AUBURN — Should Auburn students learn to keyboard, and should Auburn schools expanded summer learning were subjects School Committee members did not agree on Wednesday night.

Members voted 5-2 to adopt several goals, but not the above two. They agreed on supporting the implementation of customized learning, negotiating contracts in a reasonable time frame, and ensuring the school budget is fiscally responsible that meets the needs of students and is supported by the community.

But keyboarding was relegated to an in-house curriculum committee to study, and summer learning relegated to Superintendent Katy Grondin.

Committee members also talked about a program in Windham in which students who are behind grade level get summer classes to help them catch up. They also talked about whether the school calendar should be changed.

Research has shown long summer vacations mean students forget what they’ve learned the previous school year, and teachers need to re-teach. Some studies have said students can lose up to a month of schooling, more for students from poorer families. Shorter summer vacations and longer breaks during the school year would avoid a loss of learning in the summer.

Grondin called that the “balanced calendar. It doesn’t affect the cost in the sense of adding more days, it’s taking the 175 days and doing it differently.”

Committee member Bonnie Hayes said summer learning is a good idea and Auburn should move ahead with it.

“I think we’re taking too long a time to explore it,” she said.

She favored having a new calendar ready next year. “We need to start having the discussion, do we want a longer school year, and not wait until Dec. 14. Let’s get this going.”

Grondin said changes that would mean more money can’t be done next year. “I’m being mindful of resources,” she said.

Hayes pushed for a new school calendar to be ready as early as this summer so when the next budget is done, a different calendar could be considered for 2015.

Committee member Mike Farrell questioned how summer learning could be done considering what it could cost. He said, “the numbers could be staggering,” for keeping school doors open in the summer.

City Councilor and mayor’s representative Mary LaFontaine and committee member Tom Kendall favored considering a longer school year. Auburn schools would be remiss if they did not investigate how summer learning could help students, Kendall said.

“It needs to be on the table,” he said, adding he’d like to see a report on it “this year. It’s a trend we do not want to ignore.”

On keyboarding, committee Chairwoman Tracey Levesque was interested in students learning how to type. If schools are going to give students iPads or laptops, “we need to teach them how to type appropriately.” Not doing that is failing students by not showing them how to be successful, she said.

Kendall and member Laurie Tannenbaum disagreed, saying there’s no need to teach typing.

“Keyboarding is going away about as fast as the need of handwriting” and cursive writing, Kendall said. Because of the direction of technology, the skill levels needed from today’s kindergarten students when they graduate from high school will not involve keyboarding, he insisted.

LaFontaine, who heads CareerCenter in Lewiston, said employers need workers who can type.

Any employer in the community has keyboards “and they expect their employees to be able to use them,” she said. “While our kindergarten students may not need keyboarding, our students in middle and high school will have to use keyboards for the employers that exist today.”

Businesses should be more involved in curriculum decisions, LaFontaine said. Employers tell her that workers are lacking keyboard and computer skills in addition to basic literacy. Preparing students for employers “is a piece of our job,” she said. “We are a workforce development agency.”

Grondin said she would give the committee a report about keyboarding in the coming months.

Report calls for $2.1 million in school improvements

AUBURN — The School Committee voted 6-1 Wednesday night to bring a list of proposed capital improvement projects to a Feb. 10 meeting with the City Council.

The list calls for $2.18 million in school building improvements in 2015, including $774,000 at Edward Little High School for new bathrooms, asbestos removal and security improvements.

Also on the list is $400,186 for improvements at the Auburn Middle School, including replacing classroom furniture and classroom and hallway carpets. There is also $280,000 proposed at Walton School for fire alarm upgrades and a new walk-in refrigerator.

Committee members also heard an audit report from Jody Heal of Runyon Kersteen Ouellette, a certified public accounting company. Heal said there were no significant deficiencies in the School Department’s finances.

She cited a need for better documentation of activity funds used for fundraising at the high school and middle school, and gift cards used to reward students in schools.

Also, an inventory on food stock in the high school’s food program was not done, she said.

“This disturbs me,” committee member Bonnie Hayes said.

If the community is going to donate to various causes at the schools where teachers and students are raising money, “those funds need to be brought up to date. This is serious, guys.”

Heal said it’s a common issue with school audits since activity funds are run by volunteers, not business managers.

Auburn School Superintendent Katy Grondin said improvements will be made.


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