RSU 10 Superintendent Tom Ward said a first impression to a proposal by Department of Education Commissioner Steve Bowen and Gov. Paul LePage to make significant changes to education may not be as bad as it looks.
“We need to know the details,” he said.
One of the proposals is to remove a prohibition against using public tuition dollars for private religious schools.
“What are the restrictions? How many religious schools are we really talking about that would qualify?” Ward asked.
Another proposal would allow students to enroll in schools not located in their district.
SAD 44 Superintendent David Murphy said passage of the rule could lead to potential problems for some districts.
Both he and Ward believe that the rule would likely have less effect on rural schools because of the distance between schools and districts.
“We will watch it,” Murphy said. “It has big implications for small schools. If enrollment is small, losing students could lead to losing funds, losing opportunities and losing students. We’re hoping there will be more specifics.”
“Most students want to go to their own schools,” Ward said.
Most districts already have a policy of allowing some students to attend schools not in their home district through what is called a superintendents’ agreement. At RSU 10, Ward said about 20 students leave the district for another school and 20 come to the district from another district.
Oftentimes such an arrangement is made because an employee works within the district but lives outside it, so it is easier for their children to attend school where their parent works, Ward said.
“With school choice, we do the best we can in our schools to offer high-quality programs for our kids. We have very dedicated, hardworking people,” Ward said.
Both districts work to align school calendars with their affiliated vocational schools. For SAD 44, that means having virtually the same calendar as Region 9 in Mexico. It’s a bit more complicated at RSU 10 because two of the high schools within it send vocational students to Region 9 and one sends their students to Region 11 in Oxford Hills.
Another part of the proposal calls for ensuring effective teacher and school leadership. Ward said his district is currently developing a new tool to evaluate teachers and administrators based on achievement, combined with self-evaluations and goal-setting.
The focus of education may also change, according to Murphy.
“We’re preparing kids for the future (and technology). It’s different now than preparing students for the industrial age,” he said. “The real focus is to realize we’re in a different world.”
He said that although he doesn’t want to see cyber schools take the place of traditional classroom instruction, he does see teachers becoming more like facilitators so that each student learns in a way that is best for them.
Both administrators want to see much more detail in the governor’s plan.
“There’s a lot in the report that is good, but some issues require more scrutiny,” Murphy said.
None of the proposals announced last week will go into effect without legislative approval.