News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, May 9, 2013
Island community questions F grade for elementary school
Administration talks improvement plans

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High school principal Todd West and elementary school principal Mike Benjamin

High school principal Todd West, left, and elementary school principal Mike Benjamin hear questions and concerns from those who attended a public forum on Monday, May 6, about the state-issued report card grades.

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by Jessica Brophy

More than 50 people attended a public forum held May 6, on the state’s recently released “School Report Cards.” Deer Isle-Stonington High School received a C from the state, and the elementary school received an F. (For more information on area schools see story, Compass section, page 1).

“The state’s stated purpose is to shine a light on public schools and start a conversation,” said Union 76 Superintendent Mark Jenkins. “And in that respect, it’s achieved its goal.”

Jenkins said the state’s grades were distributed along a bell curve, rather than attached to any standard. In this sense, the grades are arbitrary and political, he said, but stressed that the reading and math test score data used to calculate the grades “are real” and “not where we want them to be.”

Jenkins then spoke about efforts at the district level, and at each school, to improve test scores. Jenkins sees the major problem now, especially at the elementary school level, is that there is no set curriculum, meaning that there may not be proper continuity for students from year to year in terms of what is being taught.

“There needs to be a K-12 approach,” said Jenkins. “Not an elementary school plan and a high school plan.”

A district-wide strategic plan has been in the works for a few years, said Jenkins. Since he came on last summer, he has worked on the plan to solidify specific action plans to achieve the goals defined by the committee. The CSD school board will hold a second monthly meeting on Wednesday, May 22, to unveil a draft version of the district’s strategic plan.

Other efforts that are already in place, and will continue, include the Professional Learning Communities, which is when teachers use the time from an early release on Fridays to discuss techniques and strategies that are working and exchange ideas. RTI efforts, or Response to Intervention, will also continue. RTI is a method of “triage” for students, explained Jenkins. Through RTI, students are identified as needing more help and then a plan is made for how to help them.

Community concerns

Members of the community had many concerns about the schools’ grades. One of the first, and most blunt questions asked, was why the elementary school’s scores for proficiency in math and reading are so low.

“What is the reason our numbers are so low?” asked Hyeja Poling.

Jenkins said he didn’t have a single, specific answer. “It might be the socioeconomic situation, or a culture of not valuing education, or the geographic resources. It’s not about a lack of money.”

Poling said she was not satisfied with Jenkins’ answer, and took issue with the idea that the community doesn’t value education. “Who is responsible?” she asked. Poling noted that the student-to-teacher ratio is much lower than in other schools.

“If I could make one change it would be to organize and streamline efforts [K-12],” said Jenkins. “That’s my best answer for now.”

Julie Morringello, parent of a toddler, said she was “not a fan” of the governor, and didn’t appreciate the grading system, but expressed concern about the failing grade. “I believe in public education,” she said. “But in my circle of friends, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether to send our kids to private school. What kind of parent am I to send my kid to a school that gets an F?” Morringello continued.

School board member Skip Greenlaw responded directly to Morringello’s worries about the elementary school. “We have a talented faculty,” said Greenlaw. Greenlaw said he hoped the strategic plan would lay out a blueprint to reach goals.

Former school board member Doug Johnson said in his six years on the board, one thing he found missing was passion and leadership. “There’s a whole community of people that will help support the school, but you need passion or something to make a shining star,” he continued. He cited the example of Dick Powell’s leadership in crafting and sustaining the chess program.