June 21, 2018
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Teacher qualification a wrinkle in island school’s bid for funds

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

DEER ISLE, Maine — After four revisions to its application for school improvement funds, Deer Isle-Stonington High School is now awaiting word from federal education officials whether the latest version will be approved.

At stake is $1.6 million in federal school improvement grants, part of a $13.3 million allocation to the state for the program.

Deer Isle-Stonington High School was among 10 schools in the state identified this spring as being consistently low-performing schools. Seven of the schools, including Deer Isle-Stonington, chose to apply for grant funding through the federal program.

The Maine Department of Education has announced final approval of funding for three Maine schools, including Sumner Memorial High School in Sullivan.

Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal Todd West said Wednesday that a new wrinkle in the application process raises a question about whether it can be approved.

According to West, the district was informed that because the grant funds were being administered through the federal Title I program, all teachers had to be “highly qualified” as defined in federal guidelines. That could be a problem for the district, he said.

“Some of the teachers on the staff do not meet that highly qualified guideline,” he said. “Some of them are some of our best teachers; they just don’t have the right paperwork.”

After a meeting with state education officials last week, the rest of the district’s application appears to be in order, West said.

“We’ve been told that the application is approvable if we can figure this out,” he said.

The delay in obtaining final approval for the plan has forced the high school to put off implementing some of the improvements that had been included in the school improvement plan and funded through the grant.

According to West, the school district had begun advertising and interviewing candidates for new positions based on the initial schedule, which indicated that the funds would be available in June. But, he said, officials have had to put off hiring until the application and funding are approved.

Earlier this month, with the funding still in question, the district school committee opted to postpone some of the staff development and student support activities that had been planned.

That doesn’t mean the entire process is at a complete standstill, West said. The high school still can move forward with some school improvement projects even without the grant funding, he said.

“We’ve been working on a school improvement program for three years already,” he said. “We can still do things we’ve planned this fall.”

One project on tap for the fall is an ongoing curriculum development program that is being funded in part by other means. West said the school could move ahead with about half of that program whether the grant is approved or not.

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