Monday, September 10, 2018

Updated Proficiency Based Learning Information for 2018-19

Welcome back to the Gorham Schools, or if you are new to the Gorham Schools - just plain WELCOME!  Before I "dig in" to describe some of the new Proficiency-Based Learning changes we have in store for this year - I would be remiss if I didn't share some photos from our opening days of school with all of you...and what a great opening it was (you can click to make the image a little larger)!


I hope you can tell by the pictures above what an incredibly positive opening of school we had across all our schools!  Oh and just so you know, the picture that is in the shape of a heart and has words in it like "Inspire" and "Positive Difference" and "Love" - that is a wordle that I created from staff responses to my question on opening day:  WHY DO YOU TEACH?  The responses to that question were so inspiring!  I wish you could see all the 350+ responses!  We are incredibly lucky to have the talented and passionate staff that we do here in Gorham...it is so good to have everyone back in our schools and to feel the positive energy that can only be felt when good teachers are working to engage students in learning within a positive school climate!

Now that I've had a chance to "brag" just a little bit...I do want to take a minute to share with parents what to expect for our proficiency-based learning (PBL) work this year.  I think you will find after reading this that we have made several positive "tweaks" to our system based on the feedback collected from students, staff, and parents at the end of last year.  

First, I want to address recent legislative changes that have occurred.  In June, the legislature passed LD 1666, which made it a choice to change systems to a PBL diploma or to stick with traditional practices.  This legislation will allow us to continue our thoughtful change process here in Gorham.  The Gorham Schools started this work well before the MDOE told us we had to because we knew then and we know now that this is the right work.  PBL practices are aligned with our mission/vision and we believe it is a vehicle through which we can make our vision a reality for all students.  We have gone about this work methodically and with purpose.  We have taken our time to improve our practices as we go.  We have focused our attention on building solid foundations for change (Belief statements, clear standards, learning progressions, scoring criteria, etc.). We plan on continuing our slow, and purposeful pace of change and will continue to move forward in this important work with input from our most important stakeholders - students, staff, and parents.

As a demonstration of how we use feedback to inform our decisions, I wanted to review with you some changes to our system that will be occurring for the 2018-19 school year.  I think you will find many concerns expressed last year will be addressed by these changes.  Of course, as we continue to grow in our implementation, additional challenges will occur...but those too can be addressed together as we build a system that works for us!

What to Expect for 2018-19 School Year in PBL Implementation:

*  We will be focusing on improving our consistency of grading practices across grades K-12.  The focus of this year's professional development will be on increasing staff understanding of assessment literacy.  We will be bringing in a national speaker - Jan Chappuis to conduct PD with staff, and we will be working with USM Professor Dr. Anita McCafferty to provide school-based assessment leadership training to help improve practices.

*  We have developed a Draft Grading Guide that has been shared widely with staff.  It is still being "tweaked" but the overall purpose is to provide clear guidelines to staff regarding expectations in grading processes and procedures.

*  Grades K-7 Plus 8th grade Science and Allied Arts teachers will be using a 1-4 scale and reporting learning progress on standards using our standards-based grading and report software called Jumprope.  Parents who are interested in learning more about how Jumprope works can click on the following links:


*  We have developed several "One Pagers" to help parents better understand our system and some of its key components.  Check them out:


*  We heard your feedback that Skills For Life (SFL) should weigh more heavily for students.  This year SFL scores will count towards Co&Extra Curricular eligibility for students in grades 6-12.  A student's SFL average score for any individual class cannot fall below a 2.0.  If it does, eligibility requirements will kick in using the same "rules" as academic eligibility.

*  Additionally, SFL scores will also count towards Honor roll and high honor roll eligibility in grades 6-12.  When SFL scores are averaged across all courses, it cannot fall below a 2.75 in order to be eligible for honors or high honors designations.

*  We also heard concerns regarding missing work and made some changes here too.  For 2018-19 if a student is missing word due to an "excused" reason (such as being sick, etc.) then a teacher will enter an "M" in the grade book.  That "M" will NOT count towards the students' grade.  However, if a student simply didn't turn work in and is therefore not "excused" by the teacher, a teacher will enter an "I" (for incomplete) in the grade book.  The "I" will calculate as a "0" and will impact the student's grade.  Once a student turns the work in, the score earned by the student will replace the "0" in the grade book.  

*  We also included a new "Two Week Rule". This rule basically says that missing work that is not turned in within 2 weeks, becomes "incomplete" and therefore impacts the grade.  It also states that if work is turned in after 2 weeks, the student's score may be reduced by up to .25 (on the 1-4 scale) points.

*  Additionally, we are going to be closing quarters and trimesters again.  Work not turned in before the end of a quarter or trimester will count against a student's score.

*  In order for students to earn course credit at GHS, a student average no less than a 2.0 (73 on the 100 point scale) across all standards for that course.  Additionally, a student cannot have an average across the semester/year less than a 1.5 (67) on any individual standard contained within that course.

*  Teachers in grades 8-12 will utilize the 1-4 scale (with .10 increments as desired) for all coursework.  Feedback will be provided using this scale.  Teachers will input scores based upon this scale, which will then be converted in Infinite Campus to the 100 point scale using our blended scale.

*  Whenever a summative assessment is given by teachers, the possibility to achieve a "4" will be available.

*  Honor/High Honor Roll will continue to be calculated.  Students must average between an 85-92 for honors and between a 93-100 for high honors using the 100 point scale.

*  GPA will continue to be calculated and will be prominent on a high school student's transcript.  We will continue to designate Valedictorian and Salutatorian, etc. as we have in the past.

If you'd like to review our overall curriculum documents, please check out our 2018-19 Final Progress Report.  You can also review the updated 2018-19 Proficiency-Based Learning Handbook.

As the year continues, please keep your eyes open for more opportunities for information sharing and feedback collection.  I will be meeting with student groups, staff, and parents throughout the course of the school year in order to continue to listen to stakeholders and work to build a system that will fulfill its promise of helping us to make our Mission/Vision a reality for all Gorham Students.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have.  You can email me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.  

Thank you and Have a Great Year!


















































Thursday, August 23, 2018

WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!

Hard to believe the summer has already flown by! We are all excited to see students back in our buildings once again!  Students in grades K, 6 & 9 will return to school on Wednesday, August 29 and all students will return on Thursday, August 30th.
This school year will mark the initial implementation of our school district’s new transportation policy.  The full policy can be found on our district website, but the short and the long of it is that in order to provide for the safety of our students, we are having to limit parents to 2 pick up points in the morning and 2 drop off points in the afternoon and these locations must be consistently scheduled for the year.  We have been working with parents over the summer to collect information on pick up and drop off points via our online survey.  For those parents who have completed the survey - thank you.  For those that have not, any information that is left blank after August 24 will be considered “incomplete”.  Schools and bus drivers with incomplete information will utilize the primary physical address of each student as the location for pick up and drop off points until parents can complete the required information and have it approved by our transportation office.  I would encourage any parents with questions to call either your school’s office, or the transportation office (839-8885). 
Some parents may be wondering about what the Gorham Schools will be doing with our Proficiency Based Learning (PBL) work since the legislature made a change to allow this work to be optional for diplomas just a month or so ago.  To be honest, I do not believe the legislature’s actions will have any impact on the work of the Gorham Schools in this area.  The Gorham Schools have been working on creating a standards-based learning system well before the law that created PBL was passed and I assume we will continue the work.  We have always made changes, collected feedback, and then been willing to “tweak” our practices based on that feedback using a slow and methodical approach to change.  The changes to the law made by the legislature this past session will allow us to maintain this slow and methodical approach.  Individuals interested in learning more about our system and planned work for the 2018-19 school year should check out our district website.  Under “About Us” there is a page dedicated to Proficiency Based Learning information for parents and community members that I think most would find very helpful.  In particular, I would encourage folks to review our 2018-19 PBL Handbook and to reach out directly to teachers, principals or myself with questions you may have.
As we enter the new school year I would like to make one big “pitch” to parents and students regarding the importance of regular school attendance.  This year, we will be focusing on the issue of chronic absenteeism in all schools across grades K-12.  Chronic absenteeism is defined by a student missing 10% of the total number of school days regardless of whether those absences were excused or unexcused.  For Gorham, that means students who miss 17 or more days of school over the course of the year.  Students who are chronically absent score lower on achievement scores in reading and in math.  Students who are chronically absent are more likely to become high school drop-outs.  Absenteeism in the first month of school can predict poor attendance throughout the school year.  In Gorham, our chronic absenteeism rate for 2017-18 was 6.8% across all schools.  That means that 6.8% of our total school population missed 17+ days of school.  That may not sound like much, but when you do the math, that means that almost 200 of our students are chronically absent!  Granted, those scores are lower than most schools, but it is still too high! 
Encouraging regular school attendance is one of the most powerful ways you can prepare your child for success – both in school and in life.  WE NEED YOUR HELP!  When you help us 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! J 
We are all so very proud to be GORHAM RAMS!  I look forward to another great year!  Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns.  My email is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org and my office phone number is 222-2012.  See you all soon!  GO RAMS! J




Thursday, June 7, 2018

Final Proposed FY 19 School Budget Update

Good afternoon everyone.  I hope all of you are well and enjoying some of the beautiful weather that our great state has thrown at us lately.  Certainly signs that summer is not too far away as I'm sure your students have been telling you for weeks!

I am reaching out to give you all an overview of where we currently stand with our proposed FY 19 School Budget so that you have the most up to date and factual information possible to help inform your decision making when you go to the polls on June 12 (notice I said "when" and not "if"! 😊).

Our proposed budget was approved by the School Committee on April 11, 2018 by a vote of 6-1.  The proposed budget was then sent to the Town Council on June 5, 2018 for approval.  At this meeting, the Town Council voted to reduce our overall expenditures by $346,000.00 and to accept a change in our revenues that increased by $392,00.00.  The overall impact of the vote by the Town Council was a reduction to taxpayer expense (from the originally proposed budget) of $738,000.00.  In order to account for the reductions to expenditures made by the Town Council, the School Committee reduced the following items from our originally proposed budget:


  • Van for Special Ed
  • Oil Tank
  • Gym Curtains
  • Nar. Bathroom
  • GMS Walkway
  • 3 Additional Buses
  • GMS Math textbooks
  • Gr. 1-3 Chromebooks
  • Paper Purchases
  • Legal Counsel
  • Staff Tuition Reimbursements
  • Staff Professional Development
  • Substitute Teacher Lines

As I hope you can see from this list, this means we were able to accommodate for the changes made to our budget WITHOUT REDUCTING ANY STAFF POSITIONS that were in the originally proposed budget.  That originally proposed budget actually included some needed additions to our staffing such as an increase of a half time school licensed nurse, the increase of 3 elementary teaching positions, the increase of part time English and Social Studies positions at GHS, and the increase of a 504 strategist position and Assistant Special Ed. Director position.

The summary figures for the finally approved budget then are:

*  Expenditures are up by 3.51% or $1.3 million
*  Revenues are down by 4.7% or $900,000.00
*  Local Appropriation Need (taxpayer expense) is up by $2.15 million from last year or 9.18%
*  The COMBINED school and town budget increases to the mil rate are up by $1.29 or 7.5%

You can view a "infographic" on the proposed budget by CLICKING HERE.  You can also get more detailed information by going to our district website, clicking on "School Committee" under about us, and then going to the budget information page from there.

Overall, the budget that was approved by the Town Council allows us to adjust to meet the needs of our growing student population while doing its best to balance those needs with the needs of the taxpayers who support us.  We feel confident that we can operate the programs necessary for our students with the funds provided in this proposed budget for FY 19.

That being said, I want to take one more chance to remind folks to GO VOTE on June 12th!  The budget that was approved by the Town Council MUST BE VALIDATED by a majority of voters on June 12th or the budget is not finally approved and we would need to do this all again.  Please make sure your voice is heard!

Any questions - just ask (my email address is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org)!  Thank you!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

What to Expect for Communications In the Event of An Emergency

There is no doubt that the increase in school-related violence seems to be a troubling trend at the national level and even though some of the recent tragedies seem so far away, in my mind (as I'm sure in your mind too) they seem way too close to home!  

The Gorham Schools has worked diligently over the past several years to create an Emergency Response Plan and to communicate that plan effectively to our staff and local first responders.  We have developed close relationships with our local Police and Fire departments, and we have focused a great deal of energy over this past year and a half in strengthening our already strong response plans.  Just this past weekend we worked collaboratively with the Gorham PD and Fire Department as well as Cumberland County first responders to conduct a full-scale active shooter training at Gorham High School.  It was one of the most intense learning experiences I have ever had as an educational leader!  We learned so much just during this one day exercise and we are so very thankful to our local first responders and staff/student volunteers who participated.

During this drill, it became obvious to me that one of the largest pieces that a school must deal with in an emergency situation such as this (other than following our lockdown & other protocols to keep students as safe as possible) is in the area of communications with parents.  For example, I know that as a parent, if I were to get an emergency message from the school letting me know that there was a emergency situation occurring the very first thing I would want to do would be to rush to the scene and get my child!  I am suspecting, in fact,  that it would take armed guards to prevent me from doing so!  Problem with that fictional scenario is that this is likely to be exactly what you would NOT want to do because police would not let you anywhere near the scene and by going there, you would be detracting capacity from our emergency responders who could otherwise be addressing the emergency itself.  So please, if there is an actual lockdown situation at one of our schools, do not go to the school.  Instead, wait for further instructions from the school department.

As parents, I know that you need to know what to expect and how best to support your child/children if such an emergency were to occur.  Of course, NONE OF US wants these types of events to occur here in the Gorham Schools, but the fact of the matter is that even though we work hard to build and maintain positive learning environments for our students - our schools are no different than those that have already experienced these tragedies.  We must be prepared.

Please understand that I can't give you details for locations of reunification spots, or details on specifically how we would respond to emergencies because that information is confidential and information we only want to be communicating with local law enforcement.  However, what I can share with you is what types of communication you can expect, how often, and using what methodologies so that we are all better prepared to respond if we have to.

First and foremost, please know that there are times that our schools go into lockdowns or soft lockdowns, or when evacuations take place for reasons other than a true emergency.  Schools must practice fire evacuations 8 times per year.  We also must practice lockdowns a minimum of 2 times per year.  Additionally, schools may conduct a soft lockdown when something is occurring outside our buildings that we are unsure of, but things that do not yet rise to the level of a true emergency.  These circumstances are often precautionary in nature and are not actual emergencies.  We also have had times when our "panic buttons" have accidentally been pressed, sending a school into a lockdown.  In these non-emergency situations, we typically will send information to parents via our automated email and text system so that you are aware something occurred and so that we can give you any other pertinent information.  We would typically send these messages out when we first became aware of the situation (or as close as possible to when we became aware), and would then send updates roughly every 30 minutes until we could send a final message saying that the issue has been resolved.  Again, all of this information would be shared via our automated messaging system in the form of email or text.

In the event of a true emergency situation in one of our schools, we would:

  • Send an automated phone message, email and text notification to all contacts associated with each student.  
  • The recorded message would let parents know in general terms what is happening and inform parents about what they shoul dod and where they can go to get more information and to pick up students in an orderly and non-disruptive manner.
  • This phone message would be repeated at least every 30 minutes and possibly more as new information becomes available.
  • Once emergency situation has ended, a final automated phone, email and text would be sent out to all contacts providing a summary of what occurred and reminding parents about procedures on how to pick up students.
  • After the final automated phone call, other follow up communications will be sent out via email and text.  
  • Messages would likely continue over the course of the next several days following any emergency situation that would contain information about how we are responding as a school and resources that you should be aware of as parents to assist students and others in recovering from the emergency situation.

Again, none of us wants to think about these issues and what could happen.  They are scary for me to think about and I do not have children in the school system directly - even though I kinda think of all the children of Gorham as "my children" (but that is for another post)! ☺ 

Please know that the Gorham Schools takes great pride in our overall positive and inclusive educational environments.  We work hard to create them and maintain them.  In fact, we regularly score 6-7 points higher than the state average on school climate-related questions from our Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS - a survey completed annually by middle and high school students from across the state).  We also take great pride in being prepared for emergency situations and in communicating effectively with our parents.  I hope this message has helped you to better understand what you can expect as as parent for communications in the event of a true emergency.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org).  If I can answer them, I will.


Thank you!