PORTLAND, Maine — At Portland’s Fred P. Hall Elementary School Thursday, parents and students rallied in support of their teachers after learning that the school received an “F” under Gov. Paul LePage’s grading system.
“I imagine as a teacher that would be pretty demoralizing,” said Carolyn Fernald, mother of a Hall School third grader. “So we wanted to come out and let the teachers know that we appreciate all their hard work.”
The city’s two largest public secondary education sites, Portland and Deering high schools, received Ds according to the governor’s controversial rankings, which superintendents across the state largely decried Wednesday as unfair and overly simplistic.
Other Portland schools fared better. Four of the city’s elementary schools were given “C” grades under the governor’s system, which relies in large part on standardized test scores, while the Longfellow School on Stevens Avenue received an “A,” for instance.
With dozens of parents and students meeting teachers with colorful signs outside the Hall School Thursday as classes ended for the day, many educators were overwhelmed by the local support. Assistant Principal Gloria Noyes was brought to tears by the display.
Many of the signs proposed grades of “A” for the school, while others suggested the governor’s “F” should be seen as standing for “Fantastic,” “Family” or “Fabulous.”
“It’s heartwarming because this is how I feel about Hall School,” Noyes said. “It’s been very difficult to see on the news and so publicly that, according to some others, we are an “F” school. I would invite anybody to come into our school and see the teaching and the learning going on here, because it’s outstanding.”
Fernald said students at the school were tested last year just three days after returning to the building following a fire that closed the facility for more than three weeks.
“It seems like an arbitrary system they’re using to rate the schools anyway, but in the case of the Hall School in particular we just don’t feel [the “F” grade] is representative of what’s going on here,” she said.
Third grade teacher Mikki Van Summern said she pays for much of her own classroom supplies out of pocket, and that more than half of her class is comprised of students from other countries with other native languages.
“There’s no way you can show that through standardized tests,” she said.
Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk has argued the governor’s grading system is oversimplified, and prior to the release of grades Wednesday, lamented $1 million in cuts to state subsidies for the district in the current fiscal year. Portland school officials have noted, city schools have seen state aid reduced from $17.6 million in 2010 to $14 million this year.
“If [LePage] feels like the schools are failing, why isn’t he fully funding them,” posed Fernald.
“I don’t think the grade was right,” Callie Banksmith, a former Hall School student who now attends Lincoln Middle School and whose sister now attends the school, said Thursday at the rally. “Hall deserves an ‘A+’. I learned so much here.”