
Her presentation was moving, even inspirational.
But will these things happen without a shakeup and new resources? Will they happen as quickly?
We doubt it.
The RSU 36 board needs to weigh this decision carefully, and unemotionally, with the best interest of students — not administrators — in mind.