Superintendent recommends rejecting federal grant

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LIVERMORE FALLS — In an emotionally charged meeting, RSU 36 Superintendent Judith Harvey recommended Tuesday that the school board refuse federal money and the strings attached to improve its students’ tests scores.

The board took no action after its discussion of Livermore Falls High School’s status as one of the 10 lowest performing schools in the state, per federal government standards. Members opted to think about the situation and look at all options before making a decision on Thursday, March 25.

Teachers and a school board member shed tears during the meeting where several people vented frustrations.

Harvey, who took the helm of RSU 36 in July and plans to retire on June 30, said she was struck by the lack of accountability at all levels that has become part of the fabric of the district. She believes if certain proven teaching and learning practices are developed in the school system, they would affect students positively.

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Teachers urged the board to reject the grant and refuse to jump through hoops for the money. Instead, they want to continue on and improve what they have been doing the last four years including putting an emphasis on literacy and ratcheting up an emphasis on math. There have been a lot of changes that include continually revolving administrators, they said. They also shared their frustrations of the kids being labeled as coming from a low performing school district.

Junior class President Holden Parker of Livermore had confidence that his class will make it.

“Our class has been the one that has been worked with,” he said. “We’ve been the class that has been helped. The class ahead of us wasn’t. I have no worries. We’ll make it through.”

The list contains only those schools that are both low performing and have a low socio-economic status and either are eligible for or receive federal money to help with improvement, so-called continuous improvement priority schools, Harvey said.

Initially, the elementary school was classified as a CIPS school after poor reading scores, that have since improved, and the middle school is still under that classification as levels of students move through  system.

Parker and his classmates are in the group that is now moving through the high school.

A couple of residents in the audience called for accountability and suggested they do what they have to, including taking the federal grant to improve the school.

If the district went for a federal school improvement grant, it could receive between $50,000 and $2 million per year for three years to enact one of four reform models. One model requires the principal be replaced if he or she has held the position for more than two years. Another one requires closing the school and sending students to a higher-achieving school.

Harvey said the board has to share in the responsibility for low achievement levels.

“The board has not held its superintendent accountable, (nor) the superintendent his administrators, and it’s been only a year or so that a teacher evaluation system was put into the place,” she said.

She recommended a plan be developed for the school with goals and time lines and asked for regular updates. She suggested the board retain four-year, high school Principal Shawn Lambert, put money into professional development in the school, and reinstate the assistant principal at least half-time and the guidance secretary so that the principal has the time to do the important work. Both positions are proposed to be eliminated in next year’s budget.

She told the board members to become the responsible board members that they are capable of being.

She said that if the system doesn’t work and improvements aren’t seen, then they should address the status of the principal.

Harvey said she looks at this as a huge opportunity to address something that needs addressing.

“It’s long overdue,” she said. “The pride that will result from turning a bad situation into a good one will cause everyone to hold their heads up high with a feeling of accomplishment. One choice we don’t have is doing nothing.”

dperry@sunjournal.com

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