Wednesday, January 15, 2020

QUICK Update on Recent GHS Building Project & Planned Next Steps

I wanted to be sure to get information out to parents regarding what I perceive were the results of last night's joint meeting between the Gorham Town Council and the Gorham School Committee on the proposed GHS building project.  I've already heard a nice little "buzz" on social media today - so I wanted to try and get some factual information out there for folks, as best I could.  I also wanted to encourage folks that have questions to please reach out to me with those questions so I can answer them accurately.  Nothing worse than misinformation in the age of information for sure! ☺

The first piece of misinformation I wish to correct would be the headlines in today's American Journal that state the GHS project was "shot down"... nice headline, but not fully accurate.

Before I give a rundown of the outcomes of the meeting itself, I wanted to be sure to share all the informational materials that were shared last night with the Town Council and members of the public who attended.  CLICK HERE to see the meeting agenda and resource material links found at the bottom of the agenda.  There is LOTS of information there - but I think it is labeled clearly enough so folks can follow along if you'd like.  If you run into questions - again - please ask!

Overall, I believe the meeting went as well as could be expected when upwards of a $72 million dollar capital building project is being requested by the Gorham School Committee to meet the needs of our overcrowded and aging high school.  This is no small "ask" being made by the School Committee who thoroughly understands both the implications of moving forward with this plan and, often just as important, the implications of NOT moving forward with this plan. 

As can be seen when you view the timeline (linked here) the School Committee has spent a great deal of time and energy on this topic over the past ten years in order to try and find a way to address the identified needs of our high school building (linked here) while attempting to balance those needs with the overall needs of our other school facilities (a quick list is linked here).  These needs are primarily being impacted both by an increasing student population and insufficient budgetary resources to support the annual capital renewal and replacement needs of our district's facilities which are currently valued at well over $141 million dollars.   I mention this value only to point out that based upon that figure, we should be reinvesting almost $ 3 million annually in these areas when budgets the past 10+ years have struggled to support $800,000.00 for these purposes.  All of this is of course context for the larger discussion about what to do to address the needs of our high school.

There was some "good news" that came from last night's meeting and some "bad news", all of which I am optimistic about in regards to being able to eventually find a way to solve our growing facilities problems while balancing those needs with the implications of cost we all know too well.

The "good news" was that:

*  The Town Council and School Committee made it clear that jointly there is no question regarding the need for a capital project to address the growing needs of our aging and overcrowded high school facility.

*  The Town Council and School Committee made it clear that jointly there is no question that we will need to make significant investments in our other four facilities to address aging systems and increasing student populations over time.

*  The School Committee's Facilities Committee and the Town Council's Facilities Committee have agreed to meet jointly to accomplish two specific things:  (1) To hire a third-party consultant to conduct a comprehensive facilities study that will result in the creation of a comprehensive school and town-wide facilities plan for the next 10-20+ years.  Both the Town Council and the School Committee agreed to conduct this study jointly and to do their best to adhere to the recommendations that will be contained within the final report as a guide for planning and decision making moving forward.  It will take about 1 year to complete this study. (2) To develop a list of "smaller" facilities needs across the other four school buildings that will be brought forward to voters in November 2020 to address the growing systems needs of our other facilities while we work out plans to address our high school building.

*  There was a renewed commitment by both boards to work TOGETHER to address the overall facilities needs of our continually growing community.

The "bad news" was that:

*  A clear message was sent by the Town Council that they believe strongly a $72 million dollar project could not be brought forward at this time or any time without further thought on all of our parts as to how to creatively finance such a project and how the funding of such a project would fit into the larger scheme of community facilities needs over time.  The School Committee agreed to set aside a formal request to push this project on to voters in favor of trying to find a way to work together as a whole community to address our overall facilities' needs and better plan together how to finance them in a sustainable way. 

The facilities needs associated with the GHS building proposal do not simply go away because we agree to take a step back to jointly problem solve.  As we continue to address these issues together, the price of doing anything increases.  Long story short - the costs associated with our continued growth will continue to grow as well.

Overall:

I walked away from last night's meeting with a sense of OPTIMISM.  I know that may sound crazy to folks who think that somehow the GHS project is now "dead".  IT IS NOT. 

What occurred last night was an agreement between Gorham's leaders that to bring forward that specific project proposal without a more comprehensive town-wide approach that is more broadly planned between the town and the schools was not in the best interest of the community as a whole. 

Our community does not exist in a vacuum, nor do our schools.  Our schools are as strong as they are not just because of our parent and staff support and our incredible students, but also BECAUSE OF OUR COMMUNITY'S SUPPORT.  To risk pushing forward without a stronger sense of how this project fits into the Town's overall comprehensive facilities plan (which we have yet to build) would be in no one's best interests.  Therefore, the School Committee and Town Council agreed to create this much needed comprehensive facilities plan, and to think more closely about how to pay for a project of this size on top of addressing all the other facilities needs that exist in Gorham.  The best part of all is that they agreed to do this TOGETHER rather than to allow this type of conversation to split our community apart. 

To be honest, I walked away from that meeting PROUD TO BE A GORHAM RAM more now than ever.  No one "shirked" their responsibilities by saying this project is not needed.  Instead, I felt as though everyone in that room stepped up, agreed to roll their sleeves up and work to solve these problems as only Gorham can - by bringing the community together!

Bottom Line:

Yes the possibility of a GHS building project has effectively been put off for at least a year while we conduct our new study and complete a comprehensive town-wide facilities plan, but we have a little time to play with - not a lot - but a little, and keeping this awesome community together is well worth that time.  No one would question that.  I truly believe that together we will find the right path forward that addresses all of our community's facilities needs.  We will find the "right" solution, but that right solution rightly takes time.  For now, we have that time and I am happy to use it.

Again, I urge folks that may have questions to please reach out to me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org for answers.  I am ALWAYS willing to chat! 

Thank you and GO RAMS!





Saturday, December 28, 2019

Information For Parents on Vaping and Other Updates

Hello everyone.  It has been a while since my last blog post!  My apologies!  Once the Holidays begin to roll in, things get pretty busy around our schools as there is just so much to celebrate and be thankful for!  I hope everyone has enjoyed their Holidays and are now ready to get back to learning!

As usual, I am going to focus this blog on one major topic and then provide a series of short updates with clear headings afterward.  The topic I am selecting to focus this blog post on is one that has become more and more important in schools across the state of Maine, Gorham included.  It is the topic of the increasing problems associated with vaping among our youth.  If you have read recent headlines and thought that Gorham isn't experiencing vaping as an issue, that is simply not the case.  Granted, the issue in our schools is not as prevalent as it may be in other schools but that doesn't mean the issue isn't here and it also doesn't mean that makes this issue any less important to focus on.

If through sharing information and being vigilant on this topic together as parent and school communities, we can prevent just one young person from taking up this nasty habit, I believe our efforts are worth it.

In a recent article from the Bangor Daily News, the newspaper cites data from the state's most recent (2019) Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS) that shows that 28.7% of high school students used e-cigarettes (also known as vaping) in Maine within a 30 day period last spring.  This data is up from the 2018 data which showed only 15.3% of Maine's high school students had self-reported vaping within the last 30 days.  The number of high school students across the state who have tried vaping also increased significantly from 33% in 2017 to 45% in 2019.  Similar trends are seen at the middle school levels across the state and right here in Gorham.  You can view the complete article by CLICKING HERE.

What is causing a certain "allure" for our teenagers towards vaping is that there is a strong perception among teens that vaping is "harmless".  That e-cigarettes are just flavored water vapor and that there are no harmful or addictive substances in e-cigarettes like there are in regular cigarettes with nicotine, tar, and the other myriad of chemicals we are all too familiar with in traditional smoking.  The bottom line is that our children seem to think that vaping is safe.  The facts, however, demonstrate very clearly that this perception couldn't be further from the truth.  Here are just a few of those facts:

*  Most (95%) E-cigarettes contain nicotine.  Nicotine is harmful to the developing brains of adolescents whose brains continue to develop well into their early 20's. Nicotine can negatively impact memory and concentration.  Finally, Nicotine is also addictive so once a teen begins vaping, it is hard to stop.

*  Vaping increases exposure to harmful chemicals.  The specific chemical makeup of e-cigarettes varies greatly and there is little to no oversight to ensure harmful chemicals are not contained within the vapors themselves.  Random testing of e-cigarettes has found heavy metals in the vapor ranging from nickel to tin and even lead.  The long term effects of vaping on the human body are not known.

*  Many e-cigarettes use Diacetyl as a flavoring chemical in their products.  Diacetyl is a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

*  Recent research has shown that adolescent vaping acts as a "gateway" to smoking of tobacco and drugs.

So how did vaping come about and where did this message of harmlessness come from?  E-cigarettes were initially created for current smokers as an alternative to smoking by "Big Tobacco" companies who were losing money as we became more clear about just how dangerous tobacco is.  When a smoker moves from smoking tobacco-based cigarettes which contain more than 599 deadly chemicals to e-cigarettes, there is clearly a benefit.  But this benefit is only for those that are already smoking.  That doesn't mean e-cigarettes are safe, they are simply less deadly than cigarettes, but somehow this message of harmlessness has gotten out and is most prevalent among teens.  Many people believe that companies who make e-cigarettes are specifically marketing to teens to send this message.  "Here's a cool way to smoke that doesn't harm you like tobacco does."  This is simply false and a message that many believe is being spread to make a profit on the backs of our unsuspecting teenagers.  Did you know that Altria, the company that owns Marlborough, is the largest investor in JUUL, the largest manufacturer of e-cigarettes?  HMMMM.

So what are we doing in our schools to try and combat this false message of harmlessness?  Our policies forbid the use of e-cigarettes in any school facility, on school grounds, on school buses or during school-sponsored functions.  We are using time during advisory periods for all GMS and GHS students to talk about vaping with our professional staff.  We are using time during our health classes at GMS and GHS to talk about and inform children on this important topic.  Our social workers and school substance counselors are working hand in hand with our school resource officers to talk with students at our elementary schools on this important topic and to work with individual students or small groups of students who may be having direct problems with vaping in grades 6-8.

Overall, we are working hard to educate our students about the harms associated with vaping, but WE NEED YOUR HELP!  We need parents, all parents, to also have these difficult conversations with children.  Below are just a few resources that parents might find helpful in talking with their children and in learning more about the harms of e-cigarettes and vaping:

*  https://www.lung.org/assets/documents/stop-smoking/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-vaping.pdf

*  https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/documents/SGR_ECig_ParentTipSheet_508.pdf

*  https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm

*  https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/06/766971966/how-to-talk-to-teens-about-vaping

*  https://www.commonsensemedia.org/kids-action/about-us/our-issues/anti-big-tobacco#

These resources are just starting places for an ongoing conversation that we all need to have with our children regarding these very harmful products.  Please know the schools will continue to do what we can to help educate and we welcome any feedback or suggestions you may have to support this ongoing conversation.  Also, please know we are here to support you having these conversations with children, so please reach out if you have questions.  Thank you.

Now it is time to go into other updates that I hope you will find useful.   I have used headings below to hopefully aid in your ability to skim materials so you read what you are interested in and can skip information you may not be interested in.  As always, if you have any specific questions I can help with, please let me know.

Communication Procedures If a School Bus Is Involved in An Accident While Students Are On Board:

This topic came up recently when we had one school bus bump into another school bus a week or so before the Holiday break.  This minor accident occurred on an afternoon run between two buses.  One bus had no students on it while the other bus had 15 students on it.  This was a minor accident and there were no injuries even though the news reported it literally as "Two Buses in Gorham Collide This Evening".  A slight overstatement for sure, but this is our media nowadays so to be expected I suppose.  Since this minor accident occurred, I thought it would be a good idea to remind parents about what our communication protocols are in these types of cases, whether the accident is as minor as this one, or not as minor.

First, whenever there is an accident involving a bus the driver is trained to make sure students are safe first.  This may entail an evacuation of the bus, or not, depending upon the severity of the accident.  While a driver is ensuring the safety of students, they are trained to make their first call to 911 to alert police and other first responders to the scene.  This can be done either via radio, or phone, whichever is most available at the time for the driver.  Bus drivers practice these kinds of emergency drills with students at least once, but often twice during the beginning of each school year.  Once the police have been notified, the driver continues to ensure student safety and works to ensure an accurate count of all students who were on the bus at the time of the accident.

Once the police arrive on the scene, they take over.  The driver provides the police with the names of each student on the bus and the police at that time determine next steps as to how to address any potential injuries, etc.  The police often take the time while right there to interview the driver to find out what occurred.  This first part can sometimes take some time.  The primary concern of the driver and of first responders at this point in the response process is to ensure everyone's safety.  It is not to communicate with families, at least not yet.

At some point (as determined by either the driver or the police or both) once everyone's safety has been verified, the driver or the police will reach out to the transportation office dispatch to let them know what has occurred.  The bus driver will call the transportation dispatch and provide the accurate names of all students who were on the bus at the time of the accident.  Once the transportation office has this information, they then begin to reach out to each school to contact families and let them know what has happened.  If the accident occurs beyond the time that coverage may be at the schools, the transportation office has access to contact information themselves and will make contact with families directly as needed.  The bottom line is that any family of a student involved in an accident, even a minor one, will be contacted directly by either the school or the transportation office.  This is important to note because if you are a family who has not been contacted, this likely means your child was not on the bus when the accident occurred or was on an entirely different bus. If at any time a parent has any questions about the safety of their child on a Gorham bus, please call your school's office or if after 4:00 please call the transportation office directly.

While this initial push to communicate with families is occurring, the transportation office is also reaching out to my office to apprise me of the situation.  Based on the information given at that time, we would then make a determination as to whether to broaden the communication or not.  If the accident is minor then we would likely only call those families whose students were directly involved to let them know.  If the accident were more serious, we would likely send a message out to all parents to apprise folks of the situation and to let parents know how to get more detailed information.

Based upon the earlier outline of initial responses, it can take some time for these phone calls to go out to parents.  This is not because we don't care about communicating with our families.  We do.  It is just that we concentrate first on making sure those involved in the accident (big or small) are safe.  Once the safety of students is verified, then communication with families becomes the next priority.  Depending upon the circumstances, this communication with families could happen relatively quickly (within 10-15 minutes) or it could take a little longer.

Of course, with today's communications, the reality is that a student on whatever bus is involved is likely already on the phone with their parents letting them know what is going on way before 10-15 minutes.  This is good, and in fact,  is encouraged.  Just know that official school communications can take a little longer than that, but ultimately it will occur and when it does questions can be asked and answered at that time.

I will share with you that after our last minor bus accident (by the way we typically have between 5-8 minor bus accidents per year, not all of which involve students on the bus) we are once again, reviewing our communication protocols to see what we can do to speed things up for families who are rightly concerned about the safety of their children.  Just know that as we review and tighten these protocols up as much as we can - our primary focus is on that very thing as well - keeping your children safe each and every day!

K-5 Attendance Zone Changes for 2020-21

The K-5 Principals and I have been working diligently to determine necessary staffing changes associated with our K-5 attendance zone shifts.  This is not as easy a task as it may sound, mostly because in order to do this we have to do a full projection of enrollments across each school for the 2020-21 school year in order to determine the total number of classrooms we will need at each building on top of knowing how many classrooms will be added to Narragansett as a result of the attendance zone shifts.

This work, at least in its first draft, has almost been completed and we are now ready to begin to share this information with staff during the next several weeks for their input and feedback before finalizing draft assignments for 2020-2021.  I had originally wanted to get information out to parents about staffing assignments by the end of January, but because we feel it is so very, very important to have an appropriate amount of time to share our initial thinking with staff and to gather their input and feedback to inform final decisions, it will be the middle of February before I can release this information to parents.  Also, keep in mind that even once this initial listing is released to parents, nothing is final until the FY 21 budget is final.  Therefore, when staffing assignments are announced publically in February, they will still be subject to change.

Before we announce this draft staffing list for 2020-21 we will be ready to release a calendar of planned transition activities for K-5 parents/guardians.  We will likely announce these activities by mid to late January 2020 so please be looking for those details in my next blog post.

Dunk and Discuss Events

My "Dunk and Discuss" events are intended to create small, informal settings where parents or community members can meet with me to discuss any topics that they would like related to the Gorham Schools.  The last few times I have scheduled these series, I have gotten some feedback from parents saying that early morning is not the best time to schedule them due to parents needing to get kids ready for school and/or leave for work.  Therefore, I am purposefully scheduling this series of "Dunk and Discuss" meetings in the early evening in hopes I can catch folks on their way home from work and hopefully before the mad rush for most to make dinner.  I hope these times work better for at least some folks.  Here are the dates I have planned:

*  Monday, Jan. 13 from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. at Aroma Joe's in Gorham.
*  Tuesday, Jan. 21 from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. at Aroma Joe's in Gorham.
*  Thursday, Jan. 23 from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. at Aroma Joe's in Gorham.
*  Monday, Jan. 27 from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. at Aroma Joe's in Gorham.

I will likely plan another series of "Dunk and Discuss" talks in March as well.  Again, these are times where I plant myself at Aroma Joe's for an hour to talk "school shop" with anyone interested on any topic of interest to you, so feel free to stop by and enjoy a cup of evening coffee (possibly decaf) and get a chance to share your thoughts with me or get your questions answered.

K-12 Lunch Balances

We have updated our procedures for the collection of outstanding balances on school lunch accounts.  These new procedures end with sending names of families who owe more than $125.00 to a collections agency.  I will outline the new procedure below and then you can feel free to call our school nutrition office if you have questions.  This new procedure is in effect beginning January 1, 2020.

The following steps will be taken to collect unpaid school lunch balances in Gorham:

Step 1:  Each school's cafeteria manager (K-8) will send home weekly low balance letters when a student's meal account is negative. Students in grades 9-12 are expected to be able to track their own balances.

Step 2:  An automated message will be generated (telephone and/or email), notifying the parent/guardian when the student's balance reaches a negative $10.00.  This message will go out weekly for all families K-12.

Step 3:  Principals/Assistant Principals will mail low balance letters home when the student's meal account reaches a negative $25.00.

Step 4:  A New automated message will be generated notifying parent/guardian when a student's balance reaches a negative $25.00.

Step 5:  Principals/Assistant Principals will call parent/guardian when the student's meal account reaches a negative $50.00.

Step 6:  Food Service Director will call parent/guardian when the student's meal account reaches a negative $125.00.  A phone call will be followed up by a letter home stating that the account is being sent to debt collection if not resolved within 2 weeks.

Step 7:  If the Food Service Director's call/letter goes unanswered and the balance is not paid within two weeks, the balance will be sent to a collections agency.

Please know that payment to meal accounts can be made at the school or through our online payment system.  Paypams is free, convenient, and can be set up to automatically deduct money when the student's meal account gets low.  Please contact the School Nutrition Office at 207-222-1375 or email rainalee.cooper@gorhamschools.org to learn about our Paypams system or to learn about our Free and Reduced Lunch Program.  WE ARE HERE TO HELP!

Well, that's enough information for today...You can stay on top of all the "happenings" in Gorham by going to our website (www.gorhamschools.org) or by following us on Twitter or Facebook.  As always, if you have ANY questions, please don't hesitate to email me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU!













Thursday, November 7, 2019

Update on GHS Building Project and Other "Odds-n-Ends" To Share

Good afternoon everyone.  Hard to believe we are going to be honoring our Veterans this coming week and then celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends shortly thereafter.  This school year is certainly going by quickly with much to celebrate!

Recently I've been hearing a lot of questions regarding our GHS building project and where things stand on this complex and important issue for the community of Gorham.  I've heard some speculate that the project "is dead".  I've heard some speculate that the school committee and town need to "go back to the drawing board," and I've heard others question why they didn't see something on the most recent November ballot.  I've even seen some recent signs around the municipal center saying "Save Robie Park".  I thought with all these questions and thoughts swirling it might be a good idea to get a comprehensive overview out there for folks on the topic of the GHS building project.

As is usual, I'll include a few more topics on this blog post than just an update on the GHS project.  Rest assured that I'll use clear and bolded headings so people can skim through, skip what your not interested in and dive more deeply into those things you are.  Here goes!

Update on GHS Building Project

First, and foremost it is important to know that we are keeping our website up to date with comprehensive information on this work - so if your questions aren't answered via this blog...then please CLICK HERE to learn more!

At this point in time, the GHS Building Committee has come to consensus on which concept design option (of the options discussed mind you) they are recommending to the Gorham School Committee to move forward with, if (and that is a big IF) the Gorham School Committee were to decide to move forward with this specific project.  Now if that isn't vague...what is right?  Well, allow me to give a little history in an effort to be more clear...

Three years ago now, the Gorham School Committee, in collaboration with the Gorham Town Council concluded a feasibility study regarding several options that both groups wanted to explore.  This feasibility study was conducted by Oak Point Associates out of Biddeford, ME.  They studied three basic "options" to see which one might be the best match and the most efficient way to address our growing issues regarding overcrowding of the school and overall growth within the community.  Those three options were:

-  Building a brand new high school
-  "Flip-Flopping" the high school with the Middle School
-  Renovating the existing GHS building on the existing site

I won't go into too many details (If you want the details please CLICK HERE to view the study) but suffice it to say that the least expensive option was clearly to renovate the existing GHS building on the existing site.  So in the fall of 2017, we worked with the Town Council and hired on Harriman Architects to help us create a concept design that would do that very thing.  Since the Fall of 2017 that is exactly what the GHS building committee has been doing.  They have not considered other options because that was not the task given to them.  The task given to them was to develop the best concept design that met the programmatic needs of our growing high school as efficiently as possible on the existing site.  Now, along the way we've had some great public forums and opportunities to talk to students, staff, and community members broadly to hear thoughts/concerns and to work within the constraints of our purpose to develop that best design.  During this process, we have heard thoughts/ideas such as:

-  "Wouldn't it be cheaper to build a brand new high school?"
-  "Why can't we use the municipal building as an "annex" to the high school and build a new municipal building?"
-  "Why can't we build a new high school off-site and then move one of the elementary schools into the high school and avoid having to build a new elementary school?"

And more... And please know that although we have not acted on those ideas - YET - we certainly haven't dismissed them.  But, we had a specific task to complete and that was the goal of this phase of the work.  The task was to develop the best concept design that met the programmatic needs of our growing high school as efficiently as possible on the existing site. This is what we believe we have accomplished, at least to the best of our ability.

That "best option" is what those of us on the GHS building committee fondly call "Option 6" - and yes, that means there were 5 other full-fledged concept designs built before we got to this one. 

Option 6 has us constructing common spaces within the GHS building for 1100 students to meet our growth projections because these are the hardest spaces to try and "go back" to add to later.  It adds a new classroom wing along Morrill Avenue that, in conjunction with other renovations, would allow us enough classroom spaces for 950 students with a specific design that would allow us to add 6-8 additional classrooms onto this wing for very little cost moving forward.  Option 6 keeps Access Road open (an earlier version had us closing Access road down and moving all traffic to Ball Park which was not well received) and Option 6 has us using only a very small portion of Robie Park for us to move tennis courts onto which we felt was a strong alignment of use with the park's original intent.

As always, I think pictures are worth 1000 words...so here you go...the "Option 6" site plan looks like this:

Overall Site Concept Design Plan

As you can see, things are jammed in there pretty tightly, but it all works and it even adds 161 new parking spaces to boot!  In order to see how we've addressed other needs, you have to look more at the details.  For example, when you look below at the first floor layout you can quickly see how we addressed the safety needs of one main entrance, how we addressed the needs of having to add a second gym space for PE classes, you can see how we addressed the need to expand the cafeteria, to make many of our classroom spaces larger and to add in much needed choral and art spaces.

First Floor Concept Design

All told, this concept design allows for 35 regular education classrooms, additions of 2 new science rooms, 1 art room, 1 choral room, additional special education spaces, and updated technology spaces.  Below is a picture of the second story where you get a slightly better sense of additional science spaces, and some of the additional mechanical spaces which will also be upgraded.

Second Floor Concept Design

All in all, the design is nothing special, and it certainly is no "palace"...but it does meet the programmatic needs of our high school now and into the future and it invests in a building this community has already invested in time and time again.  

Because we are also preparing to launch a capital athletic campaign called the "Gorham Pride" campaign, we have also gone so far as to create artist's illustrations of what the new athletic fields and the new building with this option 6 design might look like.  I think when you see it, you will see that what we are looking to do in this design is really nothing "over the top"...it is nice, and it meets our needs for sure.  It is utilitarian, but definitely not cosmopolitan! ☺  Here's a better look:

Artist Rendition #1 - Elevated View


Here is another view from a slightly different angle...

Artist Rendition #2 - Athletic Field View


Of course, here comes the problem...this design, as utilitarian as it is, is still estimated to cost almost $72 million dollars.  Now, I come from Washington County...and I KNOW that is A LOT to ask local taxpayers to pay for.  But I also know that the community of Gorham is pretty much stuck (as my father used to say) "between a rock and a hard place" and something must be done to address the current needs at GHS and the overall needs of our growing community.  The overall question remains NOT whether we should do something to address facilities needs at GHS and facilities needs across our growing school populations, but WHAT we should do.  Not an easy question to answer for sure...but one that the work outlined above at least provides specific detail and insight into helping the school committee to do that very thing.  This is a heck of a lot further than we have gotten in this conversation so far and this conversation actually started over 10 years ago now!

Next Steps for the School Committee:

The School Committee will meet again on November 20.  At this meeting, they will review option #6 again to be sure they are clear on what the design accomplishes and that it does indeed meet the programmatic needs of our students.  They will then review the list that they tasked our facilities director (Norm Justice) and I to create at the last meeting.  This list is an estimated list of facilities needs in the following categories for the next 10-15 years across ALL SCHOOL FACILITIES:

-  Roofing
-  Mechanical/HVAC
-  Electrical
-  Site
-  Security
-  Plumbing
-  Finishes
-  Building Envelope
-  Code requirements

That list will provide the all-important context for the next item for discussion.  What does the School Committee want to do next?  Options could be as follows, but certainly, it is the School Committee that will ultimately determine which ones to consider...

1.  Move forward to Town Council to request that the Option 6 concept design be placed on an upcoming referendum for public vote.
2.  Request the GHS Building Committee to go back to the Option 6 design and determine what items (specific programs) would need to be reduced from the scope of work in order to meet a specific spending target - for example:  What would we have to lose to get the costs down to $60 million?  $50 million, etc. and then once this is determined meet again to determine next steps.
3.  Do nothing, which really isn't an option because we know the growth is coming and SOMETHING must be done.
4.  Decide to "scrap" this work for our "on existing site option" and go back to the drawing board to research other possibilities such as designs for a new school off-site or designs for use of the municipal building.
5.  Request to work with the Town Council to jointly hire a contracted service provider to come in to do a comprehensive facilities study of all Town and School facilities and to create a priority list of items and associated costs that need to be addressed along with a realistic time frame for doing so that can be adopted by both boards and followed (P.S. - this was done about 15 years ago and resulted in some really good collaborative work).
6.  Develop a plan for modular expansion project similar to Narr. Elementary School project but one that would require either the full use of Robie Park, or the movement of athletic fields off-site.
7.  Decide to conduct a comprehensive public information series to gather feedback from community members to better understand what the community feels we should do moving forward before "turning the wheel" in any further direction.

All in all, I hope folks understand that the ongoing work of the building committee has been very fruitful and has put us in a position where we now thoroughly understand what our needs are and the positives and negatives of addressing them through the renovation of the building "on-site".  This is a complex issue for the School Committee and for our community to wrestle with.  We have filled in some very important information "gaps" through the most recent work resulting in our "option 6" design.  The GHS building committee has accomplished the task set out for them.  It is now up to the School Committee, in collaboration with the Town Council to determine the best "next steps".  

Luckily we have time to do this important work...but to be clear, that time is not "unlimited".

If you have specific thoughts about the GHS building project, please reach out to me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org and I will be sure to share those thoughts with the School Committee.

OTHER QUICK  ITEMS OF NOTE

Narragansett Modular Expansion Project

The modular project is moving right along on schedule.  We will be receiving delivery of the first two modular spaces tomorrow (Thursday, 11/7) that will be used to construct the planned cafeteria space.  Additional modulars will be delivered to a site set aside at GMS, and will then be moved from there to Narragansett when needed.  This may cause some disruption for staff parking in the parking lot next to Narragansett School in front of the playground, but we hope to prevent disruption for parents who are parking to pick up and drop off students in the morning and afternoons.  

Mrs. Remick will be communicating to staff and parents when deliveries are planned so we appreciate the flexibility of folks in advance as these deliveries occur.

K-5 Attendance Zone Changes for 2020-2021

New attendance zones were announced at the end of October.  We are currently working to identify staffing for this change.  Once we have identified staffing, we will communicate those changes first to the staff who are involved and then to the public in the form of announcing grade-level teams across all three schools for the 2020-21 school year.  Once this is done we can begin in earnest more specific and targeted transition activities for families.  Additionally, these staffing assignments will be used to identify budget development processes and needs in lots of other areas such as Allied Arts, support services such as learning labs or resource room needs, etc.  

I want to take a minute while on this subject to simply say publicly that I have been so thoroughly impressed at the level of thought and care that that has been taken by our staff towards impacted families during this initial informational period.  I have also been thoroughly impressed with the families that are impacted by this change.  Every single conversation that has been had has been focused on open and honest communication, provision of necessary supports, and how we can help one another to make this necessary move as positive as possible.  

I shouldn't be surprised because this is - after all - Gorham, but as with all other difficult times...the community as a whole has simply reached out, extended open arms to one another and are working diligently to support one another as whole families and as whole communities.  I have been a part of these kinds of shifts in previous districts and have never seen it so well done by all involved.  I guess it really is true as Roland Barth said:  "What comes out of you when you are squeezed is what is inside of you."  Gotta LOVE what is inside of the community of Gorham!

Honoring Diversity and Difference

The Code of Conduct has been a very strong and valuable tool here in Gorham for many years and it continues to be so.  However, as our community grows and changes it is likely time for us to really spend some quality time thinking about how these changes impact our schools, our school cultures, and the overall learning experience for all our students using the lens of diversity and difference.  We take our relationships very seriously here in Gorham and we absolutely work hard to support and love everyone but there is always room to grow in our understandings of each other.  Our relationships are worth working on...and that is what we will endeavor to do so that we ensure they remain strong and vibrant.

As a means to this end, the Gorham Schools has entered into a contract with the Maine Intercultural Communication Consultants in what will be a two year partnership focused on first helping our staff, and then our students and then the greater community to better understand what it means to create a truly inclusive environment for our students.  An environment free of bias and one where positive relationships with all students and families reign.

We are taking this important work slowly, mostly because we know this is not a "one time", "sit and get" kind of training or conversation with folks.  We want to first identify where our areas of challenge may be and then we want to use these initial conversations to learn more about how to deal with issues of diversity and difference appropriately in an educational setting.  Then we want to put these new learnings into action for our students and the greater community.  

I am a strong believer in "starting at the top" for these important conversations so the first phase of the work will begin this month with our District Leadership Team.  Once this team has been trained, we will then branch out this spring to work with GMS and GHS staff and then to K-5 staff next fall.  Once all our staff has been provided this important training and time to learn and understand the complexities of this topic, we will then begin working holistically with students, families and the community using our student's very own voice to help "light the way" forward.

More information will be forthcoming in school level communications.  I just wanted you all to be aware we are embarking upon this journey together - a very important journey indeed!

Well, this post is way too long already.  I will stop here.  As always, please reach out to me with any concerns, questions, or comments.  You can always reach me via email at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.  

Thank you for "blogging" with me once again...til next time! ☺










Friday, October 25, 2019

Draft K-5 Attendance Zone Changes for 2020-21 Announced

As you are likely all aware, the Gorham School Department has been working over the past several years to address issues of growth at the K-5 levels.  Over the past 5 years we have added just under 300 students to our K-5 schools and as you might imagine, that has caused some significant strain on our existing facilities infrastructure across all three of our K-5 schools.  In that same time frame we have struggled with large class sizes and finding spaces in our buildings not only to house classrooms, but also to house the necessary support programs that are required to operate the high quality educational programs that we do.

Last spring, the Gorham School Committee announced a long-term plan to address these issues which involved the following:

-  Build a $2.8 million dollar "Phase I" modular addition onto Narragansett Elementary School to open in the 2020-21 School Year.

-  Shift attendance zones to reduce enrollments at both Great Falls and Village Elementary Schools (to give room to grow, especially at Great Falls) while pointing additional growth towards Narragansett Elementary School.

-  Plan on a Phase II of a modular expansion at Narragansett Elementary School to occur within 3-5 years and a possible Phase III (If needed) modular expansion to occur within the next 10-15 years at the same site to allow for continued growth in our community.  The intention is that NEITHER of these additional phases will involve another shift of attendance zones.

-  Plan a long term, state approved, capital project to build a new K-5 elementary school on the existing Narragansett site to house future growth within the next 10-15 years and beyond in order to address our community's long term needs at these grade levels.

The first phase of this plan, approved by the voters via referendum in June, 2019, allowed for the construction of our modular expansion (Phase I).  This modular expansion is now under construction and on time to open for the 2020-21 school year with 6 new classroom spaces and a brand new cafeteria space at Narragansett.  These spaces will provide the necessary infrastructure to allow for regular instruction to occur, for lunches and gatherings, as well as freeing up valuable gymnasium space for the delivery of physical education classes.

This is all good news, however there are implications for some of our families that cannot be avoided.  The implications are that in order to carry this plan out, we must shift our attendance zones beginning in the 2020-21 school year.  This means that some families will be moving from their current school zone to a new one in order to make all this work.  We have been working over the past several months to decide where best to place these new boundaries in a way that makes sense not only with our current situation, but with our future situation, some of which cannot be clearly anticipated.

In communications this spring, summer and fall, I predicted we would announce these new lines by the end of October to the public.  This blog post will serve to provide this information to our community.  Please know that all families impacted by these changes have already received a memo from myself and direct communications from our building principals and are aware of the fact that they have been impacted by these changes.  After this public notification Mrs. Remick (Principal at Narragansett Elementary School) and the Narragansett School Family will begin to reach out to new families with a welcome letter and important information about Narragansett Elementary School.  This will begin our transition work together and will be our ongoing focus throughout the remainder of the year with much more to come.

Our Target Populations:

Our current projections show that we are anticipating a total K-5 population of 1356 students for the 2020-21 School Year.  Target populations for all three schools are as follows:

Great Falls - 517 (current population is 580)
Narragansett - 409 (current population is 291)
Village Elem. - 429 (current population is 439)

In order to do this, we had to move our attendance zone lines.  Our current attendance zone map is as follows:



Yellow with green icons are Village Elem. students within the Village Elementary School Zone.  Blue with blue icons are Great Falls students within the Great Falls attendance zone and purple with purple icons are Narragansett students in the Narragansett attendance zone.  These original lines were drawn when Great Falls Elementary School was first opened and we first created our three K-5 community schools back in 2011.  Please note that each icon seen does not necessarily represent individual students.  There are often multiple students represented within each icon.

In order to make the population adjustments needed to meet our target populations, we moved the lines for 2020-2021 to the following:



Once again, the yellow represents the Village Attendance zone, blue is Great Falls and the purple is Narragansett.

These lines were adjusted in a manner that allowed us to meet our intended targets while also considering proximity to schools, the future growth of our communities and using "natural" landmarks and roadways to create new boundaries.

As you can see the largest impact to our attendance zone change will be those families located to the left of Gray Road, seen above as blue icons in the now purple Narragansett attendance zone.

This proposed change requires 84 students to be moved from the Great Falls Elementary School attendance zone to Narragansett Elementary School and 9 students from the Village Elementary School attendance zone to Narragansett Elementary School.  By doing this, we are able to meet our targets for each of our three K-5 Schools, provide for continued reasonable classroom student to teacher ratios and provide all three of our schools room to continue to grow as we predict they will.

Next Steps:

I will be meeting with each school's P.I.E. group to personally share information, answer questions and outline more detailed plans for how to move forward.  Dates for these meetings will be as follows:

*  Great Falls Elementary School - November 5 at 6:00 p.m.
*  Village Elementary School - November 13 at 5:30 p.m.
*  Narragansett Elementary School - November 18 at 6:00 p.m.

Narragansett Elementary School Principal, Cynthia Remick, will send out welcome letters to new families and begin to work with families to transition.  These transition activities will continue to be our focus throughout the remainder of the 2019-20 school year to ensure that families feel welcome at their new school.

The Administrative Team will focus on identifying specific staffing needs and staffing assignments for the new classrooms at Narragansett Elementary School to include support staff and other necessary supports for these new classroom spaces.  These changes will be solidified as part of our FY 21 budget development process.

Transition activities will continue throughout the remainder of the 2020-21 School Year and into the summer of 2021.  Specific K-5 classroom placements will be made for all students across the district by June, 2020 and announced to parents.

In Summary:

The entire Gorham School Department administrative team and staff understands the difficult nature of the change we are undertaking for our K-5 learners and their families.  This is not a change we are making lightly.  These changes are being made to address the very real issues associated with our growing student populations that if left unchecked would result in large class sizes and lack of space to effectively operate our educational programs to the high standards we expect.

All three of our K-5 elementary schools are incredible schools filled with incredible staff who care tremendously about every child that graces our hallways.  Our School Committee, our administrative team, our teachers and our support staff as well as our K-5 families stand ready to support those families impacted by this change as we make these necessary transitions.

If anyone has any questions, I encourage them to reach out directly to me via email (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org) or via phone (222-1012).






















Monday, September 30, 2019

What is "Aspire Gorham" and Other "Tidbits" of Timely Information

Hard to believe we are already into the month of October!  The school year is already flying by and I haven't even had a chance to "brag" about our opening yet!😀  As a quick means to that end, I wanted to showcase some pictures from our first few weeks of school just so you can get a sense of what a great start to the school year we have had already!

    

          

    

      

I could keep on a going...but I think that is enough to help you get a sense of what a great start to the school year we have had!  I have to admit - my favorite picture above is the one from the "Inn at Village Square" where some of our senior Gorham residents (and GHS Alumni mind you) are giving our present day students some advice on how to start the school year off right (above, third row, left side).  Sage advice indeed!  THANK YOU!

With this blog and with future blogs, my goal will be to highlight in depth one key piece of information and to then share a few additional "tidbits" of information briefly afterwards.  I will use "subheadings" to help folks navigate what can be a pretty long post so readers can skip around and read just what is most interesting to them. 

For this month's blog post - I want to highlight an initiative in Gorham that is officially being launched this year.  This initiative was begun last year as a planning year so we have already accomplished so much.  As always though - there is much more work to do!  The initiative is called "Aspire Gorham".  Below is more information on Aspire Gorham and then under that are some additional "tidbits" so please keep reading!  Thanks!

Aspire Gorham - EVERYONE Has a Story. . . What's Yours?

The first question I get when I bring up this initiative is "What is Aspire Gorham"?  That's a pretty darn good question! 

"Aspire Gorham" is a community-wide initiative to encourage and support aspirations across ALL Gorham students aimed at helping them answer the question:  "What kind of life do you want to have?  What is YOUR 'FUTURE STORY'"? 

Aspire Gorham is a grant funded through a multi-year commitment from the MELMAC Education Foundation in partnership with JMG with decisions about priorities, goals, and funding being made by the Gorham Schools.  It is built on a foundation of success of the "Future Story" project that was started by GHS several years ago.  It focuses on creating partnerships between our schools and businesses and other community organizations to ensure that our conversations with the children of Gorham about their aspirations begin very early (even before Kindergarten) and continue on through grades K-12 and beyond (into our their post-secondary experiences). 

This initiative supports our District's Mission/Vision specifically in the areas of ensuring ALL our students have access to "meaningful real-world learning experiences" and that learning is "extended beyond our classrooms and into our community" for ALL our students.  We are using this initiative to tie all of our work together across grades K-12 and beyond, "connecting the dots" for our children and families between what they are learning in our schools and how it will "Prepare and Inspire" ALL our children for their futures!

As you might imagine, this is a pretty BIG initiative that will be spread out over several years.  In order to accomplish the work, we currently have have three major focus points:

1.  Increasing and encouraging career and college aspirations for ALL students.
2.  Deepening and strengthening connections with business and nonprofit communities in Gorham to increase student access to and participation in real-world learning experiences at all grade levels.
3.  Deepening and strengthening connections with the University of Southern Maine.

We have already accomplished a great deal in all three areas, with more to come!  Here are SOME of our accomplishments to date:

-  We have hired a full time "Career and Community Coordinator" position that is housed at GHS, but works across all K-12 and in the greater community.  Her major focus has been to create those connections between our schools, local businesses and nonprofits and our overall community.
-  We have hired a full time project manager who has worked to help us identify specific goals and action steps broken out by school for year 1 and year 2 of our grant.
-  We have created specific community partnerships to support the work through creation of a steering committee, re-focus on our strong business roundtable work, and creating a college connections committee. 
-  We gave collected baseline data for our first planning year of the grant (which was 2018-19).
-  Last year more than 600 students were involved in creating individual career inventories, 45 guest speakers visited our schools to speak about careers, and more than 20 career focused field experiences were conducted with our students.
-  More than 75 GHS students visited all three of our K-5 schools as part of our "Adopt-a-Classroom" project which has GHS students literally "adopting" K-5 classrooms to share their own aspirations and encourages our K-5 students to create and share theirs!
-  Career Exploration Days were held at several schools with more to come this year!
-  Increased offerings of Dual Enrollment and other early college courses by USM at GHS.  Just the beginning of some great work moving forward so stay tuned here!
-  Purchase of "Naviance" full suite of software for utilization by students in grades 8-12.
-  Strengthening of relationships and initial partnerships with Early Child Care community in Gorham.  One example:  New partnership with Baxter Library called "Littlest Learners Program".
-  Began new partnership with Junior Achievement to ensure all students in grades 2 and 7 across the district receive specific instruction in financial literacy on top of what we already offer to our GHS students.

Note: If you want to know more about our "Adopt-a-Classroom" program, CLICK HERE to view a brief video of our second year of the program (Scroll to bottom of page).

We have SOOOOOOO MUCH MORE planned for the coming year in our three areas of focus but the bottom line is this...in order to truly make aspirations a COMMUNITY WIDE conversation - WE NEED YOUR HELP!  That's right - you!  When we use the phrase:  "Everyone has a story - What's Yours?" it is because we know everyone really does have a story and we want you to share it with our children! 

Of course we'll be reaching out for help with specific activities we want to do this coming year - but in reality the best way you can help is to make aspirations a "regular" conversation with our children.  Now, does that mean we want you to constantly be asking children what they want to be when they grow up?  No, not necessarily...more powerful than asking that question is to be willing to simply SHARE YOUR STORY with our children!  Children need to know that not only do their parents work in really cool and fulfilling jobs, but so do their aunts and uncles, and their neighbors, and their coaches, and their church leaders, etc.!  Children need to know that most of us likely started out thinking we were going to do one thing and then wound up doing something else that was equally if not even more rewarding than we had anticipated.  Children need to know that they do not have to know the answer to the question of "what do you want to be when you grow up", just yet...and that in fact, there are a lot of adults out there right now that may be just figuring that out, or re-figuring that out!  Let's take a little of the pressure off our children to know that answer, and instead help them to understand that their aspirations are THEIR STORIES, created one chapter at a time with often unexpected, yet equally rewarding results!

When you walk into our schools you should see either a banner or a flag (or both) that say "Welcome!  Aspire Gorham:  Everybody has a story. . . what is yours?"  When you see that banner, use it as a conversation starter with your children and start sharing our incredible stories so that they have a model for how to build their own and then stay tuned for more incredible work on this topic to come!


As always - if you have any questions about this initiative (or anything else for that matter) feel free to email (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org) or call me (222-1012) anytime!

Now on to other quick "tidbits" of information!

K-5 Attendance Zone Work:

We are still in the process of drafting out options for new K-5 attendance zone maps that will meet our needs for the next 10+ years here in Gorham.  We are right on track with our intended timeline (at least thus far) with this work.  As a reminder, that timeline for information sharing is as follows:

*  September - October, 2019 - Administration will work to re-draw the lines for our newly proposed attendance zones with the goal of reducing overall enrollments at both Great Falls and Village Elementary School and "pointing" growth towards Narragansett Elem. School.  Once these proposals have been created we will bring them to the Gorham School Committee at their workshop meeting in October for review and approval.  We will then share with K-5 parents by the end of October, 2019.

*  October - December, 2019 - Superintendent Perry will host Forums at each school, visit PIE meetings, and host "Dunk and Discuss" events to give parents who may have questions opportunities to ask and discuss.  Also, during this time Administration will work to identify which staff members would be moving to which locations at each of our K-5 schools so we can identify not only which students and families may be moving, but which staff will be moving and where.  This will allow us to conduct meaningful transition activities over the course of the winter/spring of 2020 for those impacted by these changes.  Staffing decisions will be announced to families by end of December, 2019.

*  January - June, 2020 - Specific transition activities will be hosted by the schools 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 does not occur 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 (but are not limited to) open houses, informational nights, step up days, game nights, playground tours, family pictures, and 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 we'll be off to another great school year here in Gorham!

Please know that the Gorham Schools understand that the process of changing attendance zones and possibly having to move children (and their families) from one school to another is no "little" thing.  We spend a lot of time here in Gorham talking about and emphasizing the importance of building strong relationships with our students and their families.  To possibly remove a student (and their family) from a school within which they have likely already fostered strong relationships is not something we do lightly.  The fact of the matter is that this difficult transition must be made so that we can address our growing K-5 populations and keep our overall class sizes at the most optimal learning levels.  

The good news is that all of our K-5 teaching staff are incredibly talented staff who care tremendously about each and every child, and each of our K-5 schools are awesome schools containing unique and engaging learning environments.  Additionally, we are going to take the time necessary to do this work right, with the utmost transparency and with the utmost care - paying special attention to ensuring that these positive relationships are built even in the face of a potential significant change.

Please stay tuned!

Update on Narragansett Modular Expansion Project

So we started with a concept drawing. . .


Then we started digging. . .


And now we are pouring foundations and getting ready for modular buildings!



Pretty cool for sure! 

Bottom line, we are right on schedule as we had hoped to be and things are coming along nicely!  Modulars themselves should be delivered by end of October or early November.  Once delivered, we will place them on foundations and get to work on the connectors and interior work needed to ensure they are fully operational by August, 2020.  We anticipate that this addition will be able to serve our students well for the next 10-15 years!

Update On GHS Building Project

For a copy of the slide presentation given to the Gorham School Committee at their workshop held on Sept. 25, 2019 please CLICK HERE.  Next steps are to go back to the GHS Building Committee to get a specific recommendation from them on which option best meets our needs and to compile a list of capital projects and estimated capital renewal needs for all our K-12 buildings and bring that back to the School Committee for their November, 2019 workshop meeting for further discussion.  At that time, the School Committee will then determine next steps for the project.

Substitutes STILL NEEDED Across All Areas!


Just sharing this flyer from September.  We are especially short on substitutes for our classrooms so if you know of anyone interested, please encourage them to go online (web address is on the flyer or folks can CLICK HERE for the link) and complete an application.  We just recently increased our daily rates and through the FY 21 budget development process will likely be increasing them again for the following school year!

Reminder About How to Know If/When Schools May Close due to Inclement Weather


I know, I know...I shouldn't be thinking these thoughts just yet - but I do remember last year we started earlier than expected here so I wanted to make sure folks were reminded about how to access information about weather-related school closures for the Gorham Schools.  Please CLICK HERE for details and then file it away for hopefully much, much later!😃

IN CLOSING. . . 

As I said earlier, its been a GREAT START to the school year so far in Gorham!  We are so happy to have students back in our schools doing the important work we absolutely LOVE to do!  Of course, a good start isn't all there is to a good school year.  We have much more in store!  In fact, I am aware of not one but TWO very exciting things slated to be announced later in October.  I have to keep them a secret for right now...but I KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE THEM!  Please stay tuned to our social media to find out more! 

Facebook
Twitter

Oh, and remember, each of our school's has their own Facebook Page and/or Twitter account.  Plus some "overachievers" (like GHS) also have instagram!  Just be sure to look for our logo to know its the "official" site for our schools!












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!