AUBURN — With charts, statistics and a video of a kindergartener demonstrating his competence on an iPad, the superintendents of schools in both Lewiston and Auburn spelled out the successes and challenges facing all levels of L-A schools.

The presentation by Katy Grondin, superintendent of Auburn schools, and Bill Webster, superintendent of Lewiston schools, took place Friday morning at the March breakfast of the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce. The Friday morning meeting at Martindale Country Club, storm-delayed from Thursday, still drew a large crowd of area business leaders.

Webster told the chamber members that the schools of the two cities combined would make it the largest school district in Maine.

Grondin said current educators are “trying to break through and take learning outside the classroom walls.” As examples, she pointed out opportunities such as the Auburn Land Lab and cooperative efforts with business owners who hope that young interns will be the answer to their increasing rate of retirees.

She also explained programs that offer early experience for college. She said the “Bridges Program” makes it possible for high school seniors to graduate with one year of college credit already earned.

Webster commented on wide interest in virtual learning. “It’s already here” at Lewiston High School, he said, where students may take two courses via Internet-based resources.

Among challenges addressed by the two educators is chronic absenteeism. Grondin told the chamber members that missed days by pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students sets those children back seriously in their education. A graph projected for the audience showed that absenteeism among learners at those two youngest levels is between 10 and 20 percent.

Webster told the audience that absenteeism relates directly to pre-K where it is “so critical.” He said the chamber will be rolling out a fall program aimed at addressing school attendance.

Another facet of the attendance problem is what they called “summer learning loss.” Webster said it can take up to three months for students to make up for the educational losses of the summer vacation months.

Webster also noted that one measure of the educational gap between young learners of middle-income families and low-income families is the availability of books in the home. He told the audience that an average middle-income home has 13 books per child in the family, while the availability of books in the low-income category is one book for every 300 children.

Grondin talked about the local schools’ attention to above-average students. As an example, she said a student who excels in a class such as Algebra shouldn’t have to stay in that class for a whole year.

“Why shouldn’t that student go right into geometry when ready?” she asked. She said accountability among educators in the school system can make such “customized learning” successful.

Auburn’s school department expects to have a five-year plan completed by June, Grondin said. Chamber members received a flyer with space for feedback to the Auburn School Department on vision and core beliefs, and Grondin urged members of the audience to provide their ideas by returning the flyer or completing it online.

On April 3, chamber members are invited to spend a morning at Edward Little High School in Auburn. Grondin urged people in the audience to participate for a first-hand look at the city’s educational assets.

In recapping the morning’s presentation, Webster said, “The message is, if you want to be successful, you can get there from these two high schools.”


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