Lewiston bites bullet, seeks fed cash

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The Lewiston School Committee members swallowed hard Monday night and bowed to an irrational government edict, all to benefit the children at Longley Elementary School.

They did the right thing, even if it means reassigning Principal Tom Hood who is, by all accounts, an excellent leader for the school.  Hood, to his credit, unselfishly endorsed the decision.

The latest Maine Kids’ Count report confirms the wisdom of the board’s action — Lewiston’s children and schools need all the help they can get.

Any school — like any business — can find ways to improve. A large injection of federal cash is likely to accelerate that process at Longley.

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But Lewiston’s educational problems are more rooted in persistent poverty, transient families and a new immigrant population than in the skills and dedication of its teachers.

According to the Maine Children’s Alliance, nearly 42 percent of Lewiston’s children live in poverty; it’s the highest rate in the state.

About 26 percent of the children in Auburn live in poverty, not nearly as high as Lewiston’s rate, but still the second highest rate in the state.

Last week, the Sun Journal reported that Lewiston High School has the third-highest dropout rate in the state, 8.37 percent, just behind Telstar High School in Bethel and Shead High in Eastport, according to Department of Education records.

As much progress as L-A has made over the past decade — diversifying its economic base, turning itself into a medical and higher ed center for the region, and redefining its downtowns — the efforts have not been enough to solve our biggest underlying problem: plain old poverty.

While growing up in a poor household doesn’t doom a child to a life of poverty, it vastly increases the challenges and risks that child faces.

National statistics clearly show that the best single determinant of a child’s eventual success in life is the income and educational attainment of his or her parents.

In other words, nothing succeeds like success.

On the other hand, there are few greater obstacles to achievement than growing up in an impoverished or unstable family.

The challenges are nowhere more evident than at Longley Elementary, where 96 percent of the students live in poverty and 62 percent of its students are immigrants.

And an impoverished population is a mobile population, moving often from one rental location to another and adding to the instability in a child’s educational life.

As a result, education suffers, particularly at Longley School, where only 28.6 percent of students were reading and doing math at grade level last year.

Lewiston becomes the second school system in the state to proceed with a federal grant application. Carrabec High School in Anson was the first.

The school boards for Houlton High and Livermore Falls High, meanwhile, have voted to reject the federal help.

In Livermore, the superintendent and school board believe they have put in place a plan that will increase the school’s persistently poor test scores without this program.

That’s their call to make; we hope it was the right one.

Lewiston, we believe, has made the painful but correct choice for Longley.

Disclosure: The Sun Journal and its employees have been “Adopt A School” partners with Longley Elementary School for 18 years.

editorialboard@sunjournal.com

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