Lewiston High School deans starting new venture

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LEWISTON — Starting Monday, two Lewiston High School teachers will leave their classrooms and become deans in a pilot program to reduce the number of times students are sent to the principal’s office.

Science teacher Ronda Fournier and social studies teacher Jay Dufour were selected for the new positions.

“We felt these two were ideal for these positions,” Superintendent Bill Webster said. “Both have excellent rapport with students.”

Dufour, 36, has taught social studies at the high school for 15 years and coached ice hockey.

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“My experience teaching has been fantastic,” he said. “Teaching is a noble profession, something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Dufour said he enjoys teaching, working with students, learning and building relationships. “We’re trying to do something a little different that’s going to benefit the kids and school.”

His ability to work with students is why he was interested in becoming a dean, Dufour said, “to try and make the high school a better place.” He’ll do that, he said, by spending time with individual students.

“Each kid is unique. Each has their own stories, their own highs and lows,” he said. “I’ll have time to listen to some of their issues, why they might be tardy, why they’re not successful in class, why they might have a discipline issue. There’s always some underlying reasons.”

Administrators and teachers don’t have that kind of time, he said.

Fournier, 50, is in her ninth year as a science teacher. Before that she worked as an ed tech doing tasks such as working with in-school suspension at the Sabattus Elementary School. She’ll now use some of that experience.

“We were able to change behavior by making behavioral plans, working with kids on strategies,” she said. When students are kicked out of school or waiting to see an assistant principal, they’re not learning in class, she said.

If the school can help students change behavior and avoid detention and suspensions, students will be better off, she said.

“We might find out kids didn’t have breakfast that morning, or the circumstances at home may be they didn’t get a good night’s sleep and they’re really exhausted. Or they’re working another job or taking care of a sibling. We really need to find out is there anything preventing them from doing the proper thing in the classroom, and what community resources we might be able to help them” with.

Principal Linda MacKenzie asked the School Committee on Dec. 16 to authorize the pilot program with the goal of reducing discipline problems and the number of students sent to the principal’s office.

In the first 16 weeks of school this fall, the total number of times students were  sent from a class to the principal’s office was 989, MacKenzie said. At the time she had been principal for one month.

Last week, MacKenzie talked about a conversation she had with a student in detention for being late. Students get detention when they are tardy three times.

Getting down to eye level with the girl, MacKenzie asked why she was late.

“The girl gave a big sigh and said, ‘We don’t have heat. I have to put water on the stove to heat it up to shower. It takes time to heat the water.’”

The deans will “problem-solve some of these things that kids are dealing with and have no control over,” MacKenzie said.

The deans will also be trusted help for teachers.

“I had a teacher stop me today and say: ‘You know I’ve got a class of 14 boys and four girls. I’m going to talk to Ronda to get help on classroom management,’” MacKenzie said.

Webster said the program will be reviewed next year to see what difference it made, whether the dean positions should continue.

bwashuk@sunjournal.com

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