Tag Archives: School consolidation

“Consolidating districts doesn’t mean consolidation of SCHOOLS…”, said the Spider to the Fly…

9973TressDunceCap……except that it does, almost inevitably. Former Governor Baldacci’s school district consolidation initiative, ” Local Schools Regional Support” (LSRS) was heralded with reassurances that “Schools don’t have to close….” — ad nauseum.   Continue reading

Education on a Human Scale…

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The issue of busing is weighed very differently depending on whose children endure the journey.  See what the research says about it, beginning on page 52 of the pdf….

“…There are some who cling, stubbornly, to the outdated view that bigger schools are necessarily better schools. Despite the fact that there is no research evidence to support this view, well meaning but misguided and ill-informed policy makers continue to pursue the closure and consolidation of small neighborhood and community schools. They pursue this agenda apparently unaware that the educational community has moved on from this mid-twentieth view to embrace the educational opportunities available to students in small schools. Despite paying lip-service to “evidence based decision making,” some educational leaders seemingly ignore the growing body of evidence that clearly indicate that smaller schools are to be preferred over larger ones. One has to wonder if these folks can read!…”

Read more of this fascinating study of school consolidation in its entirety, here: Education on a human scale_5 April 

…or keep scrolling for (colorful) highlights:

“….Once upon a time rural parents and educators were more or less alone in their struggle with governments and school boards to maintain their small community schools. Educational authorities and policy makers seemed united in their view that bigger schools were better schools. If parents truly cared about their children and their education, they would agree to close their small schools and have their children bussed down the road to larger schools in distant community. It was assumed that the “authorities knew best” and they only wanted was best for the children.
     For the most part parents trusted the authorities and went along with the closure and consolidation plans. Yet, in their hearts they knew something was wrong with what they were being told. They knew that their community schools were good schools; they knew that the children benefited in many ways by having their schools situated close to home. But those in authority consistently said otherwise. And in the absence of evidence to the contrary, the authorities had the power to impose their views.
     That was then; this is now. Over the past thirty years there has developed a considerable body of evidence and a set of informed perspectives that confirm what rural parents and known and felt all alone. In Chapter 3 of this report we present the evidence that supports the viability and value of small rural schools…”

“People in rural communities and rural teachers have been arguing for years that there is a fundamental inequity in an education system that funds on the basis of student populations rather than programs.”

Any discussion about small schools must deal with the issue of bussing. Part of the rationale for closing small community schools has always been the prospect and feasibility of bussing students from their home communities to larger schools situated in other communities. The persistent efforts of educational authorities to close and consolidate small schools and create ever larger schools has resulted in more and more students of all ages having to endure longer and longer bus rides.”

“Given that educational administrators have, in many cases and situations, held considerable power, school consolidation has often been achieved by over-riding public opinion on the basis of claims about the educational and financial benefits of larger schools. These alleged benefits are not supported by any significant evidence, and the more researchers have looked at the question of school size, the more clear it becomes that small schools are actually superior”

“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 bussed 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.”

“…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…”

…these large, typically urban schools are attempting to create the social conditions which exist naturally in rural schools, conditions which are ironically destroyed by consolidation.
     The research of the last thirty years clearly justifies educational policies that support the creation of new small schools and, more importantly for rural areas, sustaining and supporting existing small community schools. There is little if any justification for closing small schools as a matter of policy. All fair minded people have to wonder given this research base:
     Why do so many states [and provinces] continue to develop consolidation policies that are anything but research-based? Why is this irrational and failed approach to educational improvement forced upon rural communities, despite their widespread and often vehement opposition? (Rural School and Community Trust, 2006)
     To continue to pursue a policy of closure and consolidation in the face of the research evidence is to put the education of rural children and youth at risk…”

“Policy makers can change the rules under which state [provincial] systems operate, from big-school to small-school norms. They might, in other words, un-rig the game that requires schools to be large. This study and others show that large size is not the criterion of “excellence” it was once thought to be. And smaller schools have now been shown to exert an evidently robust effect on equity. It is interesting to observe that at the time large-school norms were instantiated—the early and mid-twentieth century—few educators or legislators worried about equity. Such norms seem to have outlived their utility (2004: 27).”

“Howley and Howley conclude their most recent work with a number of practical recommendations for educators and policy makers concerned with making the most educationally sound decisions regarding small rural schools. They base these “considered judgments” on the current body of research on this topic as well as their own and others experiences working with rural communities:
•    Sustain the smallest schools in the poorest communities.

•    In communities that serve all social classes, do not build large
schools.

•    Keep elementary and middle schools proportionately smaller than
high schools.

• When building new, keep schools everywhere smaller than
recommended in the 20th century.

•    Provide appropriate and adequate support to smaller schools: small
size improves the odds of success, it does not guarantee it.

•    Regard smaller school size and reform as distinct issues, but do not
hesitate to innovate in smaller schools.

•    Doubt that an educationally-relevant lower limit of school size exists. (emphasis added) Much depends on context, and even in the contemporary world, dedicated parents educate very small groups of children with remarkable success at home (2004: 28-29)…”

“The schools that are the focus of this study are small schools. From a national and international perspective they are very small schools. The body of research that has been amassed over the last thirty years confirms that small size is no impediment to academic performance. In fact for some groups of students a smaller school provides them with their best chance of academic success. To bus them out of their home community to a larger distant school may put their academic lives at risk…”

“…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).
However, as Cotton (1996) points out:

“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. For one thing, researchers have found that “it takes a lot of bigness to add a little variety”—that is, “on the average a 100% increase in enrolment yields only a 17% increase in variety of offerings” (Pittman and Haughwout, 1997). Moreover, “[t]he strength of the relationship between school size and curricular offerings diminishes as schools become larger…”

“..Meier (1996) addresses the issue of school size as an impediment to parental involvement. “Schools are intimidating places,” she writes, “for many parents – parents feel like intruders, strangers, and outsiders.”
And nothing seems more foolish than going to parent night and seeing a slew of adults who don’t know your kid, have very little investment in him or her, and whose opinions and advice make one feel less, not more, powerful. When kids reach high school, schools usually give up on parents entirely (except to scold them). But high school students don’t need their parents any less, just differently.
When the school is small enough, probably someone there knows your kid well enough, and maybe also likes him or her enough, to create a powerful alliance with you. Smallness doesn’t guarantee such an alliance, but it makes it reasonable to put time into creating one (1996: 13).  When that larger school is in a distant community, that feeling of alienation for parents is intensified. In addition, travel distance and time become additional barriers for parents to be involved with the school and get to the school for special meetings. In some circumstances having access to transportation can be a problem for parents…”

“…The trend to close schools was intensified by a culturally popular assumption … schools need to be big to be good. In fact, for many decades of the 20th century, school consolidation was considered synonymous with school improvement, despite the fact that there was virtually no evidence to support the assumption. While naïve views related to consolidation still exist, and the practice continues to be one of the first cost-cutting measures examined when states face serious fiscal difficulties, we have at last reached the point where consolidation advocates are forced to submit evidence for claims of greater efficiency and improved instruction (Theobald, 2005: 121)….”

“…school administrators often have something very different in mind when they speak of educational quality than the images of educational quality in the minds of most citizens living in rural communities. They speak, it seems different languages and it is very difficult to translate between the two…”

“…Theobald’s second point is that in the United States and in Canada as well, a higher standard of evidence is now required to justify crucial decisions that are made with public money. We are now in the age of evidence-based decision making and accountability. Theobald speaks to the passing of the time when a group of people can set themselves up as experts and make decisions on the basis of unjustified and unsubstantiated judgment calls….”

“…Let us be clear, it is not progress, technology or time that kills a small rural school or any school for that matter. Small schools often do not fit the standardized mould and they cause difficulties for administrators. And so, the very qualities that make these schools work and that their students and communities love about them are actually used as justification for their closure. These schools work because they are nonstandard and responsive to real communities…”

“…Contrary to the mythology, exceptional schools do not die off, most are killed by intentional acts, not by the inevitable forces of nature. In nature, variation, messiness, and chaos are not unnatural or unproductive forms of organization. In fact, as biologists would remind us, they are essential features of growth. When school people forbid such messiness, or view it as a burden, we undermine the possibility of proliferation … Many good schools die an early unnatural death because the policies that govern our public systems cut short their natural growth … the people who operate the present system do not see themselves in the business of trying to maintain idiosyncratic practice …they’ve been trained to seek, first and foremost, ways to solve problems by rule. If it’s not good for everyone, it’s not good for anyone. To make exceptions smacks of favoritism and inefficiency. (Meier, 2002: 156-157)
     The strange notion of fairness (in the sense that because we have lost our schools, you should too) and just desserts is sadly a powerful motivator of school closures. So many communities have lost school in past decades, so why should others be allowed to keep theirs? But what an odd and petty rationale for closing a core community institution; yet schools continue to be closed on the basis of this bizarre rationale of past mistakes…”

“Beware the Oversimplifiers…”

20070125_MDIslanderCartoon“…a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable. Indeed, in the largest jurisdictions, efficiencies have likely been exceeded—that is, some consolidation has produced diseconomies of scale that reduce efficiency. In such cases, deconsolidation is more likely to yield benefits than consolidation. Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. For example, policymakers may believe “We’ll save money if we reduce the number of superintendents by consolidating districts;” however, larger districts need—and usually hire—more mid-level administrators. Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”

Read the full study here:

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…a “Humble” Opinion…

“Corporate America and the construction industry are continually promoting the parallels in education and raising hens: cram them into a huge building, feed them all the same, and every single one of them will come out exactly suited for their purpose.

Thousands of Maine people have seen the results of consolidation and are working to extricate themselves from the mess.  Not only did taxes go up to pay for the mess, small towns lost their sense of community, lost their voice in the educational process and were continually steamrolled by larger towns that had more members on the Board.”

~The Humble Farmer

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“Where Have All The Savings Gone…?”

Image“….Long Time Passing….” is certainly an apt description of School Consolidation, which began long before Governor Baldacci ran with it  (maybe even before he began school himself).  Neither he, nor other policymakers ever looked for proof — hard, empirical evidence that rural school consolidation actually saves money and helps kids.  This data exists, whether we like it or not, and holds the potential to spare us the consequences of our own assumptions.  It isn’t what we don’t know about school consolidation that inflicts the harm; it’s what we know for sure that just isn’t true.

“Timbered Classrooms” curates some very interesting reading on the subject, to cultivate deeper understanding of the issue, and is tagged accordingly.

Here, though, we offer numbers specific to RSU #50, and build on the budgets we displayed in MSAD to RSU “Where are the Savings?”.

2010-2011 School Budgets Compared

2012-13 & 2013-2014 Budgets Compared

Again, we offer these raw numbers sans comment, and hold them up to your judgement.

Imagine That!

How is the RSU model working?  Support for withdrawal from the RSU is high, but so is the (mistaken) belief that it is “too late”.  It is never too late….  As Katahdin communities prepare to fight to save their school, they may ask themselves, “If we save our school, do we want to continue to funnel our tax dollars to fund it through an RSU that wants it shuttered?  …or do we want a dedicated Board to set priorities?  Do we want to pay the additional costs levied by the RSU in the event of a vote to preserve Katahdin even if it does not, inherently, cost more?”
images-1Can you imagine why any town would want to withdraw from any School Administrative District?

~Unless they wanted to have a say in the way that their tax dollars were spent at the consolidated school.

~Or unless they discovered that sending their kids away to school had destroyed their sense of community.

~Or unless they finally figured out that it would be cheaper and even better for the kids all around if they kept them in schools in their own town.

If you didn’t think about these things — and several other substantial reasons, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a reason any small town would want to withdraw from a SAD. The humble Farmer

Letter From The Superintendent – BUDGET WORKSHOP APRIL 14, KATAHDIN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 6:30pm

monopoly“…it is becoming apparent that any significant savings to the towns, or increased opportunities for students will only come from the elimination of duplication of services….”

~Larry Malone, RSU #50 Superintendent

Read the pdf of Superintendent Malone’s letter to Municipal officials, et. al.:

Letter From The Superintendent of RSU #50

 

 

How Big is Too Big?

Image“The century-old trend towards school consolidation and ever bigger schools is driven by a peculiar logic. School consolidators, posing as modernizers and progressives, tend to rely upon a few standard lines.

“Student enrollment has dropped, so we cannot afford to keep your small school open. Now don’t get emotional on us. It simply comes down to a matter of dollars and cents.”

What’s wrong with this conventional school planning and design logic?  A growing body of North American education research on the “dollars and sense” of school sizeis exploding the myth and now suggest that smaller scale schools are not only better for students but, more surprisingly, more cost effective for school boards.  Whereas school consolidation and “economies-of-scale” were once merely accepted truths, supported by little evidence, newer studies are demonstrating that true small schools also deliver better results in academic achievement, high school completion rates, student safety and social connectedness….”

http://educhatter.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/school-size-and-consolidation-how-big-is-too-big/

Column: Beware What School Consolidation Means

image“In Maine, protests from larger and wealthier towns won them exemptions from the state’s consolidation law. Fifty-five percent of the students in the state were in districts that were ultimately exempt from reorganization. Those districts forced to consolidate are mostly Down East, in the far north of the state, or in the “rural rim” between the interstate corridor and the Northern Territories. The anger was so profound that the Legislature amended the law to allow towns to back out of their consolidated district.”

Lesson 1:  You don’t save money, but you change who gets it.

Lesson 2: Consolidation is about closing schools, not districts.

Lesson 3: Consolidation is something the wealthy and powerful force on the less wealthy and less powerful.

Lesson 4:  Consolidation increases children’s time on buses and crimps participation.  

For more lessons, and a thorough explanation for each of these, read the entire piece by Marty Strange here:

What School Consolidation REALLY Means

UMaine Prof Says School Reorganization Law Proving More Negative Than Positive; Consolidation Effort Based on False Premise, Not Backed by Research

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Donaldson, who holds three degrees from Harvard University, said the greatest impact on educational attainment comes from the classroom itself and it is the classroom, not consolidation, where the emphasis should be placed.

“Teachers are our most precious educational resource next to students,” said Donaldson. “Teachers make the biggest difference in how much and how well kids learn. Smaller schools are more successful with difficult-to-teach kids and with social and citizenship development. Bigger schools aren’t as good at those things. The school’s leadership can make a difference, and the most powerful differences between schools are the school’s ability to challenge and support teachers’ ability to constantly improve. Bottom line: Schools, if poorly led and supported, can be obstacles to superb teaching and learning. It doesn’t automatically assure a school of raising achievement levels if they’re well led, because in the end, it’s the quality of the teachers that makes the difference.”

Read the full article by Will Tuell here:  Tuell: UMaine Prof Says School Reorganization Law Proving More Negative Than Positive

“Humble” Classrooms

th“I am one of many who believes that it is time for the state-mandated consolidation of school districts to be dissolved.

My reasons are many, the school bus that went by my home at 6 this morning being only one of them. If kids are going to spend much of their school day just getting there and back, conduct some classes on the bus.”

~the humble farmer

“Humbled” Policy….

th-1“….thousands of Maine people can now tell you that busing kids 20 miles to school “to save money” has nothing to do with improving education but does cause small towns to lose their identities and their sense of community.”

~The humble Farmer

 

The Value of Everything; The Price of ….

20140309-134023.jpg“…In small towns that still have a school, community members recognize it as the hub of local activities and a major resource to the town (Nachtigal, 1994). However, people often overlook the reverse–the important role the community plays in education. An example of this lack of recognition was evident in testimony given during a recent school consolidation hearing. One observer commented that no one mentioned the potential loss of family involvement in school affairs. Several writers have addressed the role of a healthy local culture in the nurturing of healthy people.

First, consider what is meant by a healthy community. Wendell Berry (1993) offered this definition:

“Such a community is (among other things) a set of arrangements between men and women. These arrangements include marriage, family structure, divisions of work and authority, and responsibility for the instruction of children and young people (119, 120).”

Read the article, in its entirety, here:  School and Community

Size Matters

the-truth-behind-in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb-2867“Few aspects of education have been more thoroughly researched than school size; few findings have been more consistent; and few have been more consistently ignored….”

Read the full report here:

School Report – School Size

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

Pearls of Wisdom from our Coastal Cousins….

owlsljm“There are two provisions within the statute governing education in Maine, which if authorized by the governing RSU give communities increased influence in local schools – not local control, but choice over adding, funding and/or replacing courses and programs. These two provisions are MRSA 20-A 1478 and 1481-A. They allow you, the RSU Board, to establish and empower local school committees. They also permit municipalities to raise and direct funds for use in local schools over and above what is contained in the RSU budget. If you haven’t read them, I’d recommend you do. They represent a significant tool for the board to reach and substantively involve communities in the education of their children.”

Read the entire article here:

St. George Withdrawal RSU

Read the document containing MRSA 20-A  1478 and 1481-A here:

The Sinclair Act at 50: What History Tells Us about the Consequences of Consolidation | The Maine Heritage Policy Center

snowybus22“How much of the following sounds familiar? Maine people were told by the “powers that be” that the state’s schools were too costly. The problem, it was said, was that the educational system supported too many different schools and school districts, which resulted in wasted resources. It was argued that the solution was to create larger school districts and larger educational bureaucracies. Legislators in Augusta enacted laws eliminating countless community-led school boards across the state and handing over more power and influence to bureaucrats in Augusta. Though many people across the state protested this move, it went ahead anyway, despite few solid predictions about what might result.

This sounds very much like current efforts to consolidate Maine’s many school districts into fewer, larger ones, but it is actually what happened 50 years ago, when Maine last undertook a dramatic restructuring of its educational system with passage of the Sinclair Act. Though the 1957 law has often been heralded as a great step forward for Maine’s educational system, the Sinclair Act had many negative, long-term consequences that should throw a dose of cold water on the current debate about whether continued consolidation of our schools and school districts is right for Maine’s schoolchildren.

Here are the results of the Sinclair Act:

• The number of schools in Maine dropped by 40 percent, and the average size of each school doubled.

• As larger districts were put in place, the number of local community school boards making decisions about local schools plunged, halving in number between 1950 and 1975.

• As professional administrators and bureaucrats replaced community school boards, administrative costs increased. Per pupil spending on administration grew 406 percent, in 2002 dollars, from 1950 to 1980. Over that same period, the number of people working for the Maine Department of Education tripled.

• Though sold as a means of controlling spending, total per-pupil expenditures on K-12 schools continued to rise dramatically, increasing 353 percent, in 2002 dollars, between 1950 and 1975.

Unfortunately, the state has set on the path of greater consolidation despite the evidence that it will not lead to significant budget savings. Instead, policymakers should revisit The Maine Heritage Policy Center’s plan, based on Education Service Districts, that would produce budget savings without the merging of school districts and creating of larger school bureaucracies”

See the full report here:

What-History-Tells-Us-About-the-Consequences-of-Consolidation

The Sinclair Act at 50: What History Tells Us about the Consequences of Consolidation | The Maine Heritage Policy Center.

Reel, Humble Wisdom…

SONY DSC“We will save you money.”

That’s the bait that trolls in the suckers.

We grow old too soon. Smart too late.”

~The humble Farmer, on School Consolidation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons From Our History – Old study weighs school consolidation costs

school-bus-steven-michaelA 1957 law intended to improve academic opportunity and reduce spending by consolidating Maine schools instead resulted in an increase in the cost of education”, a University of Maine professor said Friday. “By 1980, more than 20 years after passage of the Sinclair Act, both the number of administrators and the average per pupil expenditures had increased, even accounting for inflation”, said Gordon Donaldson, professor of education.

The Sinclair Act may have worked in some ways, but we don’t know what those are,” Donaldson told the Small Maine High School Coalition which met on the UM campus. “We do know it raised costs and reduced community and parental involvement.”

And there’s no evidence it increased quality.”

Citing statistics that he said haven’t been issued before, Donaldson pointed out that between 1940 and 1960, the average per pupil cost rose almost 90 percent, from $934 to $1,767, adjusted for inflation.

By 1980, however, a span of 20 years, per pupil spending increased to $3,908, or more than doubled.

The statistics were compiled by graduate students he taught as part of a history of education class, the professor said in an interview after his presentation.

“There’s no way of telling what education costs would have looked like without the law”, Donaldson acknowledged, “But we can say that the rate of expenditures per pupil increased a lot faster than it had been.”

Read the entire article here:

Old study weighs school consolidation costs – Three Rivers Community.

Visions and Values: A Close Reading of RSU 50 Mission and Purpose

ImageIf you needed “close reading” to fill out your Buzzword Bingo card, “You’re welcome!”

Perhaps it’s found some utility here, too, as I look closely at RSU 50’s Mission and Purpose statements.

I hope you will do the same!  Revise them… Revise my revisions, too, if you like — I can take it:)  In the end, these statements should well reflect your own core beliefs.

To that end, the Visions Committee invited attendees to their Public Forum to offer revisions, and I will pass along any suggestions you make here.  Here’s my own!

I love language…. Language matters, and words spark associations and frame the issue for the reader.  Has anyone read, “Don’t Think Of An Elephant” by George Lakoff?  (You just thought of an elephant, didn’t you?  Well, the book will tell you why….).

RSU 50 Vision Statement (The Schools We Strive For)

“ProvideCreate” an equitable, challenging, engaging and personalized student  Student-centered education system, which fosters cultivates, or nurtures  excitement a passion for learning that prepares as each student prepares for  citizenship,  local, national and global, college, and careers. and global citizenship.”

Anyway, in my own view, “provide” suggest passivity suggesting that there is a “receiver” or “consumer”…. …how about “create”; there is more room for students, families and communities.  I would put citizenship first, and of course include local as well as global.

RSU 50 Mission Statement (What We Do To Get There)

“Develop and advocate for uphold sustainable student-centered educational policies, and build mutually-beneficial, strong community relationships, supported by effective school leadership, challenging rich curriculum, proven instructional practices, expert, professional educators and diverse individualized, student-centered learning models provided in and cultivate a culture of respect between students, teachers and communities in a safe, healthy, and respectful environment built on strong community partnerships.”

I probably would have put “expert professional educators” closer to the top.  I don’t mean to suggest that teachers do not need to use “proven instructional practices” — teaching is a profession, and it has been said that there is no “…recipe for being a great teacher”.  It stands to reason that a great teacher practices his/or her art well.

RSU 50 Core Beliefs (What We Act Upon)

1)  “We believe students success are our top priority, and their voices will be heard.”

2)  “We believe that it is the responsibility of each school  to provides a safe, caring, and supportive learning environment that fosters innovation, creativity, wellness, teamwork, and self-expression for everyone through diverse experiences.  This is achieved by celebrating the preserving the unique character of our communities, where families and schools are in partnership.

3)  “We believe success full human potential, or “best bloom” is attainable for all students, holding them to high expectations.  This is achieved by providing instruction by high-quality teachers who will provide students with skills, behaviors and knowledge to be productive citizens by modeling civic responsibility, social justice and multicultural understanding.”

None of these represent a more stark divergence from current policy than number one, and it is my fervent hope that it is intended to rebuke, and not simply obscure, the behavior of the RSU 50 Administration and Board in response to respectful, public, and constructively critical civic engagement on the part of students.  Citizenship lies at the heart of public education, and respect for the pupil is paramount.  Last Spring, the only reference made by the Board to a student surveymonkey petition, hand-delivered to the Superintendent besides “We never saw it!” was, “It wouldn’t have mattered anyway!”.   As student “Letters to the Editor” have been, by all accounts, almost punatively received, “Timbered Classrooms” is proud to provide a safe space for everyone.  We also welcome a change of heart on the part of policymakers.

On to number 2: “..preserving the unique character of our communities” is wonderful for everyone. It is also, sadly, substantively impossible under the looming threat of liquidation of Katahdin; the impact of which on the “unique character of ITS communities” are as resonating as they are costly.  (Even if we at “Timbered Classrooms” were not so fortunate to have an impressive depth of educational expertise among our readers, the Superintendent’s refreshing, yet surprising candor about his intentions here is hard to refute.)  I hope policymakers will honor this second one, and consider scenarios that not only make sense, but are popular with our readers; keep K-12 on both sides, and consider merging the two buildings on the Katahdin side if necessary.  Invest optimally and equitably in every child in every school.

O.K.  Number 3:  What?  I crossed out “success”?  Who can be against “success”?  Don’t worry!  I’m not anti-success here, but it is a bit of loaded word.  What does “success” mean?  Is it a child’s potential as an educated person?  A truly educated person is surely “college and career ready”, but does this work in reverse?

I would like to add one word, and I don’t care where: Excellence.  Its absence struck me…. Surely there is room?  As it isn’t necessarily about money, and small schools enjoy an advantage here.  Excellence, its lifelong pursuit and its joy.

Many thanks to the Visions Committee for taking written revisions, though I am a bit late on my homework!

A Common Core Valentine….

“As you grow up in this world, you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” ~David Coleman, Common Core Architect, and Psycho…..
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“I’m a photographer. This is my daughter… and this is the first photo of her that I have ever hated. #commoncore Kelly writes: “This is my daughter. You may have already seen this image today. I posted it this morning on business page and after returning from a session out in Syracuse, it has been shared over 70 times. I want to take a moment to explain this image so as those who do not know me, can understand how this image came to be.

I am a photographer, a hobby farmer, a child advocate and a mother of 3 elementary-aged children. This is my middle child in the photo … she is 7 and is in 2nd grade. My kindergartner and my 4th grader were already finished with their homework and had left the table. I had brought my camera in to work on my white balance skills while shooting in low light as I had a session the next morning to prep for.

After checking her work, I had found 2 math problems were incorrect. I tried to help her understand where she went wrong through her process but I don’t understand it myself and was not much help.

I told her to forget about it and we’d try again tomorrow but she became very upset that she could not get the answer and kept trying and trying to fix it. She is hard on herself as she very much wants to excel in school and not be pulled for extra help all of the time. I was talking to her and clicking my camera as I changed settings … it’s something that is very common in our household … and that is when I caught this image.

Please know that 5 minutes later I had convinced her to leave the homework behind and go snuggle with her dad on the couch and watch some Olympics coverage. She is not neglected. She was not abused or left alone to cry. And this photo was not staged.”

To leave a message directly to Kelly or her daughter please go here to her photography page: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=714460471932456&set=a.307999755911865.78066.207805025931339&type=1&theater

Video

Teachers Are Like Gardeners

 

 

 

As we settle in, pen in hand, piles of dog-eared, crinkled seed catalogues at our feet…. Enjoy two apt analogies for the teaching profession:

 

 

….and another, originally written for NCLB and adapted to the CCSSI…

A teacher is the best person to evaluate a student, period. They know them, they know the character of each incoming class– and they ARE different, just as each individual is different. Some classes go very smooth, others struggle. Even as the year progresses you find that certain topics engage them more, or are better or not so better understood.

My analogy is the teacher as a gardener. You start out with a solid plan to grow tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, etc. Each with an allotted space and anticipated production. So many variables out of your control are already in place: the weather (which changes every year), the soil makeup with yearly variances, pests of all sorts, new diseases, hail, and freezing, but you have the motivation and determination to do the best with what you have.

However as the season progresses, you notice that the tomatoes are coming along very nicely, but the carrots are a little sub-par. So after intimate examination along with your experience, you tweak the soil so you can at least get some reasonable carrot harvest. At the end of the season, you have some good crops, and some so-so. But what you have done is maximized the potential for each crop in a very dynamic system through your OWN daily interaction, one in which you don’t just “set it and forget it”. (The next season you start all over again, but you can’t just repeat what you did this year, because the variables will again change.)

So now you have all of your produce in a neat pile, and proud of yourself for all of the hard work, but already you reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and you start getting prepared for next year.

Now comes along some tool in a suit and clipboard and she says “I’m the (Common Core)!, …your carrots are 12.3 pounds short! and those tomatoes aren’t perfectly spherical and 3 inches in diameter. What? There’s no pineapples? Wrong Wrong Wrong! You are supposed to produce exactly 40 pounds of each product we specify, no more, no less, and you can’t grow anything from seeds not sold by us. So we are going to pay you less than the market rate. Also we are going to reduce the size of your plot because you can’t produce; obviously it’s your fault.” Then she sends you a bill for assessing you.

The (Common Core) is a Trojan horse. The intent is to break one of the last bastions of union organization by forcing a rigid system on something that needs flexibility and freedom. The setup for failure is obvious. With failure you can impose punishment. The mindset behind the Common Core is identical production, like in a factory. All work should be done by unquestioning and unpaid robots, doing the same motion repeatedly, making unliving plastic items of no use. The classroom is an organic system, which needs constant care and attention, best left to the gardener.

 

 

Visions and Values; Pondering the Public Forum…

6a00e5509ea6a1883401901d26bffd970bMany thanks to everyone who came out to the Visions Committee’s Public Forum last night, and sharing your core values with those who will be making some very serious decisions, and soon.

If you were there — read on!  I welcome additions/corrections in the “Comments” section; if not — read on!  It is not too late to let the Committee know how YOU envision the future of education here.

Table discussions revolved around changes in the community and the economy in addition to schools, and a gallery of post-it notes illustrated the feelings; the values of the people present.  Just before adjourning, we were given copies of draft Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Core Beliefs on which to scribble suggestions.  Here they are!  Any suggestions YOU make to revise them will be shared with the committee…..

RSU 50 Vision Statement (The Schools We Strive For)

“Provide an equitable, challenging, and personalized student education system, which fosters an excitement for learning that prepares each student for college, careers and global citizenship.”

RSU 50 Mission Statement (What We Do To Get There)

“Develop and advocate for sustainable educational policies, effective school leadership, challenging curriculum, proven instructional practices, and diverse student-centered learning models provided in a safe, healthy, and respectful environment built on strong community partnerships.”

RSU 50 Core Beliefs (What We Act Upon)

1)  “We believe student success is our top priority, and their voices will be heard.”

2)  “We believe each school provides a safe, caring, and supportive learning environment that fosters innovation, creativity, wellness, teamwork, and self-expression for everyone through diverse experiences.  This is achieved by celebrating the preserving the unique character of our communities, where families and schools are in partnership.

3)  “We believe success is attainable for all students, holding them to high expectations.  This is achieved by providing instruction by high-quality teachers who will provide students with skills, behaviors and knowledge to be productive citizens by modeling civic responsibility, social justice and multicultural understanding.”

“*Core beliefs will be reviewed based on the work provided tonight.  Please feel free to add comments as well.”

The emphasis on that last bit is my own.  The Committee will be revising the above statements based on what they hear from YOU.  The next meeting date is, as yet, unavailable, but when I find out I’ll post it.  It doesn’t matter how you choose to contact the Committee — either directly, or, of course, if you want to post here I will see that they have it….  But please, get in touch.  Have your say.

From MSAD #25 to RSU #50 — Where are the Savings?

ImageSeriously?  Where are they?  Let’s don some green eye-shades and look over the numbers.  I know — not my idea of a great time either, but with so much at stake, here…..

I am posting the “Before” and “After” budgets sans analysis because, well, many heads are better than one.  …..and, I confess, all of them are better than mine.

So, without further ado…!

2010-2011 School Budgets Compared

Please share your thoughts and expertise with us in the Comments section!

“Humble” Wisdom…

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” – H. L. Mencken
School Consolidation plays into our clear, simple assumptions…..

Timbered Classrooms...

Please come to a public forum and share your vision for education in the region:  Monday, February 10th @6:00pm at Katahdin Elementary School

“Lose your school. Lose your community.

School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town. But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight. There’s too much money at stake. And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

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Maine School Consolidation: a Reorganization Report Card, and Food for Thought in RSU #50

“Timbered Classrooms” has been devoting this week to the issue of School Consolidation, as the RSU makes high-stakes decisions in this area. Please come out to the public forum on February 10, @6:00pm in the KES Cafeteria. These decisions are too important to make without you!

Timbered Classrooms...

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“A wave of research from around the country shows that consolidation does not improve schools or lead to better academic results.  Spending on education does not go down; indeed, budgets often balloon with increased transportation costs and more administrators to run enlarged districts.  Consolidation leads to schools closing and to bigger schools, with less parental involvement and community participation.  And, in many parts of the United States, it has led to children on unconscionable bus rides lasting several hours a day.”

Elaine McArdle  “Together We Won’t”

The Boston Sunday Globe  March 8, 2009 p. C3

A concise, thoughtful statewide assessment of how Maine’s RSU Law has performed relative to its goals of Efficiency, Equity and Quality, along with his recommendations to improve the lot of Maine schoolchildren.

Maine School Consolidation Report Card

What would YOUR “report card” for RSU #50 look like?

~ Are schools in RSU 50 really…

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“I have always …

071001MandR“I have always been opposed to school consolidation although the fact that it costs more money was not my initial reason. I would be glad to elaborate for anyone who is interested. It wipes out a community. I voted against St. George going in with Thomaston when the vote first came up — as most of my neighbors now wish they had done. In a few letters to the editor, we see Baldacci blamed for school consolidation. And that is ok because blaming Clinton or Obama or Baldacci for even a bad apple crop is taken for granted in Maine. But although Baldacci’s misguided school policy certainly entitles him to a good share of the present SAD situation in Maine, Baldacci was only about three years old when my town St. George was suckered in.”

“Humble” on the RSU Law…

Timbered Classrooms...

“Lose your school. Lose your community. School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town.  Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town.   But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight.  There’s too much money at stake.  And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

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…a “Humble” Opinion…

Timbered Classrooms...

“Corporate America and the construction industry are continually promoting the parallels in education and raising hens: cram them into a huge building, feed them all the same, and every single one of them will come out exactly suited for their purpose.

Thousands of Maine people have seen the results of consolidation and are working to extricate themselves from the mess.  Not only did taxes go up to pay for the mess, small towns lost their sense of community, lost their voice in the educational process and were continually steamrolled by larger towns that had more members on the Board.”

~The Humble Farmer

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Wendell Berry on School Consolidation

The decisions facing the RSU are high-stakes, and defy our assumptions. “Timbered Classrooms” is focused, for the moment on the issue of consolidation. “Understanding of the world is the best defense against the ravages of it.”… (Who said that? ..anyone remember?)

Timbered Classrooms...

berry_conversation_wendell_portrait“There can be no greater blow to the integrity of a community than the loss of its school or the loss of control of its school — which always means loss of control of its children.  The breakdown of discipline and academic standards in the schools can only originate in, and can only cause, the breakdown of community life.  The public school, separated from the community by busing, (for whatever reason), government control, consolidation and other “advances”, has become a no-man’s land, a place existing only in reference to itself and to a theoretical “tomorrow’s world”.  Neither teachers nor students feel themselves answerable to the community, for the school does not exist to serve the community. “

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wendell-berry.png.662x0_q100_crop-scaleMy own children were bused to school from the first grade on.  Their daily bus ride to and from school took about two hours of every day. This meant that they were…

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“Beware the Oversimplifiers…”

Timbered Classrooms...

20070125_MDIslanderCartoon“…a century of consolidation has already produced most of the efficiencies obtainable. Indeed, in the largest jurisdictions, efficiencies have likely been exceeded—that is, some consolidation has produced diseconomies of scale that reduce efficiency. In such cases, deconsolidation is more likely to yield benefits than consolidation. Moreover, contemporary research does not support claims about the widespread benefits of consolidation. The assumptions behind such claims are most often dangerous oversimplifications. For example, policymakers may believe “We’ll save money if we reduce the number of superintendents by consolidating districts;” however, larger districts need—and usually hire—more mid-level administrators. Research also suggests that impoverished regions in particular often benefit from smaller schools and districts, and they can suffer irreversible damage if consolidation occurs….”

Read the full study here:

20110201_Consolidation_Howley_Johnson_Petrie-1

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…a driving force….

...a driving force....

The Myths of Rural School Consolidation

800px-Patten_ME_Bird's_eye“Another dramatic problem facing rural education is the issue of consolidation of schools. From Arkansas to West Virginia to Maine, small rural schools are closing in order to merge into regional schools. The assumption is that closing small schools and busing students to regional schools not only presents efficiencies of scale and cost-savings, but also provides more opportunities, including a broader curriculum with more Advanced Placement classes, for example. But many rural educators see consolidation as a disaster: Since schools are often the heart of small communities, there are devastating social implications when they are closed, including that parents and town leaders lose control and interest. Transportation becomes an enormous hurdle, literally removing access to schools, and students are forced to travel great distances to get to school. They can’t attend extracurricular activities and sports, nor can their parents easily support them.

While at the Ed School, Tompkins studied the issue of consolidation and started off as a proponent. But, in 1972, after evaluating the data, she published a critical paper, Economy, Efficiency, Equality: The Myths of Rural School Consolidation (later expanded into a book cowritten with colleagues). Since then, her opposition has only grown.

“My research still holds up,” says Tompkins. “Bigger is not better, smaller is not cheaper, and rural people are not too dumb to run their schools. Those are the three myths that undergird school consolidation. It hasn’t saved a lot of money; it just hasn’t lived up to its billing.” She adds, “I do think people believe  there are efficiencies and economies, but nobody goes in to look afterward to figure out, were there any savings? There’s almost no research on that.” Perhaps the best data, she says, comes from a series of articles published in 2002 in the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia, which found that despite the state spending $1 billion on consolidation and closing more than 300 schools since 1990, no hard savings were achieved, there were more administrators than before, and the promise of more and better courses was never met.

The push for rural consolidation is all the stranger given the movement in urban areas toward smaller schools, including charter schools, so that classroom sizes are smaller and there is more accountability among students, parents, and administrators. “Our general view is, the more adults you have in positions of influence like school boards and planning committees, the more adults engaged in learning about and understanding public education, the better off you are,” says Tompkins. “And the centralizing kinds of strategies really undermine the community support for learning.”

Adds Tieken, “Schools are very much a part of the identity, the meeting place, the heart and soul of a community. If you ask them, ‘What if you lose your school?’ they say, ‘We lose our identity.’” Some of this concern is economically related, in that the loss of a school can cause people to move and businesses to shut down.”

Read the article in its entirety, here:

 

Ed Magazine.

Bill would help towns withdraw from Regional School Units

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“…Under current law, municipalities that want to withdraw from regional school districts can do so by a simple majority vote of their citizens as long as turnout for a withdrawal vote equals 50 percent of the turnout in the most recent gubernatorial election. However, that vote must occur by Jan. 1, 2015, after which a two-thirds vote will be required.

The law is different for regional school units that were created under the school consolidation law that former Gov. John Baldacci shepherded to passage during his second term. Those municipalities are required to garner two-thirds votes, both now and in the future.

LD 783 would change state law to require a simple majority vote for withdrawal. The bill, as amended, retains the turnout requirement…”  

“…With a unanimous endorsement from the Education Committee, the bill is likely to gain considerable support in the full Legislature, though Gov. Paul LePage’s support of it is far from certain. Last year, the Department of Education testified in favor of keeping the state’s withdrawal laws as they are, including the requirement of a two-thirds vote.

The legislation comes at a time when towns throughout Maine are considering withdrawal from regional school districts…”

Read the full post here:

Bill would help towns withdraw from Regional School Units | Sun Journal.

As School Budgeting Season Heats Up Remember the Crucial Middle School Years | Rethinking Education

frenchgirlbyrichardvanek“…high poverty K – 8 schools seem to be doing a better job of educating their older students than high poverty middle schools. Student achievement at the eighth grade level in higher poverty schools is better statewide in K – 8 schools than in middle schools. This is particularly true of K – 8 schools with a sizable percentage of teachers holding master’s degrees.

The data about K – 8 schools should impact school board discussions about merging, closing, and consolidating schools. Before school boards move to close any community schools they should be prepared to explain to their stakeholders why student achievement in the case of their particular schools will not suffer.

Overall in Maine the trend is for achievement in students in higher poverty schools to begin to decline after the elementary school years. The middle school years, in other words, are the vulnerable point in our system.

School boards should therefore think very carefully about the decisions they make that involve middle schools. I suggest they reach out to experts on this one to help them make decisions that will reverse the trend toward declining achievement at the middle school level in higher poverty schools.

If I were on a school board that was considering change at the middle school level I would get in touch with the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine. I would ask where to turn  for guidance on how to configure the schools in my district…”

Read Kathreen Harrison’s post in its entirety, including a link to the study referenced, here:

As School Budgeting Season Heats Up Remember the Crucial Middle School Years | Rethinking Education.

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two…..

e73aa72fd2993b1dffabfb1dd4faf5d6…School Boards.

Thank you for all the coal, Santa…. (Brrrrrrrrrr!)  But maybe?  ..in lieu of the usual 12 Lords ‘a Leaping…..?  Two School Boards would be lovely.  More on why in a moment.

In the meantime, here is a list of possible scenarios compiled by the RSU 50 Visions Committee.  Bear in mind that these are in no particular order, and no recommendations have been made:

  • No change — “Keep on keepin’ on”
  • PreK-12 in one new building, centrally located in Crystal
  • PreK-12 in one of the existing buildings, closing all others
  • Close a building on the Katahdin side, and move Grades 7-12 to SACS; PreK-6 stays in Stacyville
  • Close half a building in the SACS side and move Grades 7-12 to KMHS; PreK-6 stays in Dyer Brook
  • New building for Grades 7-12; no change elementary
  • Two PreK-12 buildings on both sides of the RSU
  • Elementary Grades (PreK-4) remain local; Middle School (5-8) uses one of the existing buildings and the High School (9-12) uses one of the existing buildings as well (maximize resources)*
  • Consolidation of administrative roles. **
  • Each community keeps its PreK-8 and tuitions 9-12

*“maximize resources”?  The emphasis here, is entirely my own, but I can’t go any further without pointing out that such a thing “maximizes” transportation expenditures, routes that now require one bus now need two to accommodate destinations 20 miles apart; half the student population on either side will now be bussed twice as far as necessary….   Transportation is a cost so often ignored in the debate and no wonder!  The are even left out of many per-pupil expenditure numbers!  They certainly aren’t “left out” of “accounts payable”…  Decisions intended to minimize those per-pupil figures tend to balloon transportation costs, which subsequently  gobble up expected savings.  Longer bus rides have further been shown to diminish student achievement it is one that cries out to be MINIMIZED.  

** Wasn’t that the whole purpose of the RSU Law in the first place?  …to consolidate administration?  “Consolidation of administrative roles”?  Administrative/management growth in the wake of faculty cuts illustrates the predictably broken promise of the RSU in the first place …an inevitable phenomenon of district consolidation that the research can  more easily predict than explain.  As for saving taxpayer dollars?  What administrator would trade salaries with a similarly-experienced teacher?  Hands?  Anyone?

The above list is presented as “…simply a preliminary inventory of “what’s out there”…, ….and much of it is, just that.  Where are the scenarios overwhelmingly supported by our readers?  Nearly 90% of our survey respondents support withdrawal from the RSU, but, given strong interest in forming an AOS instead, it appears that they want to build a relationship between the communities, but on more fair terms — for everyone.  The strategy behind their absence from the discussion is fairly obvious from the standpoint of those set on a new building, but is it wise to marginalize people in this way? Members of the RSU Board have done the same in a, perhaps well-intentioned, though terribly misguided bet that further consolidation and/or new construction will solve the very issues driving withdrawal.   Is this a “Futures” committee in the literal sense?  …where “the future” justifies shortchanging children today? (And, in effect THEIR futures?) Is this an “RSU Committee” in the literal sense?  …concerned with the survival of a piece of paper in its current form?  ….or one concerned with the education of children and mindful of people of the communities it represents?

Not all education dollars are created equally child-centered, certainly, and differ wildly in return on investment for both children and taxpayers.  As education remains every bit a human endeavor, the top of that list is faculty; the teacher student relationship.  Honestly, it isn’t even close.

“…education doesn’t go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and the students. And if you remove their discretion, it stops working.” — Ken Robinson

…..if you remove THEM it also “stops working”….. Within the teacher/student relationship is where learning happens.  The ability of good teachers to creatively and  resourcefully leverage resources at hand in optimal ways to respond to the needs of children is the lifeblood of any school.  If I had a nickel for every time someone asked why I don’t homeschool our children, I could pay their tuition.  The answer is that I cannot replace the relationships with the wonderful faculty and staff  of Katahdin Elementary, Middle and High Schools.  I know I’m not alone in this, and I’ve heard my feelings echoed in the values of those who have chosen the homeschool route as well.  Our human resources also enrich local communities and strengthen their economies.  ….a real bargain.

Why is faculty inexorably first to the chopping block?

Transportation expenditures, by contrast, are correlated with negative student outcomes, and increasing outlay in this area is a lose-lose for taxpayers as well.

Within the above list of considered scenarios, is the potential to balloon transportation costs, as routes that ran one bus per day now need two in order to accommodate destinations 20 miles apart.***  At any given time, half the student body must be transported an additional 20 miles more than necessary given the existing building array.  Again, these miles detract from student outcomes as well as child health with every gallon of diesel…

***For example: Benedicta, like RSU 50 bus routes, operates one bus.  Sending children of different ages in different directions would necessitate two.  Dyer Brook is 30 miles away.  East Millinocket, on the other hand, is only 18, and houses elementary and high school students together. Of course, I cannot speak for the State, or E.U.T. Superintendent Shelley Lane who have sole discretion here. 

As for the potential massive construction costs?  Buildings don’t educate children, people do.  Buildings need to be kept in decent repair, in a timely fashion, because, as we are seeing, taxpayers resist, and parents resent shortchanging students to pay for years of maintenance deferred.  Research also connects the relocation of schools to outlying, or more “centralized” areas with greater difficulty in raising funds, but likely only scratches the surface of the unquantifiable, often intangible; but very real, loss of the complex relationships between the school and community, that benefits both.   In times of ever-deepening austerity, new construction rings as particularly unconscionable.  Surely no one believes this will be a cost-saving measure…  Where will the money come from?  Taxpayers will surely say “no”… On to the usual place?  ….the children on whom we already spend the least?

Which brings me back to my Christmas wish — two school Boards.

The Committee’s decision to ignore any possibility of RSU withdrawal not only dismisses the serious concerns of supporters, but also misses a  promising solution for real sharing, and genuine efficiency in an Alternative Organizational Structure, or AOS.

Schools share a Superintendent’s offices — anything, really, that is mutually beneficial.  But each K-12 entity maintains its own Board, and, more importantly, its own finances.   Consolidate; close a building or three if you want to.  The difference is in the process, as those complex decisions rest solely with those who will bear the costs —  potential receiving communities of both children and money, rightly, do not decide for you.

Our survey showed that 44 of 49 respondents support withdrawal.  Support for reshaping our relationship in the model of an AOS is strong and growing, as illustrated by this Shamelessly Unscientific Quote of the Day:

Why didn’t we do this in the first place???”  ~ …pretty much everyone upon learning about the AOS option

Though the Baldacci administration told us, ad nauseum, that “…schools would not close….”, the Governor and then-Commissioner Gendron knew that they would.  The (incorrect) assumption that larger campuses, drawing children, hub-and-spoke fashion over long bus routes would save taxpayers money and enhance opportunity  shaped the RSU Law in the first place, and drives the push for further consolidation presently, though empirical evidence of success is nonexistent.     “More advanced courses, more opportunities…..”  the usual goals are outlined in the notes, or, if you are in a hurry, here’s a quick “thousand words”…

rsz_lucy-football-peanuts

“Actually, you DID ‘promise me a rose garden’…

Though dismissed as so much parochial nonsense, our communities’ healthy skepticism (to put is mildly) toward school consolidation is grounded in a keen understanding of what is a rather counter-intuitive reality.  Failure to question every assumption; dogged pursuit of a mythical scale advantage not only burdens taxpayers with growing dis-economies, but also ruins the cost and quality advantages inherent in small schools.

The undue focus on per-pupil expenditures, and the concept of “money following the child” as though education is some sort of consumer product flies in the face of equity, and is just plain wrong.  The use of the word “consumer” in the educational goals outlined by the Visions Committee is, how do I put this, cringeworthy.  (Is that even a word?) The interests of the “Consumer” and the “Citizen” are so often at odds, that it’s hard to fathom that people use them interchangeably.   Language matters, and I hope the committee means “citizen” and will consider revising the goals.   That said, the unnecessary, and, actually, inefficient loss of autonomy and control over tax dollars and children,  is understandably troubling, and the issues driving the withdrawal initiative are entirely logical.  Further consolidation exacerbates rather than solves them.  (So where do withdrawal supporters turn for solutions then?)

My Christmas wish is about process; how decisions are made and who makes them.  Two Boards, is efficient and fair, guarding against the expensive pitfalls of cost shifting, and conflicts of interest between disparate aspirations; decisions that either promote optimal investment in kids or encourage school closure cannot do both.  Every child deserves to attend a school governed by people who treat it as a worthwhile investment, and having a child in a school targeted for closure is, sadly, nothing new to our family.

It’s been said that “…understanding of the world defends against the ravages of it…”  (I forget who said it, and the exact wording — are any of our readers familiar with it?)  It isn’t a perfect defense, but is preferable to misunderstanding.  The pitfalls of school consolidation don’t stem from what people don’t know; it’s what they know for certain that just isn’t true.   I started to learn everything I could about school consolidation, turning to the University of Maine, the Rural Trust and studies of other states, before our oldest son began Pre-K.  The Commissioner of Education at the time, said of Benedicta Elementary School that the $11,000 per-pupil expenditures would be “…better spent elsewhere….”  Now this quote I remember vividly.  It would be unthinkable to apply it to Maine’s wealthier communities.    Though our correspondence was always very polite, even in disagreement, her view of rural children was hard to respect.  Even as the State continues to pay lip service to “equity”,  bias is baked in to State policy, not only against children but rural taxpayers.  (I wonder how the DOE gets away with that, because Maine is, what, nearly 70% rural?  …just sayin’…).  I would encourage the committee, the Board everyone involved  to learn as much as possible; to talk to people, set aside assumptions and study the issue, going wherever that leads and mindful of the ever-present pressure on allotted money to “…spend it elsewhere…”.

Having neither a vote nor Board representation, I have no illusions about my own relevance to this discussion.  To be honest, I’m surprised you’ve scrolled down this far!  I appreciate that….  We do have three children in school here, and I want to help support an optimal learning environment for them and all kids.  Whether it’s chaperoning outings, baking goodies or keeping up with Board meetings and administering “Timbered Classrooms”… For our family, I strive to be very responsive to faculty and staff, and they should feel free to contact us if there is anything more we can do; for children of the RSU, all are welcome to this site — it’s perfectly O.K. to disagree; we publish a wide range of viewpoints.  Robust discussion is a healthy thing.

Again, I appreciate your time, but if I may, I would love to hear from you!  “Timbered Classrooms” is here for you, whatever your beliefs, and offers you a means to preserve your anonymity if you wish.

..a Happy New Year to all of our readers:)

“Humble” Wisdom…

Please come to a public forum and share your vision for education in the region:  Monday, February 10th @6:00pm at Katahdin Elementary School

“Lose your school. Lose your community.

School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town. Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town. But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight. There’s too much money at stake. And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

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…a Pocket Paradigm…

...a Pocket Paradigm...

“What the Research Says… ….or Doesn’t Say, About School Consolidation

path-to-the-red-school-house-jack-brauerMore pertinent research on the issue of School Consolidation can be found here:

http://educationnorthwest.org/news/1119

Great Things Come in Small Packages…

Image“…trying to make all schools like our largest ones may be disadvantageous to small schools.  The “one best system” of education envisioned by many businessmen and lawmakers may be counterproductive to producing effective small, rural schools.  When organizational members of small schools strive to become like large schools, not only do they develop an inferiority complex, they also lose sight of their strengths — their potential for developing positive relations among adults and students, for attaining a sense of community, for developing relevant educational programming, and for knowing students so well they do not need to be labeled…..”

“…small schools are not necessarily weak schools.  In fact, it seems to me, now, that rural schools are some of our finest American educational institutions.  Instead of being unfortunate institutions in regions too isolated to be harvested by the consolidation combine, small, rural schools are often places where educational excellence flows naturally.  Instead of being weeds in the educational landscape, rural schools are often vines that bear rich fruit and healthy nourishment for young people. ”

~ excerpted from Leadership for Rural Schools:   Lessons for All Educators

by Donald M. Chalker

Wendell Berry on School Consolidation

berry_conversation_wendell_portrait“There can be no greater blow to the integrity of a community than the loss of its school or the loss of control of its school — which always means loss of control of its children.  The breakdown of discipline and academic standards in the schools can only originate in, and can only cause, the breakdown of community life.  The public school, separated from the community by busing, (for whatever reason), government control, consolidation and other “advances”, has become a no-man’s land, a place existing only in reference to itself and to a theoretical “tomorrow’s world”.  Neither teachers nor students feel themselves answerable to the community, for the school does not exist to serve the community. “

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wendell-berry.png.662x0_q100_crop-scaleMy own children were bused to school from the first grade on.  Their daily bus ride to and from school took about two hours of every day. This meant that they were under school discipline – expected to sit still, etc. – about a third again as long each day as their schoolmates in town.  It also meant that they were under home discipline two hours a day less than the town children; that they had much less time for chores, homework and free play.  In my opinion, all this bus travel was damaging to the lives of my children both at school and at home.  Moreover, the grade school that my children attended was nine miles, and their middle and high schools twelve miles, from home, well beyond the range of close or easy parental involvement.  School consolidation thus involves a great expense of time and money that might be better spent in the education and upbringing of children.”

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Food for thought…

“For more than fifty years, America has been consolidating school districts and the main effect has been to replace educators with bureaucrats and wardens” ~Sam Smith

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“Humble” on the RSU Law…

“Lose your school. Lose your community. School administrative districts were no more than a scam and a few people have finally figured out that it would be nice to keep the control and the tax dollars in town.  Oh, it would also be nice to keep the kids in town.   But getting the control and the money back is the main thing. You will not get your schools back in town without a fight.  There’s too much money at stake.  And it’s fun to spend other people’s money.”

~Robert Karl Skoglund, “The Humble Farmer”

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Maine School Consolidation: a Reorganization Report Card, and Food for Thought in RSU #50

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“A wave of research from around the country shows that consolidation does not improve schools or lead to better academic results.  Spending on education does not go down; indeed, budgets often balloon with increased transportation costs and more administrators to run enlarged districts.  Consolidation leads to schools closing and to bigger schools, with less parental involvement and community participation.  And, in many parts of the United States, it has led to children on unconscionable bus rides lasting several hours a day.”

Elaine McArdle  “Together We Won’t”

The Boston Sunday Globe  March 8, 2009 p. C3

A concise, thoughtful statewide assessment of how Maine’s RSU Law has performed relative to its goals of Efficiency, Equity and Quality, along with his recommendations to improve the lot of Maine schoolchildren.

Maine School Consolidation Report Card

What would YOUR “report card” for RSU #50 look like?

~ Are schools in RSU 50 really more efficient than before?

~  Are children in RSU 50 educated more equitably with wealthier areas of the state than before 2011?

~  Has the quality of education for children of RSU 50 improved since the 2011 reorganization?

Would you please share your thoughts and/or experiences? We look forward to hearing from you!

Opportunity knocks!

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Hired to facilitate our newly-joined communities in developing a vision for the RSU, Craig Kesselheim of Great Schools Partnership announced in his recent presentation of his desire to form a working group to begin its craft.  According to Mr. Kesselheim, this committee could comprise any number of people…  Wait, let me check my notes… Continue reading

“Cost-shifting threatens local education”

Timbered Classrooms...

An insightful piece by Rep. Brian Hubbell about why local communities are so strained.

 

“No wonder local communities are frustrated and angry,  They are paying more than ever and their schools are still being forced to cut school programs.”

 

http://www.mainehousedistrict35.com/cost-shifting-threatens-local-education/

 

Add to this, the “cost-shifting” within the district; from the more powerful school to the one targeted for closure.  Taxpayers and children alike bear the brunt…..

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“Cost-shifting threatens local education”

An insightful piece by Rep. Brian Hubbell about why local communities are so strained.

 

“No wonder local communities are frustrated and angry,  They are paying more than ever and their schools are still being forced to cut school programs.”

 

http://www.mainehousedistrict35.com/cost-shifting-threatens-local-education/

 

Add to this, the “cost-shifting” within the district; from the more powerful school to the one targeted for closure.  Taxpayers and children alike bear the brunt…..

Divorce? Not necessarily…. RSU & AOS compared.

According to our recent survey, 44 out of 49 respondants (with three abstentions) support the RSU Withdrawal initiative spearheaded by the communities of former MSAD #25.  A whopping 89.8%!

But to those who want our communities to remain connected?  Take heart!  Continue reading