Residents address SAD 44 board on Telstar H.S. "F"
Two local residents weighed in Monday with suggestions on dealing with the “F” grade Telstar High School received recently from the state.
Standardized test results in reading and math, including the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) in the lower grades and the SAT in high school, were used in grading Maine schools.
SAD 44 schools received two Fs (THS and Andover Elementary School) and three Cs (Telstar Middle School, Crescent Park and Woodstock Elementary)
William Andrews of Newry and Al Cressy of Bethel attended an afternoon meeting of the SAD 44 School Board’s Education Committee, then followed up with a visit to the meeting of the full board in the evening. Andrews had earlier talked with Newry school directors Bonnie Largess and Deb Webster.
“I was aware that the situation academically at Telstar was not perfect,” said Andrews, a former president of Westbrook College. “But when the grade came out and all the discussion around that, I decided this was the time I needed to speak up a bit and provide input from a citizen’s point of view.
"There’s three words that summarize that: One is accountability; two is resources; and three is culture.”
Regarding accountability, he said, “I’ve never seen a situation where a problem that wasn’t owned was solved.”
He said that while he had heard Supt. Dave Murphy “clearly and publicly” take accountability at the Education Committee meeting, “I think it’s really important that people I talked to in the community really don’t have a sense that you’re standing up as a board and a superintendent and saying, ‘Yup, we’ve got a problem. It happened on our watch, nothing we did, but we’re going to fix it.’ It can’t be business as usual. I think people need to hear that. When I say that, I’m not being critical because I know it’s been said, but as I said to Dave, the PR advice is ‘you never say something once.’ You’ve got to keep repeating this to the community, ‘yes, we’re accountable, yes, we’re in charge, yes we’re going to do something.”
As for resources, said Andrews, “No school I’ve ever seen has enough money, but we also know the per student expenditure here is at least at the state average, if not above, depending what numbers you use. That means somehow there’s a mismatch between what goes in and what comes out. It seems that [resources] need to be redeployed to address the problem.”
Regarding culture, he said, “You can’t just fix a little thing, you need to fix a bigger thing. There needs to be a culture of achievement. I would urge you as you address this not to just do the data mining, but to try to keep the focus on the big picture – creating a culture of academic success at Telstar. That can’t be done just by the School Board, by the teachers, by the administrators. It’s going to take the community.”
Andrews concluded, “Tell us what we can do to help. We want to help, but we don’t want to provide help that isn’t needed or is the wrong kind. We look to you to tell us how we can become involved.”
Cressy continued the community theme, saying the report cards issue “impacts the community, and in turn the community might provide input as to what are some of the underlying issues, and perhaps where to go with them.”
He stressed communication, noting that he had learned for the first time from the Education Committee that Telstar has a mentoring program, and the district should get such information out to the community, and seek help from the community.
And, he said, “I think there has to be a core group of people in the community that stands prepared to be proactive, to try to help with this.”
“Good luck,” Cressy concluded.
Murphy plans listening tour
Echoing Andrews’ and Cressy’s comments, Supt. Dave Murphy said he will meet in coming weeks with area town managers and selectboards regarding the state report card grades.
“The more folks we can get to pay attention to the efforts that we’re making, the more things we can do as a community,” he said.
He also plans a “listening tour” – a visit to each district town – so residents may learn more about the report cards and the steps the district is taking to address the problems.
He agreed with Andrews that “the culture piece is huge.”
Murphy also said he has met with the high school and K-5 staffs on the report card issue, and will meet this week with middle school staff. “We have been talking a lot about culture and the need to recognize what the data is telling us, and dig into it and find out how we can do things better,” he said.
School principals have also met with PTA members, he said.
Murphy said SAD 44 needs a balanced approach.
“We need to make sure we communicate with the community about some of the really good things that are happening in the district. That’s not to dismiss the fact that we need to look at this data.”
He said plans are in the works to gather the staff in the summer to build on the information available ,and have steps in place for the fall. Later, he said, there could be a specific event planned with the community.
Murphy said he will also put updates on the improvement efforts on the district website.
Woodstock Director Marcel Polak also tried to strike a balance between recognizing the poor grade and stressing positive happenings at Telstar.
He said that while the school had done poorly on one assessment in reading and math, “it’s not a full picture of what is going on at Telstar. We have extraordinary things going on.” He used the example of this past weekend’s Telstar production of “The Wizard of Oz,” which was highly praised by other directors and members of the community.
“It’s as important to me to see students doing well with that as they did on one test,” he said.