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by Colin Powell
Following up on a discussion from its regular December meeting, the CSD Board continued to discuss modifications to a policy on school programs involving outside groups at its January 4 meeting. Superintendent Bob Webster presented new language for the policy, which specifies that groups that frequently present programs at school be listed in the school handbook.
“But that’s probably not where the rubber meets the road on most issues,” said Webster, recommending the addition of language requiring the principal to use his or her discretion as to whether to notify parents of the activity of an infrequent outside group in the school. The policy would also be restricted to Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School.
Board member Skip Greenlaw said he was worried about putting too much of a burden on the principal’s shoulders. “If we leave it this way, and the principal determines that it is not reasonable to object [to an outside group’s involvement], and people do, they may be unkind to the principal,” explained Greenlaw. He urged the policy to simply require the principal to communicate when any group not listed in the handbook participates in school events.
No one voiced objection to Greenlaw’s change, though some in the audience and on the board took issue with leaving out the high school. While assistant high school principal Mike Wood voiced concern about having to notify parents for every guest in his contemporary issues course, board member Mark Cormier said part of the problem in the past has been lack of a policy requiring it.
“I’m a parent, and I don’t complain to Mike because it won’t do me any good,” said Cormier. “Without a policy, parents feel very much like if I call [principal] Todd [West] and say I haven’t been notified, he will direct me quickly to the policy.” He urged that the policy include grades K-12 and not just K-8.
Before discussion on the issue ended, board member Andrew Vaughn made the observation that, having grown up in the South, he could remember controversies about certain books being read in school that are now considered classics in English literature. “If we don’t trust the principals to make the right choices for our kids, we have to make some changes in the principal. If mistakes are made, we need to correct the principal. But policy makes things so ironclad that it makes it difficult to critically challenge kids,” argued Vaughn.
Still, audience member Nicole Cormier pointed out that teachers must go through a background check and fingerprinting before they are allowed to work in the school. “I’m not saying guests should have to go through that, but it’s not too much to ask to notify parents,” said Cormier.
Given the level of disagreement over the policy, Vaughn asked Webster and the two principals to come up with language for the policy that they can agree to and bring it before the board at the February meeting.
High school to stick with schedule, try shorter blocks
In other business, high school principal Todd West informed the board that after a long investigation, the high school will keep the 4x4 master schedule it has used for a number of years now. He said that after looking at other schedule types from within Maine and across the country, each one had both advantages and disadvantages. In the end, none of them justified the upheaval that a change in the master schedule would create.
Instead of an overhaul, West said the school will experiment with some tweaks to the schedule, including shortening periods from 80 to 70 minutes, and introducing a “focused study” period for all students once a day. Focused study, West said, would be to regroup students in different ways than during the rest of the school day. Thus, students struggling with a particular class can all get extra instruction in a specific area without having to be pulled out of class. Another example he offered was providing some students with an SAT preparatory course.
The new schedule is already being piloted in the first few weeks of the second semester, and will likely be tried again a little later in the year.
Board offers transportation contract increase
First appearing before the board in December, Andrea Brown, who provides the CSD and Sedgwick with contracted transportation for students to Ellsworth and Brewer, requested an additional $9,000 in her contract. She made the request for renegotiation because fuel costs rose above $3.20 per gallon and the realities of student needs required her to add a third vehicle to her service.
The CSD splits the contract with Sedgwick, paying roughly two-thirds, which would cover about $6,000 of the increase. Sedgwick voted in December to increase the contract award, contingent on the CSD vote.
In December, Brown argued that her take-home pay was greatly diminished because the needs of one student going to Brewer were not entirely known and she now must run a third vehicle to get all students to school on time. That, combined with a major increase in fuel cost since the contract was approved, has made things difficult for her.
While Vaughn waited for a board member to make a motion to approve the request, he pointed out that Brown had already negotiated her contract with Webster down $24,000 from her original $60,000 bid, and that, while he would like to look more closely at the contract next year, he feels that the process will be more successful in future if bidders felt the board treated their contractors fairly.
Cormier said he was reluctant to reopen a contract, and that it might set a precedent for others to follow, but Webster explained that Brown’s contract includes a stipulation that allows the contract to be renegotiated if fuel costs go above $3.20, which they did a few weeks ago.
On that basis, Cormier moved to approve the $9,000 increase to Brown’s contract. Greenlaw seconded, stating the existence of extenuating circumstances requiring the increase. The board approved the motion unanimously.
GearUp grant would require college applications
Principal West informed the board that a grant the school is considering pursuing would require all children in the program funded by the grant to complete and submit at least one college application. He brought the subject up before the board because he could see a situation where all students in a class could benefit from the grant, but then they would also be required to submit a college application.
While Cormier said he couldn’t imagine making applying to college a graduation requirement, Vaughn pointed out that the grant application might still be accepted if the school simply gives kids an opportunity during a class period to fill out and send in an application. He added that the school should still apply and decide whether to accept if and the grant is awarded.
Elementary school improvement plan, policy approval
After a number of revisions, the school board finally approved an improvement plan for Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School. Principal Mike Benjamin explained that the most recent revision includes new achievement benchmarks in mathematics, which were requested. He also noted that the document would still be a work in progress. The board approved the plan unanimously.
In other business, the school board unanimously approved a number of policies which remained largely unchanged after being reviewed in December. The policies include those on professional ethics, memorials and naming of school facilities, timeout rooms and therapeutic restraint, student placement, home schooling, communicable and infectious diseases, administration of medications to students, education of homeless students, and reintegration of students from juvenile correctional facilities.
The board also unanimously approved sick bank withdrawals for a staff member, who suffered loss of a family member, and for teacher Jennifer MacDonald, who was denied last fall, after additional documents and information were presented that changed the nature of her request.