A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, March 22, at Southside School. During the hearing, district officials will explain the ranking of Houlton Junior-Senior High School, the positives and negatives of the ranking, and the school’s current educational model.
Last week, the state Department of Education released the list of the 10 “persistently lowest-achieving schools.” Schools included on the list are now eligible for a total of $12 million in federal school improvement grants, provided they plan to take certain steps.
The DOE used federal criteria to produce the list, namely low levels of achievement in math and reading over a three-year period, coupled with a low level of improvement.
The identified schools were listed in two categories. Tier 1 schools are those that receive Title 1 funding — which is reserved for areas with low-income families — but have not made progress for two or more years according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Tier 2 schools are high schools that are eligible for Title 1 funds but whose districts use those funds in other schools.
Officials in Houlton have spoken out against the ranking, saying the school has been unfairly targeted. Teachers and community members also have refuted the ranking in letters to the editor in local and state newspapers.
Superintendent Steve Fitzpatrick said Thursday that he understands the community wants an explanation of the ranking and also wants to give their own feedback to the school board and administration. Earlier this week, an informational meeting on the subject was held for school board members.
“They are shocked, dismayed and in disbelief about us being included on the list,” he said of the school board. “They know what a great school system we have here, so they are wondering how this could have happened.”
Fitzpatrick has maintained that in this past year Houlton High School scored 65th of 127 high schools in the state as measured by the Scholastic Aptitude Tests used by Maine as the high school assessment. In the past three years, the school also has implemented reading labs, after-school programming and SAT preparation courses to help students.
“There is always room to improve,” Fitzpatrick said Friday. “But I don’t believe we deserve the label we’ve been given.”
One of the positives in the situation is that the high school and the other nine Maine schools can apply for a share of $12 million in federal school improvement grants.
The schools must adopt one of four aggressive plans for improvement: the “Turnaround Model,” in which a school must replace its principal and at least half its staff; the “Restart Model,” in which a school must close and reopen as a charter school; the “School Closure Model,” in which a school must close and move students elsewhere; and the “Transformational Model,” in which a district must replace principals who have been at a school more than two years, must train teachers and administrators, implement various reforms, extend learning and planning time, and adjust other operating procedures.
Schools must file a letter of intent to apply for the federal funding by April 2, followed by a full application by May 7, but no school is required to participate.
Fitzpatrick said the models would be talked about during next week’s meeting.