ROCKLAND, Maine — Public education faces great challenges as it attempts to prepare students for life in the fast-changing global economy and 120 residents from the regional school system turned out to offer their thoughts on how that can best be done.
A more than two-hour meeting was held Wednesday night at Oceanside High School East in which residents batted around ideas to help students be successful. The public forum was part of the strategic planning process being developed by Regional School Unit 13 to determine its priorities for the next five years.
Peter Lammert, a selectman in Thomaston, said many students are coming to school hungry and unable to learn. Many other students don’t know where they will be sleeping that night.
“It’s a social problem, it’s a United States problem. It’s huge,” Lammert said.
Parent Rebecca Albright of Rockland said she has to give her children supplemental work when they get home because the education is not challenging enough.
“Why are 81 percent of middle school students making the honor roll yet the school is failing to meet state standards?” Albright asked. “We need to raise our expectations.”
Teacher Josh Mahar warned that Oceanside East was looking at models such as Searsport, where students are not grouped by achievement. He said this was the wrong way to go.
“Do you want to go to a school that is high achieving or one on its best day, a best care scenario, is OK, but most of the time is severely lacking?” Mahar asked.
RSU 13 board member Don Choquette said that the current system of education is 100 years old.
“Our whole system needs to be revamped,” Choquette said.
He said that the school year in the United States is far shorter than in countries such as China, Japan and Korea. He also said teachers are revered in those countries but not in the United States.
He also said the schools need to be more flexible.
“We have to get away from putting every child in a mold,” Choquette said.
Teacher Josh McPhail from St. George agreed that teachers and the school system need to be more flexible. He said if a student comes from a home where there is little chance to get the homework done, the district shouldn’t grade that student so heavily on their homework but make sure that the child learns.
“We’ve tried to put everyone in a box, our communities in a box, our students in a box, everything in a box,” McPhail said.
He said school choice should happen within the district.
“If one school teaches the arts very well, and there is a student who soars in art, that student should be able to go there,” he said.
One common theme was how to encourage more parental and public involvement.
Choquette said it was unconscionable how few people turn out to attend budget meetings of the district.
Resident Archie Green of Rockland said the common denominator of students who are successful are parents who will sit down with their students to make sure the homework is done.
Eric Schenk, a board member from South Thomaston, said that one challenge is the inequity of technology at home. He said parental supervision is needed and students need to be motivated but they also need the technology including high-speed Internet at home.
Oceanside East technology specialist Hank Read agreed there are websites, such as Kahn Academy, that schools could use to help students. He said that for this to be used as a tool in the schools, it has to be sold to the students and communities.
Oceanside student Lizzie Lombardo said the school should look at different levels for students and offer more vocational training. She said students have to be challenged regardless of their home lives.
“We need to raise the bar, even if the parents are not there for them,” she said.
Interim RSU 13 Superintendent Neal Guyer noted the district faces continued declining enrollment, pointing out that the consolidation of Rockland District High School and Georges Valley High School has been beneficial because it has allowed the combined school to offer more electives and advanced courses for students.
The district has established a survey on surveymonkey.com to get more suggestions from the public on a series of questions. The survey is on the web at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/rsu13strategicplanning.
RSU 13 includes Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston, and Cushing.