BETHEL — About 20 Telstar High School parents and students turned out for this week’s SAD 44 board meeting to express concerns about scheduling changes planned for the 2016-17 school year.

School administrators had originally proposed the new schedule for this school year, but delayed implementation after hearing concerns from a large group of parents at the end of last year.

Under the new schedule, the academic day would be divided into six one-hour blocks, with core classes meeting every day.

The current schedule is four 80-minute blocks each day, with most core classes meeting on alternate days.

Administrators have said the schedule changes are intended to address the rate of student failure and increase the amount of weekly instructional time spent on core classes.

The schedule would provide regular times for pursuing independent study projects and for teachers to work closely with students who are at risk of failing or need to make up credits.

David Hanscom of Bethel told board members he is a graduate of Telstar and the parent of three Telstar students.

“I have a growing concern about the future of our high school,” he said. “I was alarmed to hear that our high school failure rate is over 30 percent.”

Hanscom said he had recently attended a PTO meeting to hear about schedule changes for next year.

Among the concerns brought up at the meeting, Hanscom said, was the fact that the new schedule would decrease the number of classes students are able to take, providing only six academic slots instead of the current eight.

He pointed out that having the same class in the last period of each day would mean that student athletes would miss the same class each time they had to travel for away games.

Hanscom said some classes, such as band, art and science labs, do not fit well into the proposed shorter academic periods because of the time required for set-up and cleanup.

He said those attending the meeting were disappointed to learn that the decision to change the schedule had already been made.

“After the events of last spring, I was led to believe that the input of students, parents and staff would be valued, and that there would be a more open, more transparent process for any future proposed schedule changes,” he said.

Hanscom said it is important to find and address the root causes of the school’s failure rate, but added, “Having said that, I do not feel that the schedule is the root cause.”

He spoke about a proposal to create a Sophomore Academy to continue the experiential learning provided to students in collaboration with the University of Maine 4-H Camp and Learning Center in Bryant Pond.

“As a parent of a freshman, I have some concerns about this plan,” he said. School administrators should get input from parents, students and staff before making such a decision, he said.

“Maybe, in the end, the benefits do outweigh the risks, but I think it’s important to have that conversation before a decision is made.”

Parent Wanda Orino said she would like to see standardized test scores that compare results from students who attended Telstar Freshman Academy to those of students from prior years who did not.

“This is a new program, and we should be testing it. We shouldn’t just assume that this is working for our students,” she said.

Superintendent David Murphy told parents that the school conducted Northwest Evaluation Association testing in the fall; it will be repeated in the spring to measure individual student growth.

He said the district also contracted with the Maine Math and Science Alliance to survey students’ attitudes toward the experiential learning program, both before and after their participation.

Newry Director Whitney Gray said she was glad to see parents and students attending the meeting and expressing their concerns. She said she would like to see the district include a student representative on the school board.

Murphy thanked the members of the public who attended and encouraged them to contact him to discuss their ideas.

He reminded them that the district is faced with the challenge of adapting its programs to address changes in the state’s requirements for awarding public high school diplomas.

“Your involvement in that is critical,” Murphy said, adding that it is important for parents, students and staff to all work together to address challenges and raise aspirations.

He said the school administration would discuss the scheduling changes at the next school board meeting April 11.


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