While other Tier 1 schools around the state were told School Improvement Grant money would be coming this year, Deer Isle-Stonington High School is still left waiting. After a daylong meeting with Superintendent Bob Webster on Friday, August 19, Principal Todd West wrote in an e-mail, “We left Augusta at 1:30 with a clear sense that we were not looking at a grant award anytime soon.”
The hold up? A grant requirement that West says came out of nowhere in late July during a month-and-a-half-long session of grant application revisions with the Maine Department of Education. In a recent phone interview, West said that $13 million given to the state by the federal government came through the Title 1A program. Historically, DISHS has used Title 1 money as part of a “targeted needs” program, using the funds for supplemental programs to boost math, reading and writing skills.
In order to receive the school improvement grant funds, DISHS would have to switch from a targeted needs program to a school-wide Title 1 program. Of the many implications of this change, the most significant is that all teachers in the school would have to fit under the federal definition of a “highly qualified” teacher. “Some of the best teachers we have at the high school are not meeting that definition,” said West. He added that in his years as an administrator, he has seen many applicants for teaching positions fit that definition and were not, “the best choice for the job,” said West. The definition is mostly one of having the right paperwork in the right order. “It’s not connected to any model of teacher effectiveness,” said West.
Regardless of the hold up, the result is that while three schools have already been awarded grant money, and three more will have it announced soon, DISHS may have a bit longer to wait while the U.S. DOE gets back to the Maine DOE about how to handle the issue. West said while he is unsure how other schools got around the problem, likely it is a combination of DISHS using the Transformational Model of school improvement, and being in a small school district where teachers cannot easily be shifted to new jobs to make room for new teachers meeting the highly qualified requirement.