Tuesday, August 20, 2019

MISTAKE WITH POSTED BUS ROUTES for 2019-20

Good morning.
I have been receiving calls and emails recently regarding the 2019-20 Bus routes that were posted on our website last Friday.  There have been lots of great questions and as a result -we have discovered an ERROR in our posted 2019-20 route times that we will be fixing!  The error involves about ten minutes of time due to the fact that our routing software had 7:40 as the arrival time for our MS and HS runs and 8:40 as the arrival time for our Elementary runs.  THIS IS INCORRECT.  The arrival times should have been set as 7:30 for MS and HS and 8:30 for Elementary.  Hence the ten minute difference. 

Unfortunately, routes had been posted to our website with these incorrect times, and the INCORRECT times were also sent to the Gorham times for publication next week. 

However, all is NOT lost!  We will be re-posting route times on our website BY THIS FRIDAY (8/23).  You can get to those new routes by CLICKING HERE(then go to "District Info." and then Bus Routes").  Additionally, since the information had already gone out to the Gorham Times and we cannot undo that - while reading the routes posted in the Gorham Times, you simply need to subtract approximately 10 minutes from each of the times listed to get the correct planned times.
All this being said, please understand that the first few weeks of school are HECTIC as we work our way through the new routes and school schedules.  Please try to ensure children are at the appropriate stops at least 15 minutes early for the first week or so.  Patience is key as we open up a new school year, and this year is no different.  WE APPRECIATE YOUR PATIENCE and apologize for adding some complexity by inadvertently publishing inaccurate times.

So, to be clear . . .

*  Official start times are as follows:
     -  GMS Start 8:00, End 2:20
     -  GHS Start 7:50, End 2:10
     -  K-5 Schools Start 8:50, End 3:10
*  New Routes will be posted on our website by 8/23
*  If reading Gorham Times, please SUBTRACT 10 minutes from all route times listed (K-12) to get approximate times to begin the year.
*  Please have students at bus stops 15 minutes early for first week or two.
*  MOST K-5 students will arrive at school around 8:30.
*  Breakfast will be offered to K-5 students between 8:30 - 8:50
*  All K-5 schools will offer a morning break for students, either before school or mid-morning.
*  All K-5 schools also have 20 minute lunch recess daily
*  K-5 teachers also use their discretion to take wellness breaks for students throughout the course of the day.

That's what we have for information at this time.  Again, please refer to newly posted runs on Friday using the link above and if you are reading the times in the Gorham Times, subtract 10 minutes to all times listed.

If you have questions, please reach out to your school's office as we don't want Judy at Transportation to be overrun. 

THANK YOU

Monday, August 12, 2019

2019-20 OPENING INFORMATION FOR PARENTS

Hard to believe that another summer has already passed by so quickly!  I have to admit, although I do enjoy the summer time schedule with less night meetings and fewer problems to solve - I wouldn't trade the opening of school for anything!  There is nothing like the sights and sounds associated with great schools and our schools here in Gorham are great!  The smiling faces, the laughter, the murmur of conversations, the clicking of keys on laptop keyboards, the music and art on our stages and the competitions on our athletic fields.  Schools are just too darn quiet in the summer!  I can't wait for them to be ALIVE again with learning so I eagerly await August 26 and 27th when staff return and then August 28 and 29 when students return!

                

As with any new school year there is A LOT to share and talk about in order to ensure everyone is on the same page and the school year gets off to a strong start.  Here goes!

Opening Schedule & New Start/End Times for Schools:


School Office staff and guidance staff will return to schools full time (most have had summer hours) beginning the week before school begins on August 19, 2019.  If you have enrollment questions, or just need information about ANYTHING, please reach out to each school's office during this week and we will be more than happy to assist.  You can find each school's phone number on our website:  www.gorhamschools.org and if you still can't locate phone numbers, just call Rhonda at my office 222-1012 and she can direct you from there as needed.  We want to make sure that any question you have, no matter how small, is answered!

The first day back for new staff hired this past year will be Thursday, August 22 where new staff will meet at central office for training.  Then ALL staff come back from their summer vacations on Monday, August 26th and 27th for two full days of training and work/prep time.

The first day back for students in grades K, 6, and 9 will be Wednesday, August 28, 2019, then ALL STUDENTS begin on Thursday, August 29, 2019.

This year we have changed our start and end times, and I know there was a little confusion with my earlier parent letter (having sent out the wrong draft) so wanted to make sure folks had that information accurately.  Start and end times for each school are as follows:

Great Falls Elem.               Start:  8:50     End:  3:10
Narragansett Elem.            Start:  8:50     End:  3:10
Village Elem.                     Start:  8:50     End:  3:10
Gorham Middle School     Start:  8:00     End:  2:20
Gorham High School         Start:  7:50     End:  2:10

Transportation Policy and Bus Routes:



A copy of our full transportation policy is LINKED HERE, but some highlights include:

Required Walking Distances. . .

*  Students in grades K-5 will not be required to walk more than .3 miles to the nearest bus stop or to school.  In other words, K-5 students who live within .3 miles of a bus stop or a school should be prepared to walk to that stop or to school.

*  Students in grades 6-12 will not be required to walk more than 1 mile to the nearest bus stop or to school.  Again, this means that students in grades 6-12 who live within 1 mile of a bus stop or a school should be prepared to walk to that stop or to school.

Pick up and Drop Off locations. . . 

This policy was revised last year and is essentially the same in that K-12 students are permitted to have up to two pick up locations and up to two drop off locations that follow a consistent daily schedule.  Specifically, each student must select one of the two pick-up locations and one of the two drop-off locations for each day of the week.  The same Monday through Friday schedule will apply throughout the entire school year and alternating weekly schedules and/or daily changes are not permitted.  You can read more by going directly to the policy linked above.

2019-20 Bus Routes. . . 

New bus routes for the 2019-20 School Year will be posted on the district website by August 16 and will also appear in the Gorham Times in their August 23rd edition.  Please review the bus routes when they are posted and if you have questions, call the transportation office at 893-2547.

Learning System Resources:



For parents who would like to better understand our K-12 learning system in Gorham, I would urge you to check out the resources that we have posted on our website (linked above).  Once you are on the district site, please go to "About Us" on the left side of the main page, then click on "Gorham's Learning System" and from there you can navigate to all kinds of information on the right side of the page that I think you will find most helpful.  Of particular interest, are the following items:

Gorham's Learning System Handbook
Gorham's Grading Guide
"One Pager" on Our Learning System
"One Pager" on Our 1-4 Grading Scale (used in grades K-8)
"One Pager" on our Numeric Grading Scale (used in grades 9-12)
Copy of GHS Sample College Transcript

As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to your building principal or to me and we'd be more than happy to answer them!

Importance of Attendance:



Before I transition over to talking about a few important items that we will be focused on for the coming 2019-20 School Year here in Gorham, I did want to take a minute while everyone  is thinking about the opening days of school to promote the importance of school attendance for all children!

Did you know that absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance throughout the school year?  Did you know that poor attendance can influence whether children read proficiently by the end of third grade?  Did you know that by 6th grade, chronic absenteeism (missing 10% or more of the school year - which in Gorham is a total of 18 days) becomes a leading indicator that students will drop out of high school? Did you know that research shows that a student who is chronically absent performs lower academically than students who are not?

As a school system, WE NEED YOUR HELP!  When you as the parent make school attendance a priority, you help your child get better grades, develop healthy life habits, and have a better chance of graduating from high school ready to successfully meet all the challenges life may have in store for them!  Please help us, help your child to make daily school attendance a priority! THANK YOU!

Important Work in the Coming 2019-20 School Year:


A.L.I.C.E. . . 

As a district, we have several big items that we will be undertaking this year to benefit our students and our community.  The first deals with a topic we take very seriously here in Gorham, our student and staff safety.  As I mentioned in my opening letter, the Gorham Schools has adopted an emergency response protocol called A.L.I.C.E. for use with some specific crisis situations we hope never occur in our schools, but that we must be prepared for nonetheless.  ALICE stands for "Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate". 

During the course of the last school year we trained all K-12 staff in this new model and we are now ready to work on training students and parents about how it works and what to expect.  We will be training K-12 students in this protocol using a three-step approach.  The first step is to simply educate parents and students about ALICE.  The second step involves what we call "table top" discussions with teachers and students on how to use ALICE in specific circumstances and the third involves trainings where students have to make decisions, follow directions, and work through the protocols.  As you might imagine, these trainings will look very different for students in grade K as they might for students in grade 11 or 12.  We will be having an opening "informational night" for interested parents to learn more about ALICE and our plans for training students on Tuesday, August 276, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. at the GMS auditorium.  I would encourage parents who are interested in learning more to attend.

Aspire Gorham. . . 

Over the past several years GHS students have been focused on creating their "Future Stories".  What we've come to realize in this work is that students should begin thinking about their "Future Stories" well before they arrive at GHS!  Conversations with children about their future aspirations should start at an early age and be a conversation among many in the community, not just between parents and children or between guidance counselors and students, but between the entire community and the children who live here.

Aspire Gorham is focused on creating a community wide, Birth to adult, conversation about Aspirations (Our Future Stories).  It is focused on ensuring that students are EXPOSEd to various careers early on, that they get a chance to EXPLORE various careers throughout the course of their education in our schools and that they also get a chance to EXPERIENCE different pathways leaving our schools to pursue their Future stories more deeply.

The Gorham Schools will be launching its first full year of Aspire Gorham work this year.  We begun to create strong partnerships with our early learning community, we have established goals for all our schools (K-12) and we have strengthened relations with Adult Education programs and neighboring postsecondary schools (like USM).  We have some exciting things in store for our students and families this year - so stay tuned to hear more!

K-5 Attendance Zone Changes for 2020-21 School Year. . .

As most of you likely know, the Gorham Schools have been growing over the past few years.  In just the past four years we have added almost 180 students to just our grades K-5 classrooms alone!  As a result we have had to add positions and fill up classroom spaces at all three K-5 Schools.  Our three K-5 schools are now full and we need to figure out a way to continue to grow while keeping the best educational interests of our K-5 students in mind over both the short and long term.

As a means to this end, the Gorham School Committee has developed a long range facilities plan for K-5 that involves a "two-step" process.  The first step was approved by voters in June, 2019 - a modular expansion at Narragansett Elementary School.  The plan here is to reduce enrollments at Great Falls and Village Elementary Schools (to give them room to grow over the next 10-15 years) while pointing as much of the "new growth" towards Narragansett Elementary School.  This plan will result in the creation of three K-5 schools that will eventually have very similar enrollments and the eventual proposal to the state to build on a permanent capital addition to Narragansett Elementary School to house our growing populations for the longer term.

In order to make this plan a reality, a component of this work will be to shift our existing attendance zones so that we can reduce enrollments at Great Falls and Village and point growth towards Narragansett Elem. The School Committee realizes that NO ONE likes to have attendance zones change.  Changing attendance zones will likely mean that students/families that had attended one school for a year or even more, may be asked to attend a different school and no one likes these changes.  We work hard to build a strong "family" culture at each of our schools and when this "family" is interrupted...well no one is happy.  Of course, that doesn't mean we don't do it, because in order to do what is best for our children over the longer term, this piece of unpleasantness is necessary.  Please know that the Gorham Schools are going to work hard with ALL OUR FAMILIES to ensure that the process of shifting attendance zones goes as smoothly as it possibly can with a focus on building and maintaining those strong relationships we are so proud of here in Gorham.

Here's how the timeline for this work will roughly play out so you know what to expect:

Summer - September, 2019 Administration will work to re-draw the lines for our newly proposed attendance zones.  Again, the goal is to reduce enrollments at GF and Village and point growth towards Narr. Elem.

October, 2019 - Administration will bring draft attendance zone shifts to the School Committee for approval.  Once approved, the new zones will be announced to families.

October - December, 2019 - Administration will work to identify which staff members would be moving to which locations in the district AND identify which specific families will be attending which schools for the 2020-21 school year.

December, 2019 - Staffing changes will be announced to families.

January - June, 2020 - Specific transition activities will be hosted by the school aimed at making sure students and families are familiar with new schools and new staff.  Individual students may not yet be assigned to individual classrooms (which typically isn't announced each year until June's step up day regardless), but families and students will know which schools they will be attending and which teams (grade levels) of teachers they will be working with at each of those schools.  Activities may include open houses, informational nights, step up days, and many more.  The focus will be on building up those new strong relationships so that transitions will be as smooth as possible once they occur.

August, 2020 - School will begin.  New placements will be in place.  And then hopefully we won't have to adjust for another 10-15 years!


Well that's enough information for now.  Again, there is just sooooo much going on in our schools!  You can find our district Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as our individual school Facebook and Twitter account links on our webpage.  Also, please call or email any questions you may have.  We want to make sure you are informed as to what is going on because we know that TOGETHER (parents, schools and community) we make an awesome TEAM focused on meeting the needs of All of our unique learners!

See you all soon!















Sunday, June 9, 2019

End of Year Information For Parents

Hard to believe we are closing out another incredible year within the Gorham Schools here shortly!  Its been such a great year with so many positive stories and incredible accomplishments by our students and staff.  It would take me too long to list so I won't do that here...but I would encourage you that if you don't already follow us on Facebook or Twitter - YOU SHOULD.  Its the best way to keep up with our very active and talented students and their accomplishments!

I wanted to go over several different items in this blog post so please bear with me.  I will do my best to use subtitles so you can either elect to skip over items, or read this post in "bite-size" chunks.  The first thing I wanted to review with folks is what to expect on June 11's Referendum Vote:

June 11 Referendum Vote:

There are actually THREE questions on this year's ballot related to the schools. . .

The first is our annual budget validation referendum.  The proposed FY 20 budget was unanimously approved last week by the Town Council.  The last step in this process is to have this budget "validated" by voters via referendum.  Voters will be asked to either vote "YES" to validate or approve of the proposed FY 20 budget or to vote "NO" to not validate and therefore not approve of the proposed FY 20 budget.  If the majority of voters vote "YES" the budget has been approved by the School Committee and the Town Council and validated by voters and is good to move forward.  If the majority of voters vote "NO" then the budget has been approved by the School Committee and the Town Council but NOT by the voters which would then require us to "go back to the drawing board" with the School Committee, revise the budget and go through the process all over again until we can pass a budget that is approved by all three bodies (School Committee, Town Council, and validated by voters).  Overall, we believe this is the best possible budget that balances the needs of our seemingly ever growing student population with the needs of our community.  You can find detailed information by going to our website LINKED HERE if you want to learn more.

The second item on the referendum is a vote that is required to be placed on the referendum by state statute every three years.  This question simply asks if voters would like to keep the budget validation process or not.  I will be honest that Gorham has been doing the budget validation process since the 1990's, well ahead of when the state mandated it for schools across the state in the mid 2000's.  If voters vote to keep the validation process things would continue as they have since then.  If voters vote to get rid of the validation process then all that would be required to pass the annual school budget would be a majority vote of the School Committee AND a majority vote of the Town Council.  The validation would simply go away.

The third item on the referendum is a vote to approve of the proposed K-5 Modular expansion at Narragansett Elementary School.  This is a MUCH NEEDED proposal with a tight timeline.  If you want to learn more about the proposal I'd encourage you to watch the video LINKED HERE

I realize that there may be parents out there who are pretty nervous about this proposal because they know that connected with this much needed facilities expansion is a planned shift in attendance zones.  I have had many parents reach out with questions about this shift, wanting to know if their child(ren) would be impacted and unfortunately I have had to let parents know that we do not yet know who will be impacted by this change.  We are, however, very mindful of this issue and understand the angst that many parents may be feeling towards a proposal that may shift students from one K-5 school to another.  Please know we would not propose this shift if we did not feel it was absolutely necessary and in the best interest of all K-5 students in Gorham.  The bottom line is this, our existing K-5 facilities (Great Falls, Narragansett and Village) will be full when we begin the 2018-19 school year and we know that in the following year the student population will continue to grow.  This means we will be out of space.  We also know that this growth is not going to stop anytime soon.  It may slow, granted, but there is no anticipation of it stopping.  Therefore, this is not a "short term" problem, but a long term problem which requires a long term plan. 

The plan that has been developed by the School Committee is a mid-range plan AND a long-range plan, one feeding into the other.  The long-range plan requires the need for us to build another major capital expansion (or a new building entirely) in order to account for our continued growth.  However in order to get to this long term solution, we need to develop a mid-range plan because we need state funding to help us achieve our long range goal.  This modular expansion proposal will address the mid-range needs of our K-5 schools while setting us up to achieve our long term goals.  After almost three years of study, the School Committee unanimously supports this proposal and the Town Council unanimously supported placing this question on the June referendum.

I have had parents also ask what would happen if this were referendum were not approved.  The simple answer would be that we would need to re-group and would likely bring this plan back for approval in November.  However, by doing so we are not greatly impacting our timelines for accomplishing the work needed.  The likelihood would then be high that we would need to expend additional unnecessary funds to place a truly temporary modular at one of the schools in order to then go back to this plan for 2021-22.  In the meantime, the likelihood is also high that class sizes would need to increase at this level as this would be the only way to fit more students into the same number of spaces.  None of these alternative would be pleasant. 

Again, we understand the angst that parents may be feeling with this process and so I thought it might also be fruitful to outline the plan we have in place to shift attendance zones for 2020-21.  I hope you will note the timelines, and activities and understand we would be doing this work with intentionality and great care towards ensuring any transitions families must go through are as smooth and thoughtful as possible.

Our Attendance Zone Plan

In an effort to allay some fears, I thought it would be useful to outline the process we would undertake to shift attendance zones for the 2020-21 school year.  Basically, it would be as follows:

Summer - September, 2019 - Administration would work with Municipal planners to identify largest areas of potential growth in Gorham over the next 10-15 years. We would then use this information to re-draw the lines of our three schools attendance zones.  The goal would be to "point" growth towards Narragansett Elementary School while ALSO working to reduce enrollments at Great Falls and Village to give them continued room to grow over the next 10-15 years as well. 

October, 2019 - Proposed New Attendance zones would be announced to families.

November/December, 2019 - School staff and administration would work to identify which staff members would be moving to which locations in the district AND identify which students would be going into which classrooms to begin the 2020-21 school year.

January, 2020 - K-5 Classroom assignments will be announced to families for 2020-21 school year.

January - June, 2020 - Each school will host family nights, open houses, step up days, and many more activities.  These activities will be aimed at allowing families to get to know their child's new placements for the 2020-21 school year and to develop friendships and other relationships with peers and other families in preparation for the new attendance zone shift to occur.

August, 2020 - A special day will be held for any new families to our schools to come visit classrooms, playgrounds, and new teachers prior to the beginning of the school year.

August, 2020 - School will begin.

I hope that you can see that we would take this process very seriously and do all that we could to ensure that necessary transitions occur as smoothly as possible.  One thing that should make all of our parents feel good is that ALL THREE of our K-5 Schools are AWESOME.  They are all three staffed by the most incredible teachers on the face of the planet (sorry I could be a bit biased here), all of whom care tremendously about your children and all of whom will work tirelessly to make sure this transition goes as well as it can possibly go.

I know this is asking a lot of families to support, but as I said earlier...the School Committee believes that this is the best possible solution moving forward and we wouldn't be proposing these changes if we didn't feel as though the alternatives would be much less so.

Last Days and First Days

The last student day for the Gorham Schools will be Tuesday, June 18, 2019.  This will be a HALF DAY of school for students.  Students will be dismissed on that day according to our usual early release schedules at each school.  Teachers will then come over to GMS on the afternoon of June 18 for our district wide staff closing and then they too will be dismissed for the summer.  Our school offices will be open for at least another week at each school so if you need anything that would be the time to reach out.  After the 25th of June our most of our school's offices will be open intermittently during the summer with the exception of GHS whose office is open throughout the summer months along with our central office.  If you get into the summer months and are unsure of school hours, but wish to talk with someone about a question please just reach out to Rhonda Warren (222-1012) at my office and she can direct you from there.

Not that ANYONE will be thinking of this anytime soon, but just so parents are aware, school will re-open again for teachers on August 26 and 27.  Students in grades K,6 and 9 will begin their first student day on August 28, 2019 and then all students will begin on August 29, 2019.  You can find a copy of our district calendar LINKED HERE for reference in planning your upcoming school year.

Next Year's NEW START AND END TIMES Across All Schools

As you can recall, the School Committee voted this spring to extend the student day by 20 minutes at the K-5 level and by 10 minutes at the grades 6-12 level to begin in the 2019-20 school year.  This means that start times at the K-5 Schools will shift and that ending times at all 5 schools will shift.  Official start and end times for the 2019-20 School Year per school are as follows:



As you can see, the school day will officially begin about 10 minutes earlier for our K-5 schools next year and will end about 10 minute later.  For GMS and GHS students, the day will end about 10 minutes later than it has in the past.

Please plan your schedules accordingly and if you have any questions, please reach out to either the Transportation office (893-2547) or my office (222-1012) and we'll be more than happy to answer them for you!

Transportation

As was the case last year, students will need to be "signed up" for pick up and drop off locations in advance of the opening of school.  There will be an online form available for existing families to make adjustments to routes and for new families to sign up.  That form will be posted on our transportation website sometime between now and the end of June.  Please check it out and call with any questions you may have.  The Transportation site is LINKED HERE. 

As was also the case last year, there is a limit to the number of pick up and drop off locations families are allowed.  I would ask that families familiarize themselves with our updated Transportation Policy, LINKED HERE and again, please reach out to my office or transportation if you have questions.

GHS Building Proposal

The work continues to find a way to address the needs of our growing student populations.  At this point, the GHS building committee has worked to reduce the scope of the project to what we feel is the bare minimum that still meets the educational needs of the students while reducing costs.  Revised proposals are currently being estimated and will be ready for review by the committee in late June.  The next step would then be to take that information and share it with the School Committee and to then meet jointly with the Town Council where we will share the revised proposal as well as the results of community input and determine next steps from there.

The likelihood is very high that we will NOT be ready to bring forward an item for the November, 2019 referendum, but this does not mean that the problems have been resolved.  It simply means we continue to do our due diligence so that when something is brought to the voters for approval it will be the RIGHT "something".  Please follow this work on our website (LINKED HERE) and stay tuned!

Athletic Capital Campaign

This work also continues and we have now set a "launch date" for our "Gorham Pride" Campaign.  We will be launching our campaign formally in alignment with this coming fall's Homecoming celebrations.  Please stay tuned for details...we have some very special plans in store and we will be ramping up communications in August!

Closing

I think that is all the essential information for now.  Parents should keep your eyes open on the transportation website for route forms to be completed.  I will send out an email when it is ready.  Families whose students are interested in fall sports should also keep an eye on our website (Athletic Page is LINKED HERE) to get updates on when physicals are required and when fall practices will begin. 

As the summer progresses and you have questions, please reach out to me at 222-1012 or feel free to email me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU FOR ANOTHER GREAT YEAR! 

It is a pleasure to serve this incredible community...#Gorham Pride!☺




Friday, May 17, 2019

K-5 Modular Expansion Project Update

Hard to believe it is already mid-May and we are just weeks away from the close of another incredible school year here in the Gorham Schools.  With the ending of another school year comes the whirlwind of events celebrating the accomplishments of our students, and the hard work that goes into helping students and families transition from one grade to the next and from one school to another. 

FY 20 Proposed Budget Quick "Plug"

Another "not so small" thing that occurs during this time of the year is our school budget approval process.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on this blog post regarding the FY 20 budget, only to say that it has passed the school committee by a vote of 6-1, we have had a very productive budget workshop meeting with the Town Council and it is ready to be voted on by the Town Council on June 4.  If you would like more details on our proposed budget, please visit our web page linked HERE where you can find all the details you can handle!  You can also review the "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) I've put together to communicate the essential pieces of our proposed FY 20 school budget.  Please review and don't forget to get out and VOTE on June 11th!  THANK YOU!

The Proposed K-5 Modular Expansion Project at Narragansett Elementary School

SOME CONTEXT FOR WHY WE ARE PROPOSING THIS PROJECT. . . As you know, we've been experiencing significant growth over the past four years, actually increasing by 155 students in grades K-5 alone between 2015 and this school year.  The School Committee has been working over the past 3 years to develop a comprehensive long term facilities strategy/plan to address not only the current growth but the continued projected growth of our K-12 populations here in Gorham.  You can see those projections by CLICKING HERE and you can review a "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) that I put together to explain the K-5 modular project and its need. 

In addition to our facilities needs at the K-5 levels, I'm sure most folks are also fairly familiar with the needs at our High School Level.  To be clear, we will NOT be bringing forward a $97,000,000.00 high school project to the voters as that figure is simply too high, but we are still left with figuring out what we will do to address the needs at this level as well.  Again, I've created a "one-pager" to try and communicate those needs that is LINKED HERE

I mention the potential high school project here in order to be clear that due to growth, the community of Gorham is likely going to need to find a way to support TWO capital projects (not one) which plays heavily into our long term planning strategy and is part of the reason why we are electing to do what we want to do with the K-5 modular expansion project.  We are operating under the very likely and well-educated assumption that we will NOT be eligible for state funding for two capital projects. Of the two projects we need, we are more likely to get state funding support for an Elementary capital project than we would be for a high school project (this would take me another 2 blog posts to explain, but please understand we have asked enough questions to believe this to be true).  Therefore, we are looking to position ourselves to locally fund the long term needs at the high school level and to position ourselves at the K-5 level to be approved for a state-funded project.

State-funded projects take time...often as many as 6-8 years from the time an application is even made, and unfortunately the state is likely not to have another application cycle for 2 more years.  Therefore, the project we are suggesting is what we are calling a "mid-range" solution to K-5 growth that will last us 10-15 years whereby at the end of that time frame we would be positioned to build a state-funded capital expansion that would be at least 85% paid for by the State of Maine.  This "mid-range" solution will cost approximately $2.8 million dollars (in FY 20) and another $2.8 million dollars in FY 23 or 24 (depending upon continued growth) but will ultimately save the community upwards of $25 million dollars for a long term solution.   Here's another way to see that same information for those of you that like spreadsheets.  The first spreadsheet illustrates anticipated costs associated with our proposed plan in order to get us from where we are to a true long term solution (a capital expansion at the K-5 level that would house all students anticipated):



Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $12,630,900.00.

The second spreadsheet illustrates for you the local costs that would be associated if we do not follow this plan, and instead look to do something different in phases like permanent construction at Narragansett in smaller chunks, or even possible renovation of another location with local funds.



Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $38,543,976.00.

Again, these are illustrations only, so please don't get caught up in the specific dollar figures, but instead, try to focus on the relationships between costs for one plan vs. another.

The key to understanding the differences is that the modular expansion sets us up for an MDOE approved capital project within the next 10-15 years that would be at least 85% funded by the state, whereas other alternatives would place the burden of dealing with short, mid-range, and long term solutions on the backs of our local taxpayers entirely.

An Overview of the Long Range Plan

To make a long story short (I know, too late)...after several years of study, the school committee believes that the most efficient and cost-effective way to move forward and address our issues of growth is as follows:

1.  Maintain our existing K-5 elementary school structures.
2.  Create a "mid-range" expansion of Narragansett Elementary School (which is our largest site) by constructing "Phase I" (Blue part below) of the modular expansion plan during the course of the 2019-20 School Year.
3.  Complete "Phase I" (Blue) of the modular expansion by Spring of 2020.
4.  Spring/Summer of 2020 prepare parents and families for a K-5 attendance zone shift which will occur in order to open the 2020-21 school year.
5.  In Fall of 2020 shift K-5 attendance zones to allow for "room to grow" at Great Falls and Village Elementary Schools while shifting additional growth towards Narragansett Elementary School.  This will in effect create three K-5 schools of approximately the same size.
6.  By 2023-24 we may need to consider adding either all or parts of Phase II (Green) in order to address continued growth.  If we need to, we may at that point bond an additional modular expansion at a relatively similar cost to the first phase. The orange below only illustrates that if our enrollment projections are higher than anticipated, we could simply continue to add on at relatively small costs.
7.  By 2026 we need to have figured out what to do at GHS as it is in this year that growth will reach almost 900 students.
8.  Address GHS building needs by 2026 at a local cost of ????
9.  By 2028-29 be prepared for MDOE supported capital expansion at the K-5 level.


K-5 Attendance Zone Changes Proposed for 2020-21

As you have probably noticed, the proposal for this much needed modular expansion project comes with one other important piece of information.  A change to our current attendance zones for 2020-2021.  I am sure I can hear the collective groan (or possible scream) from parents from here and for that I truly do apologize.  NO ONE enjoys shifting attendance zones...however from time to time it is a necessity and we have reached that time in Gorham's growth that we must consider this.

The reason is that in order to make this a true 10-15 year "fix" for our growth issues, we not only need to expand at Narragansett and shift growth in that direction, but we need to provide some room to grow at the other two schools as well (that are both full).  Since both schools are currently full, the only way to do that is to shift attendance zones.

Now, we all knew this was coming (at least those parents of K-5 students who followed with intent our earlier discussions from 2 years ago regarding the possibility of changing our elementary school configurations).  Our attendance zones have not been adjusted since we originally opened Great Falls Elementary School and with the growth that has occurred, well it clearly hasn't been "evenly spread" across all three attendance zones.

We need to shift our zones so that we can provide more space at Great Falls and Village to continue to grow while also shifting the majority of continued projected growth towards Narragansett.  Our transportation Director (who by the way was the mastermind behind the last attendance zone work that didn't have to change for 10 years - which is incredible) has been hard at work trying to figure out where our new lines should go to create the spaces we need at Great Falls and Village while also encompassing the "hot spots" where we think growth will be at the highest in the future. 

Once the referendum is passed, we will work to get this information to parents as quickly as possible during the 2019-20 school year and communicate that effectively to parents throughout that year so that we are ready to make the shift for the 2020-21 school year, and hopefully NOT have to do it again for another 10 years!

A Frequently Asked Question or Two

This is already a long blog post (once again sorry)... but I did want to address at least one or two of the most frequently asked questions I get from parents and community members. 

Question #1- Why modulars?  Why can't we take that same (or likely a little more $) and sink it into an already existing building like the Little Falls Recreation Center and update that instead? 

Answer #1 - A valid question for sure as it seems that would make at least some sense...but when you lift up the layers of the onion a little more, you begin to see why it would actually be more costly to go this route.

Let's take Little Falls as an example (as its the one I hear the most).  There are currently 6 viable classroom spaces at Little Falls with some other auxiliary spaces.  So the first problem is space.  With 6 classrooms, you can fit approximately 120 students (avg. of 20 per classroom).  A single grade in Gorham right now has an average population of 215 students at the K-5 level.  That means you couldn't fit a whole grade into the school.  This means that you would have to have part of a grade there and the rest of it spread out across the other 3 schools.  Although this would be a bit of a nightmare to figure out with attendance zones, we could likely overcome that hurdle, but by doing so we are creating other consequences such as significantly increasing staffing costs. 

We would now need to split grades across another building.  This would force us to add staffing for allied arts such as Art, Music, PE, and for other support services important to our programs such as for PT, OT, Speech, Social Workers, etc.  We would need an additional administrator, school secretary, another school nurse, and these are just the quick things I can think of off the top of my head.  There would be increased costs for travel for these positions as one small school would not warrant full-time employees in these areas.  Then we would also have to add a cafeteria with cafeteria workers as we would be required to serve both breakfast and lunch to these students.  Then in order to make this work, we'd need to increase more bus routes, add drivers, and we would also need to clean an additional facility which would add costs for maintenance and custodial services. 

In other words, the staffing needs that would be created and would need to exist for the long term would far outweigh the initial upfront costs of the modular expansion where we wouldn't need to add as many staff (I say "as many" because with increasing populations, you will need to add staff...just wouldn't be as many as what you would do if you separate things out into another school). 

Of course, not to mention that if we were really considering Little Falls, we would also displace many senior-oriented programs that are very vested in that building, which is no one's intention.

Question #2:  What kind of modulars are we talking here?  Are these the same things we had 10 years ago?

Answer #2:  NO.  The modulars we are proposing will be connected to the school and to each other.  They will be secure facilities.  They will have access to bathrooms, technology, phones, etc.  All life safety codes such as sprinklers, etc. will be met.  Students will not have to go outside to get to them.  They will truly be connected and built in such a way as to last 10-15 years where previous modulars were put in place for 2-3 year short term fixes.  I am actually making a video to demonstrate this with Georgia at GOCAT and will send the link out as soon as it is completed.

Question #3:  What are the implications if we DO NOT approve this referendum?

Answer #3:  Our student populations are increasing and we are officially out of room at our existing K-5 schools as of next year (2019-20).  If we don't approve of this, we will likely need to add a modular at Great Falls and one at Narragansett in 2020-21 and then keep "piece-mealing" modulars at all three schools at a much greater cost due to inefficiencies of 3 separate sites.  The likelihood is also high that we would have to increase class sizes at the K-5 level to fit more students into the same existing spaces.

Question #4:  Why now?  Can't we wait another year or two?

Answer #4:  Unfortunately, we are out of room now at the elementary schools.  We are cobbling together a few more adjustments for 2019-20, but by 2020-21 we will either have to have a plan ready or we will be increasing class sizes to accommodate student numbers. 

We have to approve the referendum now so that there is the appropriate time to do the site work and other work required to have the expansion operational by the 2020-21 school year.  You can see the timeline by CLICKING HERE.

I could keep going with Q&A but this post is already WAAAAAYYYY TOOOOO LOOOONNNGGG!  Rather than do that I would urge you to reach out to me individually with any questions you may have and I'd be more than happy to answer them.  My email is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU!






Tuesday, April 16, 2019

FY 20 Proposed School Budget Approved by School Committee! On to Town Council!

I wanted to take a quick moment to share an update with folks on the FY 20 Proposed Gorham School Department Budget since we've had some recent changes since my last blog update that impact the overall proposal.

Newly Approved FY 20 Proposed School Budget:

On Wednesday, April 10, 2019 the Gorham School Committee voted 6-1 to approve of the newly revised FY 20 Proposed School Budget.

The proposed FY 20 Budget now totals $41,010,533.00 and represents a 5.31% increase in expenditures over the final approved FY 19 budget of $38,942,505.00.  This proposed budget represents an 8.2% increase in local appropriation need, an overall increase of $1,642,126.00. Assuming General Purpose Aid (State GPA) is finalized at the proposed level, and the actual FY 20 property tax base increases by just $25,000,000.00, the impact of this budget on the mil rate is an estimated increase of 6.6% or $0.79 on the mil.  I fully anticipate that this mil impact will decrease as we get more up to date information from the Town on our tax base increases for FY 20.

The proposed budget is approximately $700,000.00 LESS THAN what I had shared with folks in my last blog. Since my last blog, the School Department received information that our health insurance premiums would remain unchanged for FY 20 (0% increase) which allowed us to reduce approximately $150,000.00 from the budget. Also since my last blog, significant changes were made to our proposed CIPS (Capital Improvement) budget. These changes are a little more complex, so I'll take a moment to explain...

Our originally proposed FY 20 CIPS budget included over $1 million in funds to pay for site work for a proposed modular expansion project at Narragansett Elementary School that is needed to address our increasing enrollments at the K-5 levels. The School Committee had been attempting to pay for the modular expansion solely from "regular budget" funds. Because of this, we had anticipated leasing modular spaces and paying for the site work from the originally proposed FY 20 CIPS budget. However, when we brought the necessary referendum question to the Town Council for approval to be placed on the June ballot, the Town Council voted 4-2 against allowing the referendum question to be placed on the June ballot, explaining that their preference seemed to be that they wanted this expansion to be bonded and for the modulars to be owned by the Town of Gorham vs. leased. We will be meeting with the Town Council jointly on April 26 at 6:30 p.m. to gain clarity on this piece, and to hopefully move forward with the modular expansion as a bonded project. In the meantime, however, it became clear that we no longer needed to place the site work and lease costs in the proposed FY 20 budget because we would either be bonding this project or we wouldn't be doing this project at all (I'll get into the implications of that in a minute). Because of this, we were able to adjust our proposed FY 20 budget and reduce another $560,000.00 from the proposal.

That's the simplified version of how we got to the proposed budget we are at....if you want to learn more, please visit our website LINKED HERE and you can see the original budget presented to the SC, you can watch videos of our budget workshops, and you can see the final proposed budget booklet in much more detail.

Overall, the School Committee and our district leadership team believe that this budget represents the funds necessary to continue to support the high-quality educational services we strive to provide for our community's most precious resource (its children) while balancing the needs of our taxpayers who support our schools.

A Little More On The Proposed K-5 Modular Expansion

I wanted to make sure folks understood a little more about the need for our K-5 Modular Expansion Proposal. PLEASE CLICK HERE to read more detailed information. Bottom line is this. If we don't move forward with this expansion project we will officially be out of classroom space in all 3 elementary schools at the end of the 2019-20 school year. This means that in order to address continued growth from that point forward, we would either need to increase class sizes (putting more students in the same number of classrooms) or we would need to add a modular at Great Falls and then another one at Narragansett and then another one at Village, and, and, and. This would be a haphazard and "piecemeal" approach. The preferred approach is to build on a modular expansion at Narragansett Elementary School in order to prepare for a shift in attendance zones to occur for the 2020-21 School Year. This shift would then direct most of the continued growth towards Narragansett Elem. while reducing some populations from Great Falls and Village giving them additional room to continue to grow. This preferred approach would be a 10-15 year "solution" that would set us up well to then construct a more permanent addition onto Narragansett Elementary School that could be, at least partially, funded by the state. This would provide the long term facilities vision we wish to achieve.

The School Committee will be meeting with the Town Council on April 29 at 6:30 p.m. for a workshop meeting to discuss how to best move forward to address these needs. I will update you once I hear more.

Last Days of School

I just received official word from the MDOE today that they have approved my request to "waive" the use of a school day as a community day due to Pooch's funeral services. I can now share the last day of schools calendar with parents. Here's the plan:

With this one day "waived" we used 6 snow days this year, 5 of which were already planned in our calendar. This means we must make up one full day of school. Because of this, the last student day will now be held on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. This last student day will be an early release-dismissal day. Teaching staff from across the district will then gather in the afternoon for our final luncheon and closing workshop, after which they too will be dismissed for the summer.

So, once again, the last student day will be on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, and students will be dismissed early on this day. If you have questions, please reach out to your school's principal. If you are interested in seeing the 2019-20 School Calendar to start planning for next year...please CLICK HERE.

As always, if you have ANY QUESTIONS regarding the budget (or anything for that matter)...please let me know. You can always reach me via email at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Proposed FY 20 School Budget Work Update

The Gorham School Committee will be voting on a proposed FY 20 School Budget at their regular meeting scheduled on April 10, 2019.  Although this is certainly not the last step in the budget approval process, it is an important one so I wanted to provide an update to parents regarding what is contained within the Proposed FY 20 Gorham School Budget at this time.  Here's a quick overview of the highlights of changes proposed at each school/program level:

Gorham High School:

The current proposed budget includes the addition of a 4/5 Health/PE teacher in order to accommodate for the large "bubble class" that is currently at the 9th-grade level.  The budget also includes the addition of a half time Educational Technician position in the learning lab. This position will be used to help provide support for students in the area of literacy and math at the grades 9-12 levels.

At one point there had been discussions of reducing positions in the alternative education program and 2-3 teaching positions, but after considerable conversation, these positions remain within the proposed budget.

Gorham Middle School:

The current proposed budget contains no substantial changes to positions or programs at Gorham Middle School at this time.

K-5 Schools:

The proposed budget currently includes the addition of a teaching position at Narragansett Elementary School.  This additional position will allow Narragansett to add a 4/5 classroom as well as maintain three grade 3 classrooms for the 2019-20 School Year.

The budget also currently adds one additional teacher to Great Falls Elementary School to account for a large third-grade classroom projected for next year.

Finally, the current proposed budget adds a new K-5 School Resource officer to be shared across our K-5 schools.  Currently, we have one SRO for GHS, and 1 more SRO that is shared between GMS and our three K-5 Schools.

Technology:

The proposed budget includes funds to purchase additional i-pads for Kindergarten classrooms.  The budget also includes funds to purchase additional Chromebooks to be placed on carts and used for students in grades 1-3 in order to provide enough working laptops for instruction and for testing.

Finally, the proposed budget holds off on purchasing new laptops for GHS students as they are still in extremely good working order.  The budget does add funds to account for a shift in shared services with the Town of Gorham who has decided to hire its own full-time technician as their technology needs grow.  This means we now need to fully fund our 32 hour a week position without shared costs with the Town for 2019-20.

School Nutrition:

The proposed budget includes $30,000.00 additional local dollars to fund our SNP program.  These funds will allow us to keep up with labor and supply costs (due to our increasing enrollments) as well as to begin trying to make continuous changes to our program to improve the quality of our meals.

Transportation:

The proposed budget includes funds to add two new buses and two new bus driver positions to our budget.  These positions are needed to address our increasing enrollments.  These positions will also allow us to adjust our existing routes to create "inter-zone" specific routes that will then eliminate the need for transfer buses for students traveling across attendance zones.  In essence, this will allow us to add 10 minutes on to the morning for K-5 students and 10 more minutes onto the afternoon for K-12 students without asking students to ride buses longer, get up earlier, or arrive home later each day.

Special Education:

The proposed budget includes two additional Ed. Tech. III positions to address increasing populations and decreasing federal fund allocations.

Facilities:

The proposed budget includes a Capital Improvements Budget addition of over $600,000.00.  These funds are needed to fund a modular expansion proposed at Narragansett Elementary School.  This modular expansion will be done in two phases in preparation to shift attendance zones for the 2020-21 School Year so that we will "funnel" all additional growth in Gorham at the K-5 levels towards Narragansett Elementary School.  The first phase of the project will be to fund three modular spaces and associated site work.  These three modular buildings will become home to 4 additional classrooms, one set of boys and girls bathrooms, and an electrical/plumbing/technology "closet" that will house the infrastructure needed to support continued additions.  Phase I will be completed during the course of the 2019-20 school year although no students will be in the modular spaces until the 2020-21 School Year.  Over the course of the spring and summer of 2020, we will then add three more modular spaces.  Of those three, two will be combined to create a new cafeteria space (eating space only...kitchen will remain where it is) and one will be added on to Phase I to add two more classrooms.  Overall then, when Phase I and II are combined in preparation for the 2020-21 school year we will have space for 6 additional classrooms and a cafeteria which will free up the gymnasium space for use with our physical education classes.

The funds associated with phase I of this expansion are currently within our regular proposed FY 20 CIPS budget so even though there will be a separate referendum question on this item in June (due to our town charter's requirement for a referendum on any individual project whose costs exceeds $250,000.00), the funds to pay for this project are intended to be within our proposed school budget and not bonded.

The Town Council will be discussing this referendum question at its meeting on Tuesday, April 2 of this week.

Overall ESTIMATED Impacts:

I underline the word "estimated" so that folks are clear lots of things can still change in this process.  The state could change our funding, the town could update its property tax base numbers, the School Committee could still reduce or add items to the proposed budget and the Town Council can still reduce or add items to the proposed budget.

But as of right now, March 31, 2019 the estimated impacts of the proposed FY 20 school budget are as follows:

*  This budget would represent an overall increase in expenditures of 6.87% or $2,674,665.00.   A large portion of these operating increases can be attributed to just maintenance of existing positions ($1 million) or increases to our CIPS budget ($600,000.00).

*  Assuming an increase in property tax base of $25 million, the proposed budget would increase the mil rate by 9.59% or $1.15 on the mil.


There are lots more details that are associated with this proposed budget...but hopefully, this summary provides good insights into the highlights.  Once the school committee approves the proposed budget on April 10, it will then be sent to the Town Council.  The Town Council will review and meet jointly with the School Committee on May 14th to learn the details of the proposed budget.  The Town Council will then vote on the proposed budget (and can make possible adjustments to the proposed budget) on June 4.  Whatever is approved on June 4 then goes to voters via referendum on June 11, 2019.

As always, if you have any questions regarding the proposed FY 20 School Budget, please ask!

Thank you!







Wednesday, March 13, 2019

GMS Upcoming Parent Event Focused on Bullying and Discrimination Prevention

As you may know, we have been very focused over the past year on working to strengthen our culture of kindness and compassion at GMS. We have some of the best students and the best staff in all of Cumberland County working at our Middle School for sure, but it is still a middle school of more than 630 complex and ever-changing adolescent students and therefore, this work is NEVER done. 

We continually endeavor to create the most positive cultures possible for our students and we will continue to work on this never completed canvas on behalf of our students!  Just over the course of the past year, we have done several things to specifically work to strengthen our practices in the areas of preventing bullying and discrimination behaviors through a focus on kindness and compassion. 

Specifically:

*  We have conducted rounds of individual meetings between administration and students of various ages and backgrounds to get a sense of their perspective on the existing culture and climate at GMS.

*  We have conducted specific training with all GMS staff (above and beyond the state required minimum) to review all bullying and discrimination policies and procedures with all staff so that all staff are well trained in how to appropriately respond to reports.

*  We have publicly reviewed all bullying policies and procedures with the Gorham School Committee so that the Gorham School Committee is clear and so that our public is better informed as to what these policies and procedures are and how they operate if a report occurs.

*  We have conducted specific training with GMS staff on:  "Spread the Word to End the Word", Adverse Childhood Experiences Training, Social Media Training, and Restorative Practices Training.

*  We have implemented additional "internal control" measures using google forms to ensure that if a report of bullying or discrimination occurs, it is recorded, communicated, investigated, and reported in a manner that meets all requirements of our policies and procedures.

*  We have re-vamped our discipline structure at GMS so that it is more consistently implemented across all grade levels and teams with restorative practices being a foundational approach whenever possible.

*  We have worked with "Sandy Hook Promise" to offer a program called "Start with Hello" to our students this past fall.  This program encourages students to reach out to one another, to be positive and encouraging, and to make sure no student is left on their own.

*  We have conducted digital citizenry assemblies for all students with follow up activities during advisory periods.

*  We continue to work to strengthen our advisory periods in order to continually promote daily opportunities for positive interactions between students and adults and between students and their peers.

*  We have conducted 7th grade Common Sense Media lessons on the topics of a digital footprint, bullying, discrimination, and other elements of digital citizenship.

*  Our Civil Rights Team has facilitated activities with advisory groups to help celebrate Black History Month, and Women's History Month as well as a "get to know each other" activities series where students in advisory classes asked questions of each other to find out who has what in common and then discussed those commonalities using a facilitated protocol.

*  We have worked with staff using materials from CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to provide training to staff on trauma informed practices which is at the heart of understanding one another before making assumptions - a core component of kindness and compassion towards one another.

*  We have also used materials from CASEL as part of our advisory program to provide specific instruction to all students on how to manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships with their peers and make responsible decisions.

*  Our students participate in prevention-based curriculum from our social worker on emotional regulation strategies, self esteem, values, and peer pressure as well as suicide prevention over the course of each school year.

*  Our student support team sets up daily lunch meetings and other small group meetings for students to discuss student behavioral concerns and to problem solve relational issues between peers, often serving 80+ studentes each week in this one setting alone.

*  We continue to provide a full team of social and emotional support staff for our students including 1 guidance counselor, 1 social worker, and 1 substance abuse counselor who all meet with students 1:1 or in small groups whenever needed.

*  Most recently we had the whole school participate in an event called "Spread the Word to End the Word" (check out www.r-word.org to learn more), a program aimed at kindness and compassion, specifically towards those with special needs.

I am sharing this with all of you to let you know that we have been working hard with staff and students so far this year to make the words of "Kindness" and "Compassion" a part of every day vocabulary at GMS.  But while this work goes on (and will continue to go on)...issues in these areas are not just the school's alone to bear.  Making Kindness and Compassion a key part of our lives, and thereby working to stamp out bullying and discriminatory behavior in our schools and in our community is a community-wide endeavor and this important work must now begin to turn in that direction.

As a means to help start this community wide conversation, Gorham Middle School is planning to host the first of what we hope becomes a series of parent evenings to begin in the month of April.  We are working to bring in a renowned professional speaker to engage parents and families in this important discussion and to begin to open up this important conversation to our entire community.

We are finalizing dates now, but wanted to give everyone a heads up to be thinking about this and looking for the date/time when it is announced so that hopefully as many parents and their children as possible can attend.  Specific details should be forthcoming within the next few weeks.

As always, I do encourage parents/guardians to reach out to me if you have questions.  I also want to encourage parents/guardians who have ideas about how to broaden these important discussions within our community to please share those ideas.  Our intent will be to continue this focus, both internally and externally into the next school year and well beyond.

Thank you!