BREWER, Maine — Superintendent Daniel Lee told the school board on Monday that after five years at the helm, he has a good grasp on what he thinks needs to be done to improve the city’s school department.
He unveiled his vision, which he presented to teachers about a month ago, and spent time outlining his suggested steps to restructure and improve the department so students graduate prepared for the real world.
“Despite how dire the financial situation looks over the next few years, we really need to do better,” Lee told the board. “My three R’s — rigor, relevance and relationships — these are the three areas that I think we should focus on.”
Under those three areas, Lee listed several points designed to improve performance, including a clear and shared focus, leadership and teamwork, curriculum building and focused professional development, and creating a supportive learning environment for students and teachers.
“The first step is to create a K-12 curriculum audit,” Lee said. “We need to bring in people who don’t work here” to assess the district. Then compare those findings “to national standards and determined in what areas we do well and what areas we need to report to you.”
Lee plans to do this by tapping Great Maine Schools, a nonprofit school-support project sponsored by the Mitchell Institute that helps schools reorganize and redesign themselves to improve and strengthen their educational offerings.
“We envision an academically rigorous, equitable and personalized education system that prepares every student for college, work and global citizenship,” the Great Schools Partnership Inc. Web site states.
Lee has asked that a consultant coach from Great Maine Schools come to Brewer for 20 days.
“If we’re going to move to a world class school department, we need to create a world class curriculum,” he said.
Input from teachers, staff, students and sending school districts is needed to properly assess what should to be addressed, Lee said.
That audit will allow school leaders to look at what is offered now to see whether it’s still important or relevant, and to see if the course or program is doing what it is intended to do.
The classroom of today, with computers and other technology, is not the same as when he was a child, Lee said, and school leaders need to look at changing how things get done.
For example, “Should we be using more computer-generated instruction?” Lee asked.
Another important role of schools nowadays is modeling to create community-minded people, Lee said. By using character education and creating relationships between teachers and students, and students and the community, well-rounded people are created, he said.
To attain that goal, Lee said he hopes to expand upon the Community of Caring program, established several years ago in Brewer.
The third R — rigor — is the glue that will hold the changes together, Lee said.
“To me, it’s the most complicated, the most challenging of the three items,” he said.
Lee acknowledged that change is not easy, and that he expects criticism, but said change is needed to create a better school system.
Glendon Rand, Brewer High science teacher and coach, said that he supports Lee’s vision “100 percent.”
“I think it’s exactly the time to be innovative and creative and think about our future,” he said, adding that he has had some experience with Great Maine Schools, “and they’re terrific.”
Rand’s only request was that faculty leadership be a part of the process, to which Lee responded, “I give you my word that has to be part of the plan.”
School board members Amanda Bost, Calvin Bubar and Chairman Mark Farley each voiced support of improving the school system.
Bubar compared the school district to the high school’s hockey team, which won the Class B state championship last week.
The team “all worked very well together,” he said. “I question if that has happened in the school district. We’ve dropped the ball a few times.”
Creating a plan is the first step in making progressive changes, Lee said.
“A plan is essential for future growth,” he said. “It’s tough to have a vision when things aren’t so great. We can look ahead … and see what we can become.”