News Feature

Deer Isle
Web exclusive, August 5, 2010
School improvement grant
Board, principal frustrated, but prepared for grant delays

Click here to see the full Deer Isle-Stonington High School—Low-Performing School Archive.

by Colin Powell

Presenting the school board with a document divided into three columns at the August 2 meeting, Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal Todd West explained that due to delays at the state level, various parts of the school’s improvement grant proposal may have to be delayed or cut.

The school was given the opportunity to apply for the school improvement grant when the state listed DISHS on a list of the 10 lowest performing schools in Maine earlier this year. The state has now delayed awarding the grant money three times. Superintendent Bob Webster told the school board that the latest delay would likely mean an announcement no earlier than Friday, August 13.

Given this new date, West said that there are only three components of the grant that will likely have to be put off for a year. Unfortunately, he added, two items together encompass more than 90 percent of the professional development work for teachers the grant could have provided. A five-day summer institute for teachers scheduled for August has already been canceled. A teacher coaching program, utilizing teachers from inside and outside the school, would require major changes to the school’s master class schedule, and West thought this might still be possible, but not if the news comes later than August 13.

The third item includes more than 60 percent of the new instruction offerings for students under the grant, through summer academies, focusing on helping kids with basic instruction and on the transition between grades eight and nine. A third academy, which would help students recover credits, could still be offered during the school year, said West.

Beside the items that will likely need to be canceled, West also noted that a number of proposed offerings will have their effectiveness reduced. For example, an effort to help increase teacher preparation time by hiring someone for a study hall proctor position could proceed with a substitute before the position can be filled, but would be less than desirable, said West. Incentives for transformational teachers may also not happen. West explained that reasonable deadlines need to be offered to the teachers so that they are not waiting to find out how they will be evaluated in the coming year.

“There are two commitments, one we need to give, and one we need to have,” said West. First, he said, the school needs to reassure teachers that they will not be evaluated on student achievement data in the coming year. Neither the goals for student achievement nor the means of connecting student achievement data to staff evaluation have been clarified, said West. “It’s not fair to tell a math teacher in October, one month into a five month class, ‘you need to get test scores to this level.’” said West.

Secondly, the school needs a commitment from the state Department of Education that the expectations for transformation by June 2011 be lowered proportional to the amount of time and school improvement grant activities are lost to the delay. He noted that delays by the DOE on its proposal, submitted in early May, have struck a blow to many foundational elements of the plan.

School Board Chairman Andrew Vaughn thanked West for his work, and pointed out that his document will help explain to the community that while the state has slowed its efforts down, there are many elements that will continue regardless of the grant status. Those include expanded advanced placement class offerings, implementation of standards-based diplomas, curriculum mapping and development and expansion of the student assistance team. Vaughn told West that he supported his proposal, and that it did not make sense to him to disrupt the school year and possibly undo many transformations already made by trying to adhere strictly to the grant proposal, should the state approve it.

Board member Walter Kumiega added that he is especially glad West decided not to tie curriculum development into the grant. “That’s such a critical thing for us to do, and I would hate to have it hung up with the rest of the SIG,” said Kumiega. He also seconded Vaughn’s appreciation for having a document outlining the school’s plan. “I was beginning to wonder if we were just going to go with the Sargent plan,” joked Kumiega, referring to a proposal made by fellow board member Donald Sargent at the board’s April meeting, which would have called for not applying for the grant, and just following the plan to improve the school that the board had already developed.

Webster concluded the discussion with the comment that once the state has announced the grant recipients, if DISHS is on the list, they will then have to negotiate for a phased implementation, as West outlined. “Clearly we will not be able to do everything the proposal requires in the first year,” said Webster, noting that the proposal covered three years with grant funding ramping down over the course of the three years to make sure the changes are sustainable once the grant money runs out.