NORTH ANSON, Maine — Carrabec High School had been transformed from a failing school to a role model for other rural schools in the country, and Jo Anderson Jr., a senior adviser to the U.S. education secretary, said he wanted to see it for himself.
Anderson was at the school Wednesday for a daylong visit with students, teachers and administrators.
“I’m very excited. This is a school that’s had its challenges with, frankly, a lack of resources,” said Anderson.
Carrabec was one of six schools in the state to apply for and receive School Improvement Grants from the U.S. Department of Education. Carrabec received $726,800, the least of the six schools. Governor James B. Longley School in Lewiston, Sumner High School in East Sullivan, Livermore Falls High School in Jay, Lake Region High School in Naples and Riverton School in Portland, which Anderson visited on Tuesday, also were recipients of grants totaling more than $10.6 million.
The money has been put to good use, said Anderson.
“This School Improvement Grant allowed for significant new resources to do things like add math courses. There were students here before who weren’t getting math at the level they needed to pass the SAT,” said Anderson. “You can’t expect kids to do well on a test who haven’t been taught the math on the test.”
Principal Regina Campbell has seen a marked improvement since the school was awarded the grant.
“Prior to this grant in 2009-2010, we had 134 classes that were failed by 69 students,” said Campbell. “At the end of last year, we had 49 classes that were failed by 33 students. What we’ve done is drastically dropped our class failure rate while we’ve increased the rigor of the classes.
“Our classes got harder and our failure rate went down,” she said.
She added that only 17 percent of students met the standard in reading a year ago. Now, 37.5 percent of students meet the standard.
“We’ve increased 20 percent of our student population in reading and pretty much the same in math,” said Campbell. She added that two-thirds of the students are now enrolled in Advanced Placement or honors classes.
“They’re demanding rigor,” she said of the students.
Campbell said the money wasn’t the only reason for the turnaround. Changes in how teachers collaborate and teach lessons also helped raise grades.
Anderson said the changes are also felt at home as parents are getting more involved in what happens at the school.
“Everybody’s getting engaged. I was told parents were coming to meetings who hadn’t come before,” he said. “In fact, parents were asking for more meetings because they wanted to make sure they were raising their expectations at home and re-enforcing the message the teachers were having for students at school.”
Maine Education Association President Chris Galgay applauded the work done by administrators, teachers and students at the school, which has been designated a Priority School by his group and by the National Education Association.
“NEA’s Priority School Campaign is grounded in our belief that every student deserves a great public school and our understanding that the status quo is unacceptable,” said Galgay.
The turnaround has helped student morale, said Campbell.
“A year and a half ago, when we were targeted as a failing school, things were dismal,” said Campbell. “Now things have turned around and our students are walking taller and prouder. We’re really excited.”