State to get $13.3M to improve schools

Posted July 15, 2010, at 12:24 a.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:08 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Two eastern Maine high schools identified this spring among 10 in the state as being persistently low-achieving schools are ready to begin work to improve their performance.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced Monday that Maine was awarded $13.3 million in federal School Improvement Grants as part of a $3.5 billion program funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The funds will be allocated to seven of the 10 schools in Maine that were identified this spring as having low levels of proficiency in reading and math and that showed a low level of improvement.

“When a school continues to perform in the bottom 5 percent of the state and isn’t showing signs of growth or has graduation rates below 60 percent, something dramatic needs to be done,” Duncan said in a prepared release. “Turning around our worst performing schools is difficult for everyone but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids.”

The Maine schools that applied for the funds are Gov. James B. Longley Elementary School in Lewiston, Riverton Elementary School in Portland, Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan, Carrabec High School in North Anson, Deer Isle-Stonington High School in Deer Isle, Lake Region High School in Naples, and Livermore Falls High School.

“These schools stepped up and will be putting in place sustainable and far-reaching initiatives that will improve student achievement,” Angela Faherty, Maine’s acting commissioner of education, said in a prepared release.

Three of the 10 schools did not apply — Hodgdon High School, Houlton Junior-Senior High School and Madison Area High School.

While the state was awarded the funds, the Maine Department of Education is still working with some of the seven school districts to finish their plans. The department expects to announce the dollar amounts for the individual schools in the next week or two. The amounts will range from $700,000 to $3.4 million.

Robert Webster, superintendent of schools for School Union 76, which includes the Deer Isle-Stonington Community School District, said “We’re working on our second revision now,” Webster said Wednesday. “We’re hoping to get approval this time.”

The district is seeking $1.6 million over three years and plans to use the funds in two specific areas: providing additional support for students to achieve academic success and increasing substantially teacher professional development. Those two efforts will target four areas: project-based learning, literacy, math and technical integration, he said.

Although the plan has not yet been approved, Webster said the department has been working to get things lined up for the fall in anticipation that the funds will be available. The school board has developed plans to expand the student learning center that was established last year and also has advertised for foreign language, math and assistant principal positions.

“We’d like to be able to move on those if the grant is awarded,” Webster said.

He said he expects to submit the revised application by the end of this week and to hear within a week whether it has been approved.

RSU 24, which includes Sumner Memorial High School, already has been notified that its plan has been approved and will be fully funded, according to Superintendent William Webster. The district applied for $1,739,000 over three years, all but $80,000 of that earmarked for the high school.

“We’re pleased that our grant will be fully funded,” William Webster said Wednesday. “We’re very excited about the possibilities going forward.”

Among projects the grant will fund are a teacher coaching program, according to William Webster. The district plans to hire three full-time teacher coaches in order to improve classroom effectiveness and engagement with students. The grant also will fund expanded technology that will provide students with more opportunities such as distance learning and increase integration in the classroom.

The district plan also calls for increased remedial programs for students, including additional summer programs; improved after-school opportunities such as increased library hours; and development of personal learning plans for each student, a process that will include participation by the student and their families.

William Webster said the district also plans to implement a state-approved teacher evaluation tool that will include student growth as one measure of teacher performance.

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