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by Jessica Brophy
On the recommendation of Deer Isle-Stonington High School principal Todd West, the board unanimously approved moving back to a modified “4x4” block schedule for next year.
“Be aware, in a school our size there’s always going to be a percentage of people unhappy with the schedule,” said West, acknowledging the shortcomings of both the block schedule and the alternating blue/white schedule.
Newly elected school board member Stephen York said he thought choosing the schedule type for the high school was “micromanaging” and that decision would be best left to the administration. Board chairman Mark Cormier said he thought the decision was large enough, and infrequent enough, that the school board should be involved.
Maine District 28 senator Brian Langley presented information to the school board about the Innovative Schools legislation he sponsored and was passed in 2011. The legislation allows schools to apply for waivers to certain state requirements in order to try something different. Some examples could include partnering with a college for research projects or building a magnet school curricula around marine trades or the performing arts.
Michael Warr, father of 2011’s valedictorian Gareth Warr, gave a public statement in which he criticized the school board for what he termed an “adversarial” relationship with administration and teaching staff. Warr said he had problems when his son was in the elementary school. “Gareth was absolutely bored and not being challenged,” said Warr, who said he thought problems at the high school level could be attributed to deficiencies in the elementary school. Warr commended the high school, especially its teachers, for their hard work and recommended against budget cuts for the school system.
Judith Hotchkiss spoke about the high school’s academic literacy program. Students who fall below intervention benchmarks in reading are placed in her course, which focuses on particular problems the students might be having, such as low reading comprehension or lack of vocabulary, and then tailors instruction to those needs. Hotchkiss says students are able to immediately apply strategies they learn in her course to other courses.
“A lot of it is building confidence,” said Hotchkiss, who said several students have tested out of her course. Hotchkiss also helps other teachers incorporate vocabulary and literacy skills into their courses.
Special Services Director Josh Nichols discussed the current model for special education and the vision and goal to move toward a “more inclusive, mainstreamed special education program that fosters independence.” As special ed-identified student numbers continue to increase, board member Skip Greenlaw asked if the system was operating with a fundamentally wrong model. Nichols responded that identification rate verses services needed were different things and that eligibility guidelines are set by the state.
Student representative Sarah Wilson shared the results of an informal survey of students about what are contributing factors to low grades. Wilson reported students talked about lack of motivation, the alternating blue/white schedule, the number of projects required for graduation, the transition from the elementary school to the high school and distractions like Facebook.
Wilson said Facebook does take a lot of time, but she wasn’t sure banning the site would be helpful. “It would mean rebellion,” said Wilson, who said students would spend a lot of time figuring out how to hack the site.
The board accepted two donations, one for $1,200 from the Island Education Foundation to fund the leadership team’s trip to the New England Secondary School Consortium on March 22-23 in Massachusetts, and $1,500 from Islanders Against Domestic Abuse to defray the costs of Stan Davis’s anti-bullying program.
The school board next meets Tuesday, April 3, at 6 p.m. at the elementary school.