SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — An elementary school that has been identified as consistently underperforming was awarded a $1.6 million federal school improvement grant, the Maine Department of Education announced Tuesday.
By applying for and receiving the grant, the James Otis Kaler Elementary School is agreeing to “replace the principal and improve the school through comprehensive curriculum reform, professional development, extending learning time and other strategies,” according to the Maine Department of Education website.
South Portland School Department Superintendent Suzanne Godin said that with this grant, Kaler will increase the school day by one hour for all students next year.
This summer, the school will hire a math coach to work with teachers and a data coach to help administrators look at big picture issues, Godin said.
The principal, Diane Lang, will switch places with Bonnie Hicks, the principal of the Small Elementary School, another school in South Portland.
The school also will hire “four ed techs, add more than two days of structured staff time to review student performance data to inform interventions and instruction, and offer $30,000 annually in stipends for teachers and administrators showing student achievement gains,” according to a statement released by the Maine Department of Education on Tuesday.
“We are excited to be recipients of this grant and believe the resources included over the next three years will help the Kaler School Community increase student achievement,” Godin said in the statement. “While the Kaler principal and staff have been working hard to support students and increase parent and community engagement, the coaching positions and increased student learning time are strategies we haven’t been able to provide in our local budget.”
Gov. Paul LePage applauded the school for pursuing the grant.
“Instead of making excuses, Kaler Elementary School leaders are raising the expectations of themselves and their students,” he said in the statement. “I congratulate them for putting their students first and giving the classroom teachers the resources they need to raise aspirations and achievement.”
Maine is one of 10 states nationwide that received the money from the U.S. Department of Education. Thirteen Maine schools with students that showed low achievement and progress on standardized tests over a three-year period were eligible to apply.
At Kaler, 62 percent of the 226 students scored below proficient in math and 56 percent scored below proficient in reading on the statewide standardized tests, according to Maine Department of Education data. Both scores are well below the state average.
According to the school’s grant application, the poverty level has risen in recent years to 63 percent of the student population, and 19 families have been identified as homeless.
The application explains that since the school was identified in the 2011-12 school year as not making adequate yearly progress, a measure that was used to hold schools accountable under No Child Left Behind, the school was required to give students the option to leave, which many took advantage of.
“The location of the school, coupled with the high number of special education and low income students has led to the perception that students are not able to achieve as well as their peers in other schools and this fed into the exodus from Kaler,” the application says.
“Forty-seven students leaving in one year will impact your ability to show gain,” said Godin.
She said the grant will help give students and teachers stability and support in the coming years.