All of Lewiston should have been bursting with pride Tuesday when Lewiston educator Linda St. Andre was recognized at a White House ceremony as a “Champion of Change.”

The staff at Longley School certainly was.

St. Andre, Longley principal, was one of 12 educators from across the U.S. honored by President Barack Obama for leading substantial educational change in their communities. She was nominated by the Maine Department of Education.

In 2010, 96 percent of Longley’s students lived in poverty and 62 percent were foreign immigrants, compared to 3 percent statewide.

Moreover, the school’s population is constantly in flux. Of the 33 students in one third-grade class in 2010, only six had been at the school since kindergarten.

Test results showed that 15 percent of Longley students were proficient in reading, compared to 56 percent elsewhere in Lewiston and 72 percent statewide.

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Because of these factors — language, poverty, culture and mobility — Longley’s test scores had languished for years and it was labeled “persistently low-performing” by the federal government.

But that designation qualified it in 2010 for a federal grant aimed at improving some of Maine’s low-performing schools. 

Lewiston accepted the $2 million, despite some tough-to-swallow requirements — that the school’s existing leadership had to leave as did half its staff. 

We said then that the grant requirement was unfair, since the existing principal and staff had done excellent work under tough conditions, but the requirement certainly signaled that change was a top priority.

And, with $2 million in additional money, it has been.

St. Andre and her staff have worked hard to create a culture of excellence, and that means doing things differently.

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One of the biggest changes was a new voluntary four-day summer school program that involved about half of the school’s students. Staff found that the disadvantaged students lost as much as two months of what they had learned during the traditional summer recess.

This fall, the Longley students’ school day will increase from 6.5 hours to 7 hours.

St. Andre has also experimented with a student-to-student tutor program last year that will be expanded next year.

“We’ve found this to be very helpful not only for the younger students,” she recently told the Sun Journal, “but for the older students as well.”

St. Andre also instituted field trips for students to make their learning more relevant and connected to the educational programs at the school.

Now Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster has introduced plans to revamp all of the district’s field trip policies, opening the door for students to travel further for learning experiences.

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Webster pointed out in a recent story that it’s one thing to study the ocean, but it’s another to see the ocean you have studied. “So many of those kids had never been to the Maine coast before,” he said.

The Maine coast. The State House. The State Museum. The Gray Wildlife Park.

These are weekend trips for many middle-class families, but likely not for children from low-income homes.

The problems at Longley are difficult, but they are not impossible. When children start behind we have an extra responsibility to make sure they have a chance to succeed.

Proudly, the Longley school is turning that responsibility into reality. 

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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