Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Random Updates From Winter, 2018!

Here I sit, working from home as another Noreast'ah bears down upon us dumping 12+ inches of snow!  I am not sure about anyone else, but I know that I am most DEFINITELY ready for spring at this point!  It has just been the strangest fall/winter when it comes to weather!  An indication of that is that today's snow day will be snow day #7 here in Gorham.  This is an all-time high for me in my 13 years of being a Superintendent in the state of Maine.  The sad part is that tomorrow might be another snow day and I am now hearing rumors that they are tracking another storm for early next week!  Arghhh!  Maybe if we all wish for spring together it will come - so keep wishing!

As a result of all these snow days, I'm sure many of you are wondering what my plans are for the end of the school year and the potential to try and make up some of these days.  I will be honest, as of right now, I do not have a solid plan, only ideas, and possibilities.  As of today's snow day, the last student day in Gorham would be Monday, June 18 with no changes or adjustments.  Of course, if we have another snow day tomorrow, that would change to Tuesday, June 19 as the last student day.  I would prefer NOT to go past Wednesday, June 20 as the last student day.  That being said, I have been thinking about possible contingency plans should the need arise that range from the utilization of  a planned Early Release Day in May to the movement of the last staff workshop day in June to the possibility of extending the school day by 1 hour each day for the week prior to April break to make up 1 student day.  At this point, my goal is to get through the month of March and re-assess where we stand at that point, make a plan, and communicate it to everyone as soon as possible once "Ole Man Winter" finally releases his grip on us (we hope) - so please stay tuned!

There are several other things I want to make sure to update all of you on so here goes:

FY 19 Budget Development Processes:

I presented my proposed budget to the School Committee on Wednesday, February 14.  Since then the School committee has met twice.  Once, during a full day budget workshop on March 3 and a second time just last night.  The initial proposed budget reflected an increase in expenditures of 6.45% over last year, primarily due to increasing student populations.  At its meeting on March 3, the School Committee directed me to work with the District Leadership team to develop a "reductions list" that would bring our overall expenditures down to a 4% increase over last year.  This required us to work to find approximately $900,000.00 worth of proposed reductions which were delivered to the School Committee last night.  The School Committee will now take these proposed reductions and work to decide what remains in the proposed budget and what does not over the course of their next several planned meetings (March 19, March 26, and April 2nd).  All budget meetings are held at 7:00 p.m. Upstairs in the municipal building for those of you interested in attending.  If you can't attend, but would like to follow the work, please visit our website LINKED HERE

The School Committee is scheduled to approve of a proposed FY 19 budget at their regular meeting held on April 11, 2018, starting at 7:00 p.m. in council chambers.  Once the School Committee approves of the budget, it will then be sent on to the Town Council for their review.  We will meet jointly with the Town Council on May 15 at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers, and then the Town Council will vote to approve a School Budget on June 5.  Finally, Gorham voters will be asked to validate the budget on June 12, 2018, via referendum.

If anyone has any questions about the proposed FY 19 budget, please do not hesitate to ask!  You can email me directly at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

Gorham Schools Strategic Plan

The School Committee voted in December to approve of a new five year Strategic Plan for the Gorham Schools.  It has taken a little time to "pretty up" the document, but it is now ready for public consumption.  You can find it by CLICKING HERE.  Again, any questions, please feel free to email me!

K-5 Configuration Conversation

The School Committee has decided NOT to make any changes to the K-5 configurations for the 2018-19 School year.  However, this does not mean that changes may not still be on the horizon for following years.  The School Committee agreed that what it was lacking was a long-term plan for their K-5 facilities and has committed to creating such a plan before taking these conversations back up again.  The goal would be to create this long-term plan and to then use the long-term plan to "plan backward" for short-term action steps that help move the district towards the realization of its long-term plan.  In order to create this long-term plan, the School Committee has requested two significant "studies" to be completed. 

One will be a "Demographic Study".  This study will be completed by the New England School Development Council (NESDEC), the same organization that has been completing our enrollment studies for the past two years.  NESDEC is a highly recognized leader in these types of consulting services for schools.  A demographic study is a much more in-depth form of an enrollment study.  Officials from NESDEC complete a "deeper dive" into our enrollment data to check for trends.  They look at the data from a whole community perspective, but also by our attendance zones which feed into each of our three elementary schools.  They work directly with the Town's Planning Department to gain a stronger sense of not only the number of permits being issued for developments but also the locations of those developments and study more deeply the implications for numbers of children that may enter the community.  The study takes several weeks to complete and is in "the works" right now.  Once completed it will give us a much more detailed view of what to expect over the next 10 years for increasing enrollments and where to expect it.

Another study that will be completed will be a "Long Range School Master Plan".  This study will also be completed by NESDEC.  This study would create a profile of the present state and future plans for the educational programs for each of our three elementary schools and our middle school.  It would map out our existing facilities in terms of square footage and usability and model different possible scenarios for grade configurations that would most efficiently use our spaces.  Finally, it would help provide several different scenarios for future plans, complete with potential implications of those scenarios to the School Committee.  This study takes upwards of 6 months to complete.

As you can see, the two studies requested will take some time to complete.  I would envision that these two studies can be completed and presented to the School Committee by the Fall of 2018.  Once the information has been gathered, the School Committee would then need to use that information to finalize their long-range facilities plan for our K-5 facilities and then move forward from there.  All meetings to discuss this information will occur at the School Committee level so keep your eyes open for agenda topics and feel free to pop in on meetings if you'd like!

School Day/Start Time Discussions

To be honest, there is not much to report on this topic, but I did want to make sure everyone knew it hadn't just disappeared.  If you recall, I let folks know about this work this past fall in one of my earlier updates.  The School Day Committee reported out its findings on November 29, 2017, to the School Committee.  Since then, the School Committee has been grappling with the K-5 Configuration discussion, and now is very busily working to develop a proposed FY 19 budget.  Because of this, this work has not yet been brought back to the table by the School Committee for discussion.  I suspect this will occur, however in April/May after the SC has approved of their proposed FY 19 budget.

That being said, if you recall, the committee that studied this important topic found two things:  First, that the science behind the importance of sleep for adolescents is very real and is very compelling indicating that waking an adolescent up at 7:00 a.m. is like waking an adult up at 4:30 a.m. every morning.  They simply are not ready to wake up at that time, and if they do wake up, it may not be the optimal time for them to learn.  Secondly, the Gorham Schools has the shortest instructional day of any school in Cumberland County.  We differ by as little as 10 minutes per day in some areas, but by as much as 30 minutes per day in other areas.

The Committee researched these facts very deeply and came up with a recommendation for the Gorham School Committee to:

*  Consider "flip-flopping" the start times of our GMS and GHS students with those of our K-5 students to begin in the Fall of 2019
*  Consider increasing the length of our K-5 school day by 15 minutes each day and require detailed studies of our GMS and GHS schedules for optimal use of our instructional time.

These recommendations were presented to the School Committee in November and it is these recommendations the SC will take up in April/May of this year.  Just to be clear - NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE at this point.  I just wanted to make sure folks realized these conversations are still occurring and these recommendations are still being considered.  There will be ample time for a more public conversation later this spring so please stay tuned!

GHS Building Project

The GHS Building Committee and Athletic Capital Campaign Committee continue to meet jointly on this project, although without much success due to recent weather!  We are next scheduled to meet on March 27 at 7:00 p.m. to review the first draft of overall program space needs with assistance from our partners at Harriman Associates.  Once program space needs are agreed upon, that document will then be used to develop our first series of possible concept designs to make these space needs work within existing constraints.  Our hope is that we can finalize these program needs by early April and begin looking at concept designs by May. 

In the meantime, we've been hard at work on multiple other fronts.  We've been working to develop a community survey that we hope to launch later this spring.  We have also been working with the Town Council and other community members to nail down use of possible adjacent spaces to the high school in our design plans and finally, we have been working closely with GHS staff to develop an in-depth understanding of what they feel the program space needs are so that those may be incorporated into our planning.

We will continue to work on finalizing our program space needs and hopefully get to some conceptual drawings later this spring.  Once we have conceptual drawings we will have a stronger sense of potential cost estimates for the project.  Right now we are working with a target of bringing forward a public referendum for this project in June of 2019.  Of course, this target date may change as we work through the complex tasks required to make sure that what we bring forward best balances the needs of our students with the needs of the taxpayers who so strongly support us!  Please stay tuned!

As you can see, the Gorham Schools are constantly seeking to improve so that we may best support our incredibly talented students.  There are always great things going on in our schools and I encourage you to follow us on our district and school Facebook Pages, Twitter pages, and Instagram pages.  You can also always find upcoming events listed on our district website, or if you want to see what is happening at each school, just click on the school's webpage as well.  There is never a loss of things to be involved in so check it out!

I'd like to end this post by just sharing a video that was put together by GHS students and staff showcasing our incredible high school.  To me, this video exemplifies how incredibly talented and caring our students and staff are across grades K-12!  I don't know about you - but I am most definitely PROUD TO BE A RAM!  Check it out!


Sunday, February 4, 2018

Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Development Update

Good afternoon everyone!  I hope you are all enjoying preparations for this afternoon's big game - GO PATS!  

I wanted to take just a moment to give you all a brief update on where we are with our FY 19 budget development processes which are far from completed!  As usual, this conversation is never "simple" and involves a lot of moving parts. .. but I'll do my best to give you all a general sense of where we are, what is in the current proposed budget, what steps remain in the process and generally what challenges we see moving forward.  This work is constantly moving - so please understand that what I share now as a summary will most definitely CHANGE IN THE COMING WEEKS as the work continues and as information becomes more refined.  I will plan on periodically updating everyone as we continue to move through this process towards an approved and fully supported FY 19 School Budget in Gorham.

The FY 19 proposed budget has been "in the works" by district leadership team (DLT) members since October.  Back in October, we began the process by talking about upcoming challenges, needs for the district, and what we saw as an attempt to forecast fiscal environments for the coming year.  We worked together with the School Committee to establish TWO major areas of priority for the coming budget development process.  Those were:

1.  Addressing our increasing enrollments and 
2.  Strengthening our Student Support Services for our most needy students (Special Ed., 504, Nurses, etc.)

With those "marching orders" DLT members then began the arduous process of compiling school and program level budget requests together with help from all of our staff.  Those school/program level initial budgets were then sent to my office in mid-December.  During the course of December and January, each program director and Principal met with myself, Business Manager Hollis Cobb, and Assistant Superintendent Chris Record to conduct an in depth review of each proposed budget line by line.  Through this deep questioning process, adjustments were made to requests both in the form of added funding and in the form of reductions to original proposals.  

As these budgets were being compiled, the District Leadership team also began work on the creation of its "New Initaitives" list.  This is where principals and program directors suggest additions to the budget to address emerging issues in our district. As a team, and with our priorities in mind, we then work through the list and adjust, sometimes cutting entire requests, sometimes modifying them, etc. until we have a fully agreed upon list in order of priority.  These new initiatives are then included in the overall proposed FY 19 budget that is given to the School Committee.

We have just completed that first look at our overall FY 19 proposed budget that includes these new initiatives.  This is where we are in the process.  This proposed budget will then be sent to the School Committee who will review all of its contents, discuss important implications, and make adjustments to the proposed budget that will then be sent on to the Town Council for approval (and possible further adjustment) and then on to voters in June for final approval.  I'll include a timeline of those events at the end of this email.  But for now, I thought you might all like to know what is being included in our proposed budget for new initiatives - keeping in mind that these are subject to change by the School Committee:

*  Three Additional K-5 teachers (1 GF, 2 Village) - $210,000.00 - to address increasing enrollments
*  1/5 GHS ELA teacher - $19,000.00 - to address increasing enrollment
*  1/10 GHS Mandarin teacher - $10,000.00 - to address increasing enrollment
*  Portable Classrooms (1 at Village, 1 at GHS) - $52,000.00 - to address increasing enrollment
*  Three Autism Program Ed. Tech III's - $105,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  1/2 Psychologist - $40,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  2/5 Occupational Therapist - $36,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  Special Services Assistant Director - $120,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  District 504 Strategist - $70,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  1/2 Licensed School Nurse (LPN) - $25,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  Gifted and Talented Ed. Tech. III (GHS Focus) - $35,000.00 - to address student support needs
*  GMS Math Textbooks - $56,300.00 - to replace outdated consumables
*  Great Falls Wireless Network - $50,000.00 - to replace outdated system
*  Grades 2-3 Chromebooks (2:1) - $55,200.00 - to replace outdated (9 year old) macbooks
*  Field Manager Position - $48,000.00 - to improve conditions in our "outdoor classrooms"
*  GHS Desktop Computer Replacements (STEM) - $12,000.00 - to strengthen STEM learning programs at GHS.

The total for all these "new initiatives" is $943,500.00

At this time, the proposed budget as will be presented to the School Committee represents an overall increase of $2,802,999.00 over last year's budget.  This is a proposed increase of 7.45%.  I will be honest, this is high and there is a strong likelihood that the School Committee will want to work to reduce this proposed increase.

I think it is also imperative to give everyone a "high altitude" view of the revenue side of the picture because as you all know from your own personal budgets. .. there are ALWAYS two sides to the equation of budgeting - expenditures and revenues!

Unfortunately, the revenue side of the picture presents an equal set of challenges to this year's budget development process.  As you may have heard there were several changes to the EPS funding formula this year, and changes to local conditions that impact the formula.  The formula itself is an 8 page document. . . so rather than try to be too detailed here, I thought I'd just provide an overview of where we lost state funding and why:

1.  Reduction in percentage of Disadvantaged populations (we moved from 23% to 22% - LOSS of $295,000.00
2.  Loss of CTE funding due to new model.  We will also see a corresponding decrease in expenditures, but it will not be a complete "wash" - $414,000.00
3.  Loss in Special Ed. Allocation (we believe here is an error here on part of MDOE so we are working to mitigate this and will hopefully get monies added back in - . .. but stay tuned) - LOSS of $652,000.00
4.  Reduction of Debt Service (with corresponding decrease in expenditures so this is a "wash") - $63,600.00
5.  Change from 3 years avg. property valuation to 2 year average - LOSS of $295,651.00
6.  Change from 8.19 min. mil requirement by state to new requirement of 8.51 mils for locals = LOSS of $503,064.00

So what does all this mean?  It means that when you compare to last year's budget (not what we actually got) we are DOWN in state subsidy by a little over $500,000.00.  The biggest driver for this is our increasing property values at the local level.  We went up in property value as a community from $1,476,650,000.00 in FY 18 to $1,572,075,000.00 in FY 19.  This increasing property value decreases state subsidy as they determine we have more of an ability to pay based upon the min. mil expectation.

Bottom line is with our current proposed FY 19 budget, we are looking at an increase of expenditures of almost $3 million while our revenues are decreasing by about half a million - a "hole" of almost $3.5 million.

As you can see - there is still MUCH WORK TO BE DONE - but I believe we have our priorities in the right places, and that ultimately through the process we will arrive at an approved budget that enables us to balance the needs of our ever-growing student population (Primarily at K-5 level) with the ability of our local taxpayers to support our schools.

Next steps in the process include:

*  Presentation of the budget to School Committee (SC) - Feb. 14 (we'll have videos for all Principal/Program director budgets that will be posted online I'll share when they are ready).
*  Full day SC budget workshop  - Saturday, March 3
*  Follow up SC budget workshop meetings scheduled (AS NEEDED) for:  March 12, March 19, March 26, April 2.
*  School Committee vote to approve proposed budget - April 11
*  Proposed budget delivered to Town Council - April 19
*  Joint budget workshop meeting with Town Council - May 15
*  Town Council vote on proposed budget - June 5
*  Public referendum validation of proposed budget - June 12

In closing - I hope you have found this overview helpful in better understanding where we are in the budget development process, what the current implications of our proposed budget are, and what next steps will be to arrive at an approved FY 19 Budget that both meets the needs of our students and the needs of our community as a whole.  Once again - if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!  I will continue to do my best to keep everyone informed as we continue to move through this important process.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Busy Winter - Updates On Some Significant Conversations. . .

Good evening everyone!  I hope you are all enjoying the January thaw we seem to be currently experiencing!  Although somewhat damp - I think it is likely a welcome change for many of us after that extremely cold snap over the Holidays!

While I am thinking of that cold snap - I did want to take just a moment to THANK all of the district's maintenance folks, all of our bus drivers, and all of our public works folks from the Town of Gorham for their hard work and dedication to our community.  That cold snap placed lots of stressors on everyone and for the school - it meant fighting to keep buses running, to keep facilities heated, to respond to burst pipes, and much much more!  Everyone pulled together to make sure our schools continued running for our students.  The focus everyone had on simply pitching in to "get 'er done" was wonderful to watch and just one more shining example of the great people we have serving our schools and our community here in Gorham!

Now, on to my updates!  We certainly have been very busy over the course of the past few months working on several sizeable issues and I want to make sure that folks get an update that contains as much factual information as is possible so that everyone feels informed and knows where to go if they feel they need to express their thoughts on any of these "big ticket" items.  I'm going to take them one at a time:

1.  School Day Discussions

These discussions are a result of the work of the School Day Study Committee that met over the course of last spring, this past summer and fall.  This group was a stakeholder group that had representation from parents, staff, students, and community members.  The study committee's focus was to research data on the impacts of school start times on our student's as well as data on the length of our school day and to recommend any changes they felt were necessary to the School Committee to ensure that our schools schedules were in alignment with best practice approaches.  Their report can be found by CLICKING HERE.  Generally speaking, the recommendation of the committee was to consider  "flip flopping" the start & end times of our Middle and high school students with our elementary students for the Fall of 2019.

The School Committee listened to a presentation of the final report at the end of November but has not yet had an opportunity to discuss the report in any detail at this point, and because of this, has not made any decisions at this time regarding any potential changes to our school start times or length of day as a result.  The plan is that this conversation will occur with the school committee in more depth later this spring.

I am being overly clear about this because I have heard some rumors out there from folks that think a decision has already been made by the school committee and I simply want to be clear that no decision has been made, although the topic will most certainly be discussed later this spring.  I would encourage folks with questions to please reach out to either myself (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org) or assistant superintendent Dr. Chris Record (chris.record@gorhamschools.org) with any questions you may have and we will be more than happy to answer them.

2.  K-5 Configuration Discussions

This conversation has gotten a little more attention over the past month or so, and rightly so since it is a big conversation.  As you may remember, a study committee was also put together and approved by the Gorham School Committee to help inform this work.  The K-5 Configuration Study Group worked over the past 10 months to compile research and other data to assist the School Committee it looking at our current configurations as they relate to our growing student populations and to ask themselves:  Is there a better way to configure our schools that is more efficient, but does not jeopardize the high quality instructional programs we have all come to know and love from our Elementary Schools?  The Committee was also comprised of various stakeholders including staff, parents, students, and administration.  The Committee's full report can be found by CLICKING HERE.  Generally speaking, the group's opinion was that after looking at lots of different scenarios they felt that maintaining the status quo was the best option understanding that it was not necessarily the most efficient option in terms of cost.

The K-5 Configuration Study Committee presented its report to the Gorham School Committee in late November and since then the School Committee has worked to delve deeply into the report and has begun to discuss the implications of the report, specifically in relation to both our short-term planning needs (Fall of 2018) and our long-term planning needs (2 years out, 5 years out, ten years out, etc.).

At this point, the School Committee has met only twice to have these discussions.  Their first workshop meeting on this topic was held on Dec. 27, 2017.  During this workshop meeting, the School Committee reviewed highlights of the study group's report.  They also discussed what their priorities were in any future decision making processes on this topic.  Those priorities were:

·       Equality of educational opportunities 
·       Long-term planning/efficiency 
·       Efficient use of resources 
·       Equality class size 
·       Safe and secure buildings 

The group then proceeded to discuss whether or not they wanted to consider other alternatives beyond the recommendation of the study group which was to maintain status quo.  School Committee members brainstormed two alternatives that were both "tweaks" to scenarios that were included in the study committee's report that they wanted to look into a little further before making final decisions.  Those two additional alternatives were:

1.  Create one grades 4/5 school and two grades K-3 schools.
2.  Create one grades K/1 school and two grades 2-5 schools.

The School Committee requested that we run full projections for those two scenarios and that we would come back at the next workshop meeting to discuss and then hopefully work to narrow down options at that point in order to move forward.  At this meeting the School Committee then agreed to hold another workshop meeting on Jan. 10 after their regular meeting to continue the conversation.

The School Committee met again last night to continue the discussion.  Between these two meetings many parents shared with the School Committee their concerns regarding possibly looking to make a change to K-5 configurations.  Two hundred parents signed online petitions and another 50 parents sent direct emails to School Committee members sharing their thoughts and concerns.  Approximately 60 parents attended the School Committee meeting to provide public comment to the School Committee and to then listen in to the workshop meeting.  During the workshop meeting, School Committee members demonstrated how important listening to parent voice is in helping them with decision making processes by beginning the meeting reviewing the themes they heard from parents.  Those were (written directly as listed):

*  Long term vs. short term thinking
*  Relationships
*  Neighborhood Schools
*  Mentors
*  Not supportive of subcommittee work
*  Trust in School committee motivation
*  Only looking at financials
*  Long term strategic planning
*  Town growth rate
*  Communication with town council
*  Transitions
*  Transitions
*  Special Ed.
*  Programmatic Changes
*  School Climate
*  Hidden Costs
*  Siblings in different schools

The School Committee then discussed those concerns and noted that the one that stuck out to them the most was the seeming lack of a long term plan.  The School Committee agreed that they needed to develop that long term plan first, and then use that plan to guide future decision making.  They outlined a process for discussion over the course of the next few workshop meetings whereby at the Jan. 24th workshop meeting they asked the administration to create a few scenarios for what it would take to maintain status quo for 2018-19 that could be discussed and provide direction to administration from there.  They would then use future workshops to create a true long term vision for our elementary school facilities and then using that vision, discuss how to plan backwards from there.

All in all, although these conversations have been somewhat difficult - the School Committee has demonstrated its focus on doing what it feels is best for the education of our children, they have demonstrated their ability to listen to the concerns of parents, they have strongly considered the work of the study committee, and have come to the right conclusion that having a more clear understanding of what they see as the long term vision for our K-5 facilities should guide the work more deeply moving forward.  These discussions will continue - so please stay tuned.

3.  GHS Building Committee:

The GHS building committee continues to meet.  Currently, they are focused on completing a needs assessment process.  The results of this process will be used to develop a programmatic needs list that will, in turn, be used to guide initial design work for the proposed capital project.  The building committee will meet again in February to review an initial draft of the needs assessment, and to make changes as needed and then move forward from there.  The overall goal is to make sure we have conceptual designs ready for a June, 2019 referendum for a local bond.

Additionally, the School Committee will be meeting with the Town Council in a joint meeting scheduled for January 17, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. for the purpose of updating the Town Council on our work thus far, and outlining what our next steps are in the process.  Still plenty of work to go so once again, please stay tuned!

Those are probably the biggest things to update folks on right now, but as you can see from reading each of these items, there is still plenty more work to do, and continued conversations to have before final decisions are made. I would continue to encourage anyone who has questions about what is or is not happening in any of these conversations to reach out to me to ask.  I will always do my best to answer any and all questions.  I can't promise everyone that you'll like my answers - but I will always answer questions quickly, and honestly - so please do not hesitate! ☺

As I end this blog post - I thought I'd end by sharing a few quick pictures of some of our high school students who came to the School Committee to present a special invitation to attend their Unity and Diversity Day.  Also, a quick video of our Grades 3-5 Chorus group showing off their performing arts talents!  These students, and others like them (of which we have a lot in Gorham) remind me just why we care so much about our work in the Gorham Schools - we have such an awesome responsibility to help parents bring up well-rounded, intelligent, and caring students and "preparing" and "inspiring" them to be their very best. . .certainly an awesome responsibility - but oh so rewarding when you see the fruits of our community's labor!  This is just one example!  I could fill several more pages with others. . . but this post is long enough!  Enjoy the pictures!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Winter Has Arrived and Other Musings!

Hard to believe we are just a little over two weeks away from Christmas!  Where oh where has the school year gone already!  There is no doubt it has been a busy year, but I constantly remind myself that it is the "good" kind of busy and not the "bad" kind for sure!

Our students and staff have been extremely active this fall in providing the best possible learning experiences for our students that are aligned with our Mission/Vision and embedded as much within our community as possible!  Just the other day I was talking with our Jobs For Maine's Graduates (JMG) Specialist and he shared that he had over 20 students participating in our Co-Op program.  We had another 50+ students participate in our manufacturing day field experiences and all Gorham High School students recently participated in their "Future Story" day where over 40 area community members volunteered to come in and share their career stories with our students.  At GMS we've had students participating in a new aquaponics program, using the school's maker space to create, and taking part in several incredible technology learning opportunities like our recent "Code Day".  GMS students have also been active in Civil Rights team work, and all students recently participated in their "Celebration of Us" Day where we had another 20+ members of our community come in to share their diverse experiences with our students.  Students in grades K-5 have also been busy learning in our community with programs like the "Empty Bowls" Project, family game nights, The Yellow Tulip Project, Teen Trendsetters program, and more!

It is clear our students are connected to their community and the community to our schools!  Our newly launched School Backpack Program is just one example of this connection.  This past fall, several of our teachers across grades K-12 saw a need in our school system for students and families who experience food insecurity.  They launched what they thought would be a small pilot project to send food home to families in need with a modest investment by the Gorham Education Foundation to get things started.  The program has exploded with the support of our staff and our community, this program now sends home backpacks to more than 20 students and families on a regular basis to help stamp out hunger in our schools!  Kudos to all involved in meeting this very real need here in Gorham!

Just one more example (and then I promise to move on) of our schools' support of our community, and the community's support of our schools, can be seen in the recent activities completed in conjunction with the "Happy, Healthy Gorham" initiative.  This has been a great collaboration across all sectors of the Gorham Community!  We've had two "focus themes" so far this year with "Moving Naturally" at the end of September and then another week of "Kindling Kindness" that occurred in November.  You can read more about it in this article from the Gorham times and you can also follow the work on the "Happy, Healthy Gorham" facebook page.  I can't tell you how proud I was to be a member of the Gorham community during the most recent "Kindling Kindness" week!  Here are just a few pictures:

I am very much looking forward to "Growing Gratitude" in February and then "Eating Well" in April!

Ok, enough "bragging" about our schools and our community (although I could absolutely keep going)!  I did want to make sure to share some other information with folks that you might be interested in.  The first is just a reminder that we are finally coming into the winter months and with winter comes that "white stuff" we all so love here in Maine!  I wanted to take a minute to remind parents of our cancellation processes.  You can view those by going to our website and clicking on "About Us" and then on "Storm Day Information" which I've linked here for your convenience.  As always, we do our best to make the right call regarding inclement weather, but Maine's winters can be very unpredictable, and Gorham can sometimes have 2-3 different weather patterns - so remember, parents always make the final call when it comes to safety and we will be sure to respect that!

I also wanted to make sure that parents were aware that TWO very important study groups have finished up their work and presented their findings to the Gorham School Committee, who will work over the course of the next several months to act upon this new information in various ways.

The School Day Committee presented their findings to the Gorham School Committee on November 29, 2017.  This Committee's charge was to look at two distinct issues regarding our school day here in Gorham.  The first was our start times and the second was the length of our instructional days.  Many schools in our area are considering changes to their start times in order to address the scientific fact that middle and high school-aged adolescents have different sleep cycles than younger children and adults.  The School Day Committee spent time to become extremely familiar with this research and in making recommendations regarding possible changes to our school's start times based on the suggested best practices in this area.  Additionally, the Gorham Schools have one of the shortest instructional days in all of Cumberland County.  Our days are between 10-15 minutes or more less per day than our neighbors.  The School Day Committee spent time understanding these differences, looking at our existing schedules and making recommendations for how it is we could increase instructional time for our students.  I would encourage you to read the entire report linked below and to review the slide presentation shared with the Gorham School Committee that is also linked below.

School Day Committee Final Report
School Day Committee Presentation to School Committee

Ultimately, the Committee's recommendations were to "flip-flop" school start times between existing K-5 start times and existing 6-12 start times for the 2019-20 School Year.  The Committee also recommended increasing the length of the school day for K-5 by 10 minutes each day while completing a comprehensive study of schedules on their efficiency for grades 6-12 - again for the 2019-20 School Year.

As stated earlier, the Gorham School Committee has made NO DECISIONS to act upon this information at this time.  The School Committee will utilize this information over the course of the next several months to better understand their options and the implications of those options before making any final decisions later this spring/summer.

The K-5 Configuration Study Committee was charged with studying our existing K-5 school configurations, mostly in response to our steadily growing student populations and corresponding increases in class sizes and costs to operate our schools.  The study committee looked at the educational and programmatic strengths and challenges of several different configurations as well as the financial implications of these various configurations.  The study committee looked at 18 different possible configurations for our K-5 schools, narrowed the scope of work down to 6 possible configurations that were looked at more closely with 3 year projections of class sizes and possible costs and then narrowed that field down to 3 configurations that were looked at with 6 year projections of class sizes and possible costs.

I would encourage you to also read their entire report linked below and to review the slide presentation shared with the School Committee on November 29, 2017.

K-5 Configuration Study Group Final Report
K-5 Configuration Study Group Presentation to School Committee

Ultimately, the Committee's final recommendation was to remain with our existing K-5 configurations even though they may cost more than some of the other configurations due to the educational/programmatic advantages offered to our students.  Again, as stated earlier, the Gorham School Committee has made NO DECISIONS to act upon this information at this time.  They will be working intensely over the course of the next few months to dive more deeply into the information reported and to make final determinations as part of our FY 19 budget development processes.

Finally, I did want to make sure families were aware of some new resources that have been shared for better understanding our Proficiency-Based Learning (PBL) System here in Gorham.  We've created a PBL Fact Sheet that we'll be continuing to add to throughout the course of the year.  You can find that fact sheet by CLICKING HERE.  Please feel free to email any questions you might have to me at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org and I'll be sure to add them to the sheet along with answers!

Well, I think I've rambled long enough!  I look forward to writing the next installment of my blog in January!  In the meantime, I wish everyone the merriest of holiday celebrations with family and friends!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Upcoming Big Topics For Conversation

Good afternoon everyone!  What an incredible day here in Gorham!  Temperatures in the high 60's (not unlike most of this fall thus far), sun shining, beautiful color all around us, and lots of great fall school and community activities to keep us all apple picking, sock sorting (reference to our school's soctober work), pumpkin carving, and the like!  I just have to share a few photos of our awesome students and staff at work doing what they do best - LEARNING!
Recently community members in the Great Falls area came over to clean up our outdoor learning space - just look at it being used now!
GMS students working on their digital citizenry work!

One of our own GHS students helping other students to study for SAT's!  Nice job Alex!
Students at Great Falls (and our other Elem. Schools) are participating in Socktober to help our community!
GHS Juniors participated in several recent college trips to explore!  This group visited Bates with our very own Bates alumni, Dr. Record!

I could keep sharing pictures and great activities from all our schools, but that would take a lot more space and I could literally go on forever!  What I want this post to really be about is helping parents to become more aware of some of the big topics that our School Committee will be wrestling with this year and how you can access factual information about any or all of them!

In a nutshell - we are pretty busy right now!  A growing student population impacts everything we do - from our bus routes to our class sizes to our school nutrition programs to the daily schedules at our schools to capacity of our programs to handle additional workloads - and everything in between!  Trying to keep up with the changes needed to maintain and strengthen our already excellent school system is requiring us to think about some pretty big topics!  Here are just a few that are on the agenda for our school committee to discuss, starting this month and likely extending all the way through the end of this school year and beyond:

*  Proficiency Based Grading and Reporting Work
*  Strategic Planning Work
*  K-5 Configuration Study Group Work
*  School Day Study Group Work
*  Possible GHS Building Proposal Work
*  FY 19 Budget Development Processes & Preparing for the "unknowns" coming at us from the State.

I'm going to provide a BRIEF overview of each of these topics in the next few paragraphs.  I am also going to point out to you where you might find several online resources that you can use to dig more deeply to deepen your understanding of these conversations and their importance if you are interested, and finally, I will end with some specific information on how you can get more involved in the conversations!

Proficiency-Based Grading and Reporting Work

The work to create a Proficiency-Based System of Education has been ongoing for the past several years, and the topic of many, many previous blog posts that I will not attempt to re-hash here.  The piece I want to make sure you are all aware of for now is that coming up with the release of our first quarter grade reports (for grades 6-12) and our first trimester grade reports (for grades K-5), parents will be seeing some differences in these reports and as a result, should be prepared to have some questions about what these changes mean for your students.  

As a reminder, students in grades K-5 will have their learning reported out via our new standards-based grading software (known as Jumprope).  Scores will be similar in terms of the traditional 1,2,3,4 but how you view them and the standards they are attached to will look a little different than they have in the past.  Teachers in grades K-5 will be spending some significant time during Parent/Teacher Conferences helping to explain to parents what the new reports will look like, how to read them, and what all those colors mean!  Additionally, we have developed an online video to help parents interpret these new reports (CLICK HERE TO VIEW) and we have scheduled a follow-up face to face parent meeting for K-5 parents to attend who may still have questions on the evening of November 13th at 7:00 p.m. at Village Elementary School.  

Students in grades 6-8 are also in transition with their report cards.  Students in grade six will have their learning for all their courses reported out via our new standards-based grading software (known as Jumprope) for all classes that they take.  Students in this grade will continue to be scored using the 1,2,3,4 scale that they were used to in grades K-5.  Students in grades seven and eight will have their learning reported out via Jumprope for their science class and for allied arts classes, but will still use Infinite Campus (IC) to report out learning in all other areas using what we are lovingly referring to as our "Blended Scale"  Again, GMS teachers will be spending time during our upcoming Parent/Teacher Conferences to assist parents in better understanding how to interpret these new reports (both for Jumprope and for IC).  Additionally, we are working closely with all GMS students to make sure they know how to interpret their reports and can also help explain these new formats to parents.  Finally, we have developed an online video to help parents interpret these new reports (CLICK HERE TO VIEW) and have also scheduled a face to face parent meeting for 6-8 parents to attend who may still have questions on the evening of November 6th at 7:00 p.m. at GMS Library.

Students in grades 9-12 have also made a small transition towards PBL in the area of grading and reporting, but with fewer changes that will immediately impact their grading reports.  At this time, teachers are focusing on making sure students themselves understand what the new grading structure looks like so that they can help explain to parents.  Teachers will also be spending time during parent/teacher conferences talking with parents about these changes and what they mean.  Parents are encouraged to contact their student's teachers with further questions on grading practices.  Additionally, all parents might benefit from a review of our PBL Handbook which can be found by clicking on the link embedded here.

Strategic Planning Work

This committee has been working since the fall of 2016 to develop a strategic plan that will help move us towards the attainment of our new mission vision (CLICK HERE TO VIEW MISSION/VISION).  Committee members for this work are comprised of teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members!  They are ready to present their draft plan to the Gorham School Committee for further discussion and eventual approval.  The first presentation to the School Committee of the draft Strategic Plan will be made next Wednesday (October 25) during the School Committee's Special Meeting planned for that evening.  Certainly members of the public who are interested may attend this meeting which will be held starting at 5:45 p.m. at the Central Office.  Others who want to learn more, but are not able to attend, can follow the work of the committee by visiting our district's website.  CLICK HERE to view the shared public folder for this work.  Our hope is to have a final, School Committee approved Strategic Plan in place by the end of December in order to help guide our budget work for the FY 19 budget development process!

K-5 Configuration Study Group Work

This committee grew out of concerns regarding the sustainability of our existing structures with increasing student populations that were brought to light during our FY 18 budget development process.

The purpose of this committee has been to study our existing K-5 elementary configurations in order to identify the strengths and challenges of this configuration and to brainstorm possible ways that the Gorham Schools MIGHT reconfigure the elementary schools to better address our increasing school populations in a more efficient manner moving forward.  This committee's charge was to develop a written recommendation to the Gorham School Committee outlining identified strengths and challenges of our existing K-5 configurations and to collect data to support a recommendation for how we MIGHT reconfigure to address increasing student populations over the longer term.

This committee is also getting close to wrapping up its work and presenting its findings to the Gorham School Committee on November 29, 2017 during their regularly scheduled workshop meeting.  This meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at the Central Office.

At this point, lots of data has been collected regarding scientific research, collection of how other school systems in Maine configure their schools, surveys results from staff and parents, enrollment projections, and the development of six different options to look at moving forward to include all supporting information associated with each scenario.

If you'd like to follow the work of this committee, you can access the shared public folder for this work from our website.  CLICK HERE to view.  Once the committee presents its recommendations to the School Committee, the school committee will then have to decide what action it would like to take.  This action can range from making a decision to change configurations for Fall, 2018 to making no change, including anything in between.  These discussions will hopefully occur during the month of December and January so that we are able to budget appropriately in our FY 19 budget process.

School Day Study Group Work

This study committee was created as a result of recent negotiations with teachers in the district who advocated for and were given additional planning time during the course of the regular school day in order to support them in doing all the work that we ask them to do for our children with continued excellence we have become accustomed to here in Gorham.  During these discussions, it was discovered that Gorham actually has the shortest instructional day of all schools in Cumberland County (we are 10 minutes shorter than our Cumberland County counterparts per day).  While we knew we needed to research this further to address the issue of the length of our instructional day, the issue of sleep science and optimal start times for schools also became a large talking point in our community because neighboring communities such as South Portland, Yarmouth, Biddeford, and others have recently made changes to their schedules to start school later.  We decided to combine these two related topics into one study committee whose task it is to conduct research on the possible pros and cons of lengthening our instructional day and moving our school start times and to develop a written recommendation to the Gorham School Committee for POSSIBLE changes.

This committee is also scheduled to report out to the School Committee on November 29, 2017 at their regularly scheduled workshop meeting.  Individuals who are intersted in following the work of this committee can access information from our shared public folder.  CLICK HERE to view.  Once again, the School Committee will then take this information and have to decide what action (if any) it would like to take.  These discussions will hopefully take place during the month of December and January so that we are able to budget appropriately for any potential changes in our FY 19 budget process.

Possible GHS Building Proposal

This work has been ongoing since 2009 here in Gorham.  Our high school was built to hold 750 students.  We currently have 850 students and we are projected to grow to close to 1000 students in the next 9 years.  We have been out of space for a long time at GHS, with two portables being housed on site for 15+ years.  Just this past year we had to convert closet space into classroom space, and our overall square footage for classrooms are often times not large enough for the number of students we have to put in them.  We have a very small cafeteria with students often being forced to sit on the floors in the hallways during lunch, we have inadequate parking for students, staff, and our daily guests, we have safety concerns with our building's offices being located at the opposite end of the building from where most students enter, our athletic fields are in disrepair, and our mechanical systems are aging and in need of significant TLC.  Now, don't get me wrong. .. the sky is not falling!  As a community we have kept up our buildings pretty well, and lucky for us we have an incredible student body and staff who create a climate within our schools that is very positive and welcoming.  The bottom line is, however that as our population continues to increase, we will simply not be able to sustain positive learning environments for our students if we do not address the issues in some manner.  What that manner is, is most certainly up for discussion - which is the point of our ongoing work!

At this point, we have reformed a GHS building committee and created an Athletic Capital Campaign Committee.  These committees have worked over the course of the past year or more with our School Committee and with the Town Council to bring forward several options for how we might address the issues outlined above.   We completed a substantial feasibility study taking a close look at the three preferred options which were:

1.  Build a new high school off site.
2.  Renovate existing building and athletic fields on site.
3.  Look to "flip flop" the high school with the middle school.

The feasibility study demonstrated that the least expensive of those three options was to renovate the existing building and athletic fields on site.  This preference was discussed by the School Committee and the Town Council and was agreed to as our "preferred option" moving forward.  The School Committee is now in the process of engaging an architectural firm to work with us to complete the conceptual design phase of the work and to work alongside us as we complete the required information gathering, and design work to get us to a public referendum which would likely occur EITHER in the fall of 2018 or in the spring of 2019, depending on how long it takes  us to complete the required and necessary steps that would ensure a thoroughly vetted and well thought out proposal is presented to our voters.  Once we get to work with the architectural firm, we will be populating our shared folder with this information as well.  CLICK HERE to view the shared public folder.

 FY 19 Budget Development Processes & Preparing for the "unknowns" coming at us from the State.

This last section is really to intended to make you all aware of some issues that our schools will be facing this year once again in terms of funding for public education.   As you may recall, the legislature passed a budget that included additional money in General Purpose Aid (GPA) for schools across the state.  The state approved $48 million dollars to be added to the FY 18 budget and another $113 million to be added to the FY 19 budget.  This is all well and good, and certainly something public schools have been clamoring for for the past 10 years, however - it does not come without strings attached.  The largest "string" is the requirement that in the FY 19 fiscal year, public schools are supposed to use 50% of these new funds to offset taxpayer expense.  This is great!  We actually used 100% of our FY 18 new dollars from the state to offset taxpayer expenses here in Gorham this past year.  The problem for me is not in using these funds to reduce taxes (which is a goal for all us), it is in defining what that 50% is.  The Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding formula is a complicated formula that is built to change each year depending upon number of students and local property values.  Both of these key factors are going up here in Gorham and at this point in time, we are unsure of how the state is going to determine this 50%.  Is it 50% of the total new monies or is it 50% of what we got through the EPS formula that we otherwise would not have received if these new funds were not provided.  I realize that may not make much sense but to those of us who know how the EPS funding formula works - the difference between those two calculations could be huge for a system whose student populations are increasing such as ours.  I share this just to make sure that everyone is clear - although the state is providing more money in GPA for the coming fiscal year - that does not necessarily mean that Gorham will receive a "windfall" of new funds to fund our public schools.

Finally, another "unknown" coming at us from the state is the issue of Child Development Services (CDS).  CDS has been the organization that has provided funding for special education-like programs for students ages birth - 5 before they come into our public schools.  CDS has not been performing these services effectively and efficiently for years and at this point, the Maine Department of Education is looking to move these services into our K-12 public school systems to oversee and operate.  Although wholistically, I think this is a great idea - I remain very concerned about how the state plans to fund this transition, and how we might be able to find the physical spaces needed to operate these programs.  Much is still up in the air here, and surely there will be financial implications to this move if it is indeed made to begin in the fall of 2019.

Well, I am sure I have completely overloaded all of you with information at this point, and for that I apologize.  I do hope that you at least feel comfortable checking out the links for information provided and at the very least - if you want to know more about any of these topics that you feel comfortable in calling/emailing me to ask questions and to learn more.  As always, I will do my best to keep you informed as we move through another awesome school year here in Gorham!  In closing, I did want to take just one moment to congratulate our two GHS students who are our newest members on the Gorham School Committee!  They offer us an ability to hear the most important voices possible in our decision-making processes - our students!  Great work Josephine and Kyren - two outstanding GHS students!