Category Archives: Hot off the press

Notes on the Task Force…

sheep and donkey

“…they could look at a bowl of cherries and see nothing but pits…” ~Marty Strange, on the negative view of consolidation proponents toward small schools.

…an apt description of the negativity toward RSU 50’s schools for their size that permeated last Monday’s “Community Meeting”.  (A compelling essay by Mr. Strange, and other works by top researchers on school consolidation can be found in Great Plains Research Volume 23 No. 2   Abstracts are available here, and I just submitted a full copy to the Sherman Public Library yesterday).

Back to last Monday’s meeting.  I know many of you have asked for this and I’m sorry I took so long with my “homework”  At the beginning, Mrs. Hill expressed a very valid concern at the way in which meetings like this one are announced.  They should be on AlertNow.  I share her belief that people should be as informed as possible, and in a consistent way.  I also want to thank her, too, for welcoming my voice in this debate though I have no vote and likely disagree.

“If you want to know what’s going on you have to come to the meetings.!” ~Chairman Greg Ryan,  “We announce the next meetings at the meetings….”

I disagree.  People have a right to know what is going on whether they are able to attend meetings or not.  That is why we read newspapers rather than go, say, to the State gHouse….. It was suggested to a number of us some time ago that we record/video/mp4 -whatever, meetings and share them.  I lack the technological capability!  Tech-savvy readers?

It is difficult to attend, certainly.  I would have preferred to be at home with my family; on a rare night off for such a hardworking husband.  Anyway:

How did the meeting become so heated so quickly?

It all started innocently enough.  I asked Craig Kesselheim to clarify references to Searsport High School in the FTF report.  In it, the FTF asserts that Searsport’s size relative to Belfast and philosophical uniqueness should bar its closure.  It brought to mind, for me, another instance where that very same argument was used by then-Commissioner Susan Gendron to justify closure of Benedicta’s school.  Such value judgements run throughout the FTF’s “unbiased” analysis.  Many surrounding Katahdin look to Searsport as  a model to emulate for good reason.  I did not share a letter from a friend there; I didn’t have time, as the Board was busy  shutting down discussion for which they were unprepared, but here it is now:

“…Searsport High School has worked hard at coming back from losing their accreditation in the 90’s and has been working towards becoming a STEM school. The program is so popular and successful here that schools in Maine, New England and beyond have visited our campus and talked with teachers and students for advice and direction. The superintendent said more schools needed to close and he had Searsport High School on the chopping block even though our test scores were higher than Belfast and even though we are so close to becoming a STEM school. He wanted to move us into a school that is too small and falling apart, while our school is newer with modern improvements and state of the art lab, etc. If we moved to Belfast, we would have had to use modular classrooms as the school isn’t big enough to accommodate us. That was Belfast’s way of being able to say to the state they need a new school sooner rather than later. Basically it boils down to our communities wanting local control of our school tax dollars and control over keeping the momentum going with creating a STEM school..”

 

Our readers will likely see parallels in our own RSU.

The preference for large schools  underlied the discussion, and the Board’s position was clear, that schools of Katahdin’s size are inviable:

“…The criticism that smaller schools cannot offer as broad a program of studies as can larger schools has been around for a very long time; it is often used as a justification for closing smaller schools. Educational authorities, pursuing an agenda of school consolidation, point out the obvious: larger schools can offer a wider range of programs and more courses than can smaller schools. “Therefore, goes the argument, operating small schools with more limited curricula is unfair to the students who attend them” (Cotton, 1996).
“While this has a certain common sense appeal, examination of the research reveals that there simply is no reliable relationship between school size and curriculum quality. 

“Even the smallest schools (100-200 students) are able to offer core curricula comparable to schools of more than 1,200….” ~Jack and the Giant School, by Stacy Mitchell

Mrs. Robinson astutely pointed out how slight even the FTF’s own predictions are regarding more offerings saying, “I expected more”.

“..researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety – that is, on average, a 100% increase in enrollment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings…”  Education on a Human Scale

The FTF offers no evidence to support even these modest, predicted gains, and even they may be overly optimistic when applied to  RSU #50.  These figures do not account for the demands that increased transportation, construction, State subsidy uncertainties or taxpayer support will undoubtedly make on any savings.

The Board admitted what readers of Timbered Classrooms have known for some time:  that a new school is, indeed their first choice of scenarios.  Though it did not admit the myriad of ways pursuit of new construction in lieu of innovating; optimizing our small schools’ potential shortchanges kids in their care today, we can extrapolate a certain degree of callousness from  the Board’s willingness to yank $20,000 from the classroom to “study” this,using only data provided by the Superintendent.  Why did they need Great Schools Partnership then?  Save 20  grand and do this work yourself!  You’re all adults….  When asked for evidence,  “We haven’t done that yet” protested Greg Ryan, but further discussion descended into one, unequivicol conclusion:  Minds are already made up.

“Educational authorities, convinced that they were right, intimidated and informed parents that if they wished their children to have a quality education, they had to agree to close their small community school and have their children bused to a larger school in a distant community. No additional evidence was necessary (Howley and Eckman, 1997; Truscott and Truscott, 2005, Theobald, 2005; Meier, 2002).”

“For many educational authorities there was no need for research to support this view. Most administrators and policy makers during this time period increasingly drew their educational models and metaphors from business and industry. Notions of economies of scale and the “cult of efficiency” (Callahan, 1964) provided all the “proof” needed to justify the consolidation and closure of small schools. For many it was simply a matter of common sense: if bigger factories are more productive than smaller ones then bigger schools must be better than smaller schools.”

I hope that the people of the RSU #50 communities will soon demand evidence to support the path their Board is aggressively pursuing:

“…Those who say small schools are not “efficient,” or effective, need to cite the evidence, not just the rhetoric. …” ~Size Matters

Such careful, critical analysis is long overdue, and it is surely the responsibility of Board members to engage, actively and independently throughout their terms:

“…I suggest that potential candidates for school board should be required to visit exemplary schools in Maine and elsewhere before announcing their candidacy. They should be asked to share with the electorate their vision of excellent schools and their ideas for how to help schools achieve that vision. They should be required to demonstrate an informed engagement with topics in the national educational dialogue….” ~Kathreen Harrison School Board Candidates Should Show Serious Engagement

Though a stack of research/empirical evidence sat in my knitting bag, consolidation proponents — with none at all, accused those of us who see value in small schools of “being emotional”, “negative” and unable to get along with others.  (Actually, we embrace sharing – real, universally beneficial sharing.)  Not surprisingly, no one showed any interest in evidence:

.  “…don’t bother me with the facts, I have made up my mind” applied to educational decision making. It is hard not to conclude that those who still insist that bigger schools are better schools are simply not interested in the evidence to the contrary…” Education on a Human Scale

I came to this issue in 2004, inclined to believe consolidation saved money and offered opportunity, and did not have children in school when Commissioner Gendron came after Benedicta Elementary.  I got involved, only because she had refused to answer any of my neighbors’ letters — I just asked her , politely, of course, to answer them as they were becoming increasingly upset.  Thus began a lengthy, spirited-yet-civil correspondence, as I pursued the research with an open mind; determined to go where the evidence led.  I was surprised by how decisive it was!  …as surprised as researchers themselves:

“…the advantages of smaller schools have been established with a clarity and confidence rare in the annuls of education (Raywid 2000)

The Commissioner and I would never agree, and some views she held on equity for rural children I found difficult to respect.  She always engaged, though, even coming to Benedicta several times under contentious circumstances and I do respect and appreciate that.  Perhaps more now as this Board is disinclined to do likewise.

The contrast between the former Commissioner and the behavior of this Board toward Timbered Classrooms, certain employees and me could not be more stark.

But it should not be surprising:

“…It’s an unfortunate, but fairly common reality that intimidation and personal slurs are used against people fighting consolidation. Sometimes teachers or administrators have their jobs, or the jobs of family members, subtly threatened. Sometimes rumors are spread locally. It’s not uncommon for pro-consolidation media outlets to portray community advocates of small schools in unflattering ways, to use derogatory rural stereotypes, and to misrepresent the legitimate concerns of rural residents and parents as self-interest, commitment to local athletic teams, or ignorance of and disregard for what’s best for their own children….” ~Anything But Research Based

Phil Knowles was right about one thing:  (no, this is not a typo, and it WAS only one thing:  Education cannot be run like a business.

We have to remember, education is education, a humane and human process. It is not competition or production. It is not a business, and business leaders really don’t know much about it. Education is not their area of expertise…. Not a Business

He went on to express openness to scenarios that, “…throw my kids under the bus…” because Southern Aroostook is closer to Region II and would afford those kids the opportunity to return in time for another class.

This is why Regional  Boards are so problematic.  Why on Earth would you throw ANY child “under the bus” EVER?  This is exactly the type of thought processes that occur in a Board that is too far removed from the kids.  They begin to think in terms of averages and lose sight of the preciousness of every single child.

A child is not a “regional unit”, is not “scaleable” and none of them are “average”.  The Board could create and empower separate committees to see to individualize decision making:  Pearls of Wisdom From out Coastal Cousins

Back to “Proximity to Southern Aroostook…”.  It’s an argument we have heard over and over and over, and one more often used to justify closure.     Do you know what else is “proximate to Region II”?  Houlton.  If busing is so benign, then, why not close SACS?  The distance is less than what you are asking Katahdin’s children to endure.  Why does the harm of busing matter more or less depending on who is in the seat if “all children matter equally”?

Claims that the desired “new school” will remain small, and retain all of the benefits of small schools is used to discredit the research offered here.  READ: “…too small to benefit from scale…”  In a few words, Larry sweepingly dismissed every item of research presented here and beyond, “They’re not talking about us….” — the height of absurdity in a decidedly farcical evening.

They are correct, though, and will likely be smaller than anyone may think.  …too small to offer the benefits touted by the Board.  Do we have reason to believe that precipitous enrollment declines will NOT continue unabated?    Though I believe in public education, and find “shopping” for schools in a “market” abhorrent, I am doing just that and am not alone.  The Superintendent referenced the difficulty in attracting and retaining good teachers.  The only reason I do not home school, is the relationships children form with wonderful teachers.  If they will not choose RSU #50, then why should I for our children?  Has anyone on the Board spoken with good teachers who would not submit a resume?  I have.  Like many problems in the RSU, size isn’t the issue.  Further, as research shows that taxpayer support diminishes with distance in consolidations, interest in changing the cost-sharing formula to a per-pupil one will likely grow and that budgets will become even more difficult to pass.

At the moment, our small schools are being run by people seeking to prove their inferiority, as is reflected by budget priorities toward “Bureaucrats and Wardens” which does not bode well to realizing their full potential.

I’ve always thought it odd that school size was treated as a choice — it isn’t always.    Children in your care are not going to wait for you to “decide” whether to pursue “bigness” OR innovate as quality small schools do.  Policymakers have a responsibility to do the latter, though we all know it conflicts directly with their efforts toward the former.

The Board would do well to remember, that,  they have no choice — they are running small schools at the moment, and their negativity toward them amounts to an admission that children are being shortchanged now – and unnecessarily according to research and to residents who believe the budget is sufficient to improve education for kids if spent differently.

“…Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”Beware the Oversimplifiers

The communities have a decision to make, here, and I do wish them well.  The Board made theirs long ago.

Futures Task Force Findings – FINAL

lavendar cougar

 

The work of the Futures Task Force completed, Timbered Classrooms would like to share with our readers a copy of its conclusions.  Many thanks to our readers who brought this to my attention.  How did I miss it?  Good question, but thank goodness for you!  Trying diligently to bite my tongue, (or my fingers!), for the  moment, anyway, I hope YOU won’t!  We always love to hear from you, whatever your views.  I have a great deal of confidence that our readers will perform a careful, critical reading and ask the deeper questions this report undoubtedly raises.

RSU 50 FTF Report (1) FINAL

 

 

A Sneak Peek At The Times

The following has been submitted to the Houlton Pioneer Times for publication.  Please join Timbered Classrooms in thanking the author, David Robinson, both for speaking out, and for offering our readers a first  look…

 

image

“I am concerned about the RSU 50 budget negotiations because of my lack of confidence in the superintendent. During the budget validation meeting of 2013-2014 superintendent Malone pointed out to the citizens that he was under no obligation to abide by any agreement he may enter into during the process. Further he made clear that he also is not obligated to operate within the budget guidelines once a budget is approved. for example; a town manager is required to spend the towns money as set out in each of the warrants approved during the towns annual budget meeting, the superintendent is under no such requirement. The RSU 50 business manager numerous times during the meeting had to speak for the superintendent as he seemed to be adrift on the inner workings of the budget.


How can I vote for the 2014-2015 budget that doesn’t pass the stink test. We have reportedly got between 700 and 800 students with a budget of nearly 10 million dollars this is ridiculous.


We voted down this years budget and what does the board do ? Agree to cutting building maintenance and resubmit the budget to the public for a 29 July validation meeting. Well, this was last years threat, why cut building maintenance? Here is why, the superintendent wants a new school, so, if he cuts the maintenance of buildings he can down the line, blame the public for the poor condition of the buildings and enhance his argument for needing a new school. I have no idea what is going to happen with this money if the budget is approved. For sure though I know the superintendent will hire who ever he wants, and let go who ever he wants. He will spend the funds however he wants. He will tell us whatever is needed to pass a budget. It is time for the school board to act and find a superintendent with integrity and a budget that makes sense.    No excuses.”  ~David Robinson
 

 

 

 

 

RSU 50 Déjà Vu: 5 Critical Issues That Are Destroying Our School

We have so much to learn from the fine young people, for whom we gather here at Timbered Classrooms.  No matter your position, your experience… Such a perspective is the most enlightening.  Our young people are closest to the learning process, and know so much that we do not.  So listen.  Listen completely.
newfield-school-changes-2

As it stands, there are currently 6 student days left in my junior year at Katahdin High School. When 9:30 a.m rolls around on June 18th, I will finally have the relief that I have been seeking for months on end. While this year is wrapping up, many of the same issues that were plaguing the minds of students last year at this time have rolled back around. Sadly, there are numerous new issues that are concerning the student population about the upcoming 2014-15 school year. As a very vocal student, I have to ask myself why I even begin to try to fit for my beliefs and opinions. Although I was assured by administration last year that all of the troubles brought forth by the end of the school year would be resolved for this year, It is evident that this isn’t the case. From a student’s view, what changes are needed to create a more positive, enjoyable learning environment? While I could go on forever, I will list a few of my own and other students biggest worries.

1. Why aren’t we doing anything to retain our GOOD teachers? The end of this year has marked another spring that resignations have been flying into the superintendent’s office. The sad thing is that more than half of our teachers who literally commit their lives and dedicate an excessive portion of their day to the students of KHS are the ones who are choosing to leave. What is wrong here? Our teaching salary and expectations in no way match up. You can’t expect a teacher who spends 10 hours of their day and countless hours at home to have a desire to stick around. I know that all of our teachers do what they do for the students, but they get sick of things just as easily as the students do! Maybe it is time that we look into this a little bit more considering by the start of next year more than 3/4 of our staff were not there during my freshman year. The constant changing of personnel severely impacts the students needs whether the administration realizes this or not!

2. We would all act like adults if you treated us like one!  What is even logical about a more than six-hour school day that contains no breaks, limited time for lunch (which is restricted to solely inside now), and no additional freedoms? When I Was a freshman we were allowed to wear hats, eat lunch anywhere we wanted (inside or outside), enjoy a 15 minute break (in the hall too, and no one felt “unsafe”), have a 40 minute lunch (we could also leave the cafeteria after we were done eating), and we were all around treated like young adults. What is so wrong with making school a fun place? You can’t even go in the hall or library without being watched on camera. What harm does it do to let us as teenagers to eat lunch outside, get some fresh air, and burn off some energy. Taking away or limiting personal freedoms is the WORST thing that the administration can do to the students. If the logic behind the no breaks is that students are intimidated to walk by others in the hall, how is this even realistic to real life? School is about preparing students for adulthood.  I currently don’t know of one student who is pleased about school next year, especially due to limited freedom (or should I say no freedom?). We are all beginning to wonder when the bars are going to be installed on the windows!

3. No study halls is the worst idea…ever.  Sure not every student does work every single study hall, but when it needs to be done the period is used wisely. What about the students who need that free block to get help from a peer or teacher? Not every student has the time and privileges to do their work at home (especially since ipads are not allowed to be taken home). And what about 8 blocks of classes per day? This has to be the worst thing you could do to a student. If this was Bangor High School with plentiful classes to choose from, then I don’t see an issue. Our course offerings are so poor and limited that this is not going to work for the students. You are going to have a student taking a class they hate but are forced to take, causing them to perform poorly and develop an ever more negative attitude towards school. And what about for the student who finds school challenging? This is going to cause them to struggle even more having to keep up with such a heavy work load. All around, it is going to hinder student growth and achievements and not help us in any way, shape, or form.

4.Why isn’t the administration listening to and respecting student concerns? I have been bringing up the same issues or problems with the administration and school board for years. Sadly, it was a waste of my time. Nothing has been changed. This is the case for many students. They are being unfairly treated by the administration for expression their concerns. Can’t we really do our job and serve our towns with the BEST interest for the students? Isn’t that what administration is elected to do? The administration has no right to bully a student for sharing a valid concern.

5. If we are so poor, why can’t we prioritize our needs? If the budget really is such a big concern, then why are we giving the superintendent a 2% raise, why did we just purchase useless iPads, and please remind me why we have resources that cost $$ that we don’t even use (Compass Learning, etc.). It is time that we learn to prioritize our needs in order to best serve the students of RSU 50. This can be done both educationally and fiscally. Not only would I love to have a literal honors class, I would also be glad to have another teacher who could expand our program of studies. Learn to cut only what isn’t going to impact our education!

While I could go on for hours on end, I have tried to paint the best picture I possibly could without giving all of the wonderful community members, parents, students, and staff who keep up with this blog. These problems and then some are causing our school district to lose students, staff, and morale. It is only a matter of time before the damage is irreversible! Please feel free to connect with me in the comments section of this page if you have any questions, comments, etc. for me. I would love to hear from you! ~Guest Student Author

Image

What’s YOUR Vision?

What's YOUR Vision?

The next meeting of the RSU 50 Vision Committee will be held Monday, Dec. 2nd at 5:30pm at Katahdin High School. The public is welcome!

Representatives are still needed for Sherman and Stacyville, and perhaps other communities in the RSU?

These decisions will shape not only the future of our children’s education, but our communities as well. Please contact your local town office to volunteer and ensure that the voice of your community; of each town in the district, is heard.

Thank you, and see you there!

RSU 50: A Parent’s Perspective

Reprinted from the Houlton Pioneer Times Oct. 30th 2013 edition:purple_and_maroon_ying_yang_by_cynderules101-d5lba4e

To the editor:

The negativity concerning our local school unit continues to bother me.  In my opinion, the most alarming comments are simply not factual and in some cases down right mean and disrespectful.  Continue reading

RSU 50: A Student’s Perspective

“When people talk, listen completely.  Most people never listen.”

~Earnest Hemingway

A critique composed by a Katahdin Middle and High School student, reprinted here in its entirety from the Houlton Pioneer Times.  To those entrusted with the decisions that shape her experience, I urge you to listen deeply, without judgement or defensiveness that may obscure the lessons within.  Thank you, Miss Fitzpatrick, for so generously sharing your thoughts with your community. 

RSU 50:  A Student’s Perspective

by Delaney Fitzpatrick

Image

I remember when I was a freshman.  Katahdin Middle and High School was a very happy environment.  Happy teachers, happy administration, and happy students.  I went through my freshman year quite enjoying myself with absolutely no bumps in the road.  Sophomore year was just about the same, a few minor changes, but nothing too huge.  Junior year came along and suddenly, everything changed. 

Continue reading

The Power in Numbers

“Welcome to a student author, who paints a vivid picture, indeed!”

8:00 A.M…A time of day that previously had brought smiles and laughter to the faces of the students at Katahdin High School.  In past years, the halls at KHS have been teeming with smiles, laughter, and happiness shared between nearly all of the students, and the staff that had became almost like a second family to many students.  Katahdin High School has always carried a great reputation for the positive atmosphere brought forth by the work of the faculty, administration, and the students in collaboration.  That is until now. Currently, those smiles are far and few between.  The bell indicating that it is time for Block 1 classes to begin brings forth sighs from many of the students. To many, school is not a happy place anymore. Seeing my fellow peers expressing hate towards school pains me.  No student should be led to “hate” their school. However, morale is  extremely low, and I personally don’t see it going anywhere but down in the next few months. What exactly has caused this immense change in our school’s atmosphere? Let’s take a look. Continue reading