RUMFORD — A math teacher at Mountain Valley High School asked directors of Regional School Unit 10 Monday to allow freshmen students to attend in-person classes four days a week because the majority are failing in one or more courses.

“Our freshmen are failing at an alarming rate,” said Lisa Russell, a member of a team of educators seeking to strengthen learning and social experiences for students. “There is an immense lack of participation by freshmen in their academics on the remote days of our hybrid model; most are not doing any work outside of school,” she said.

She said the Building Assets and Reducing Risk team has discovered more than 68% of freshmen are failing one or more courses with almost 53% failing English and slightly more than 72% failing math.

Director Travis Palmer of Rumford said the fact that over 60% of freshmen are failing is unacceptable and he is open to bringing freshmen back four days a week but wanted to make sure the schools have extra support for the educators.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, students at the high school in Rumford and at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico have the option of full-time virtual learning or attending school two days a week and learning virtually the other three weekdays.

Russell said freshmen “do not yet have the skill sets to navigate high school. Each new transition presents students with several challenges and changes developmentally, socially and academically.”

Because of these issues and the importance of students creating relationships with their teachers and other students, she and the team requested that directors allow freshmen to attend classes at school four days a week.

The team is studying models for in-person learning that would ensure that all Center for Disease Control guidelines will be met with a higher number of students in the building, she said.

Classrooms have been measured and the smallest can accommodate 15 students. Larger classrooms can accommodate more. Most can accommodate 18 students being spaced 3 feet between desks depending on room size, Russell said.

High school Principal Matt Gilbert said the team is “not looking to bring back every kid and fill our halls and disregard the guidelines from the CDC.” He said they are hoping to bring the freshmen students back for more in-school days starting Monday, Nov. 30.

Director Charlie Maddaus of Sumner said the district should consider split-sessions as an alternative and look at all students who are struggling. Split sessions would allow staff to limit the number of students at any one time, he said.

Ryan Casey, principal at Mountain Valley Middle School, said bringing more of the school’s fifth and sixth grade students back to classrooms four days a week would be “a really challenging thing” to do while also meeting the CDC guidelines for spacing requirements.

“We know that the data isn’t great about the effectiveness when the kids are not with us,” Casey said. “Our (fully) remote kids; there is a small proportion of them that are being successful, so it’s not great, it really isn’t.”

The board made no decision on Russell’s request.

Superintendent Deb Alden told directors she and other administrators are studying ways of bringing students back to school more.
The district includes the towns of Rumford, Mexico, Roxbury, Buckfield, Hartford, Sumner and Hanover, with another high school in Buckfield.
In other business, Superintendent Deb Alden said the district has no one to monitor public comments about board meetings livestreamed on the district Facebook page and eliminate those that are “really seriously inappropriate.”

She said that after meeting with board Chairman Greg Buccina of Rumford and Vice Chairman Jerry Wiley of Buckfield, it was decided the meetings will be recorded and posted to Facebook after they end.

Board member Abbey Rice of Rumford said she disagreed with not posting the meetings live because “it’s a valuable tool for people to be able to understand what’s going on (and) it’s almost like an appointment that people make.”

Maddaus agreed with Rice, saying he thought livestreaming meetings should continue but they could “clarify how public comments are being accepted.”

On Tuesday, Alden said the board will address viewing and commenting options for its online Facebook meetings at its Nov. 9 meeting at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School.

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