School to apply for federal improvement funds

Posted April 07, 2010, at 8:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:45 a.m.

DEER ISLE, Maine — The Deer Isle-Stonington School Committee on Tuesday authorized the school department to apply for a share of federal school-improvement grant funds.

The vote was 5-0, with committee member Don Sargent abstaining.

The school district became eligible to apply for a share of $12 million in federal funds after the Deer Isle-Stonington High School was named last month as one of 10 persistently low-achieving schools in the state.

The discussion was “fairly uncontroversial” because the district had been informed it could apply for the funds and still keep Principal Todd West in his position at the high school, according to Superintendent Robert Webster.

West has been principal there for 2½ years, and, under one of the requirements for grant eligibility, principals who have worked more that two years at a “persistently low-achieving” school must be replaced.

“Because of the flexibility of the state and U.S. departments of education, we were able to make that decision and keep Mr. West as principal,” Webster said.

He noted that the departments considered evidence that the high school already had begun to make some of the improvements under West’s leadership that the grant funds will support. Also, Webster said, the departments reviewed test results only from the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, but did not include the current school year in their assessment.

“Using a little creative math, that puts Mr. West within the two-year time frame,” Webster said.

The high school still will have to provide proof that the school improvement measures have been under way.

The School Committee’s decision on Tuesday paves the way for the school department to prepare a grant application that will include plans to improve the high school and will be based on information from the committee and from the general public, Webster said. The district has held two community meetings so far, and a third meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 14.

“The people who have been coming to these meetings are supportive of a school improvement effort; they want to be involved,” he said. “The sentiment so far has been very positive.”

The proposal will have to provide for “substantial and transformational” change in the high school, Webster said.

“We’re not going to nibble around the edges,” he said. “It has to be radical or the departments of education will not approve funding for the second and third years.”

Based on a conference call with the education department on Wednesday, Webster said it appears the SAT test scores will be the sole measure of progress at the schools seeking the funds.

Webster said he would have liked to see the department use multiple measurements to assess improvement at the school. There are other types of data that can be used as measurements of success, he said.

“If we’re seeing a decline in the dropout rate, an increase in college acceptances and in the number of students taking AP courses, or developing a K-12 aligned curriculum that meets state and federal standards — that’s important stuff. Those are important signs that things are happening,” he said. “Continuing to rely on a single test, I think, is short-sighted, but we will do our best with it.”

The grant application is due on May 2, and the school should hear by the end of that month whether its application has been approved. The funds are scheduled to be released in June for use in the coming school year.

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