June 19, 2018
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RSU 24 begins application process for school improvement grant

By Rich Hewitt, BDN Staff

ELLSWORTH — School officials in RSU 24 have begun preparing an application to seek funding for Ellsworth High School under the federal school improvement grant program.

The high school became eligible to apply for a portion of the $4 million available through the program this year after it was included in a list of 10 Maine improvement schools that the Maine Department of Education released earlier this month.

According to interim superintendent Henry Ashmore, the RSU school board last week voted to seek the grant funds using the same transformational model the district used at Sumner Memorial High School last year. Sumner was included on the list last year, which was the first year of the program.

That transformational model, one of four approved by the federal government, will include replacing Ellsworth High School Principal William Connors at the end of the school year, according to Ashmore.

Connors has been principal at EHS for seven years.

“And he’s done a real good job in those seven years,” Ashmore said.

Other models would require closing the school or replacing the principal and half of the teaching staff.

“We’re not going to do that,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Ashmore added that, in emphasizing replacement of school principals as part of the school improvement process, the federal government seems to be relying on research that indicates that key factors for quality schools include school leadership and the amount of time students spend actively engaged in learning.

At Sumner, which received $1.7 million last year in school improvement grant funds under this program, the district replaced the principal and increased the length of the school day in order to provide more instructional time, Ashmore said. They also hired teacher coaches who work with classroom teachers to help improve their classroom performance, he said.

“The coaches provide feedback on their teaching,” he said. “They learn from that and that helps all the teachers in the building. It becomes a team approach.”

Ashmore stressed that the district was in the preliminary stages of preparing the very detailed federal application. He did not indicate whether the application for Ellsworth will include any of the other measures undertaken at Sumner, but did say that the district will benefit by having gone through the process once before.

The $4 million available through the program this year is a much smaller amount than the $13 million available last year, and Ashmore indicated that the review process probably will be much more competitive. The Maine Department of Education already has indicated that, with a smaller pool of funds, it is likely that not all of the schools on this year’s list will receive funding, even if all apply.

Assistant Superintendent Katrina Kane is overseeing the application process. She was in Washington, D.C., this week receiving training for another federal grant program and was not available to discuss the process.

Ellsworth High School was one of 10 Maine schools included this year on a state education department list of “improvement schools.” According to previous reports, the list was developed under federal guidelines by which the department ranks the three-year average combined proficiency of students in reading and math and then identifies schools with low proficiency and a lower-than-average growth in proficiency over that time. Those levels were determined mainly through the results of the SAT, which is used in Maine to assess high school achievement.

Last year, the schools that made the list were referred to as “persistently low-achieving schools.” This year the state education department made a point to identify the schools on the list as improvement schools and emphasized that, in fact, they are not the lowest-performing schools in the state.

Part of this initial process, Ashmore said, is to assure area residents that Ellsworth High School is not a bad school and to find creative ways to attract the additional funding.

“Hopefully, at this point, the application will be successful and we can bring in funds to help support greater improvements for our kids,” he said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

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