Monday, January 21, 2019

January Update

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have been thinking a great deal about our country's past, the Civil Rights movement, our country's present political climate, and our country's future.  The more and more I think about that future, the more and more I think about the importance of public education and its role in helping to instill basic civic values and responsibility within all our students.  This makes me think of the strength of our Student Code of Conduct.

Our Student Code of Conduct is alive and well across all of our schools in grades K-12.  Regardless of what school your child attends, our Code is always present.  It consists of five core components that I bet most any student (or staff for that matter) can recite if asked.  These are:

*  Respect
*  Honesty
*  Courage
*  Compassion
*  Responsibility

When community members enter our schools, I constantly get feedback that our students are some of the most respectful and responsible students around.  They know what these words mean and they know that it is their responsibility to help us all uphold these words in all that we do.

I mention this code because I am always impressed this time of year just how involved our students are within the community.  For example, recently 40 of our high school students volunteered to participate in our "Adopt A Classroom" program with Great Falls Elementary School students (Village and Narragansett will also have this program implemented later this spring).  This project matches up GHS student with Elementary classrooms within Gorham and asks HS students to share their "Future Stories" (aspirations) with their classrooms in an effort to get our younger student thinking about their own "Future Stories" earlier.  This program is an incredibly powerful program that we will also be spreading to our other two elementary schools later this spring.  Check out this incredible video to see more!

GHS Adopt A Classroom Video

I also personally witnessed GHS students raise $500.00 for their giving tree project to help families in need over the holidays.  GMS students raised another $500.00 for their giving tree project as well.  GHS chorus students went to the Gorham House before the holidays to share their beautiful music, and our students and staff continue to volunteer time to support the Gorham Food Pantry and our very own Gorham Schools Backpack program to help families who may be experiencing food insecurity during this difficult time of the year.  We have the Key Club, Interact Club and National Honors Society as community-oriented clubs at GHS with hundreds of students participating.  Our elementary students help our community by raising funds for the Gorham Food Pantry, American Heart and Lung Association and much more.

Our Code of Conduct is absolutely alive in our schools!  If you want to learn more about our student code of conduct, CLICK HERE!

As we get further and further into another Maine winter, I know that I personally begin to dream of warmer weather!  I wanted to take a moment to bring up another important topic for families this time of year - Attendance.

Are you too thinking about warmer weather and planning a family trip to put your feet in the sand?  As you think about your arrangements, the Gorham School would like to stress the importance of sending your child to school every day possible.  Every year, absences spike over the winter months as families look to plan vacations in warmer weather.  We know that just a few missed days here and there, even if they are excused absences, can add up to too much lost learning time and put your child behind in school.  This is as true in kindergarten as it is in high school.  Put simply, too many absences at any age can affect a student's chances for academic success.

We recognize that vacations are an important time for reconnecting with families.  The costs of plane tickets often influence when you want to travel.  But keep in mind the costs to your children's education if they miss too much school - and the message you will be sending about the importance of attendance.  Even if you've got a homework packet from the teacher, it doesn't make up for the interaction and learning that happens in the classroom.  Our teachers will be teaching, and our students will be learning every day.

So what is a busy family to do?  Please know we are NOT suggesting that you and your family not take important vacation time together.  This time is important!  What we are encouraging families to do, however, is to try and be mindful when planning these vacations to reduce the number of days that your child may be missing school.  Our preference is always that if you can schedule your vacation during already scheduled school vacation time, this is optimal.  If you are able to do this, then you and your family can take several days to travel without the worry of your child missing school.  However, we realize this is not always possible.  When it is not possible, we would then ask you to do whatever you can to minimize the number of days your child is out of school.  Maybe strategically use weekends or Monday holidays to minimize absences.  If this isn't possible, we would ask parents to consider taking two additional steps.  First, please complete the attendance waiver form that is required for families who know they will be taking students out of school for any planned purpose.  The purpose of this form is to ensure that communication takes place between families and school during times when children will be absent for a planned reason.  It gives the school an opportunity to provide homework or other meaningful learning that can help to mitigate lost instructional time for students (although once again, these kinds of homework packets can never replace missed classroom instruction time).  Please know that teachers are not always able to send home packets for children in these cases.  It all depends on timing and what the teacher is working on with students at the time of the requested absences.  If teachers can provide work, they will...just know they may not always be able to do so.  Second, upon return from the vacation, please do whatever you can as a family to discourage any other missed time from school.  Every day is an important learning day in our schools, so if a child must miss these days...let's be sure we work together to minimize additional days out.  If your child is not wanting to go to school for any reason, please reach out and let his/her teachers know.  We will always work with families to do whatever we can to assist in ensuring children are in school.  It is just that important.

If you'd like to learn more about the importance of school attendance, please click on the link below.  The link will take you to national research on the topic.  Check it out!

*  Attendance Research 

Finally, I wanted to remind parents about a few upcoming events that you may want on your calendars!

First, Nationally renowned speaker Peg Dawson will be in Gorham on Wednesday, Jan. 23 to share research and best practice approaches on the topic of executive functioning with parents.  This presentation is for any parent grades K-12.  Click on the link below to learn more!

*  Peg Dawson Flyer

Second, I will be starting my "Dunk and Discuss" series at Aroma Joe's on Wednesday, January 30th at 7:00 a.m. for any parent interested in stopping by to chat about important topics on their mind.  Topics may include:  Gorham's Learning Systems, GHS building project, Budget, School Safety, and much more!  If you can't make the 30th - I've got a few more dates coming up...check them out and hope to see you there!

*  Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 7:00 a.m. at Aroma Joe's
*  Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7:00 a.m. at Aroma Joe's
*  Monday, March 11 at 7:00 a.m. at Aroma Joe's

Third, I wanted to make sure parents were aware of the upcoming Public Forum on the GHS Building Project.  The purpose of this forum is to share with the public what we have for design plans thus far and to gather feedback from the public.  All ideas and thoughts are GOOD ideas and thoughts!  We need to balance the educational needs of our children with the community's needs...which means we need EVERYONE to be involved in this conversation in order to insure the best possible outcome for our incredible community!  Please plan on attending...Monday, February 4 at 6:00 p.m. at GHS.  Check out the flyer below for more information.

*  Feb. 4 Public Forum Flyer

That's all I have for this month's update!  Lots will be happening this winter for sure, and at a pretty quick pace!  I encourage you to follow us on our website (www.gorhamschools.org) or on our social media accounts on Facebook, or on Twitter to stay up on all the various happenings across the district and in individual schools.  You can access all of these various forums from our district website listed above.

Have a great day!

P.S. - GO PATS on Feb. 3rd!  ☺
















Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Update on GHS Building Project Work

Hard to believe we are already well into the month of December!  Time certainly does fly when you are having fun learning together!  Before I get into the meat of my blog post topic regarding GHS building project work, I did want to take a quick moment to thank two incredible GHS students who recently allowed me to "tag along" with them for 1/2 day of school.  Thank you to Julie Cooper and Maddy Gould!  Through this experience, I was able to gain just a little more insight into the experiences of our students at GHS.  While shadowing Julie, I was lucky enough to visit a Spanish classroom, chorus, and chemistry.  While shadowing Maddy, I was able to ride the bus to WRVC and tag along with her as she participated in the Medical Occupations program there.  Both students were incredibly gracious, allowing me to ask questions and gain insights.  Their fellow students were equally as open to having me around...opening up and helping me to better understand how our students see the strengths and challenges of our school system.  I learned a great deal ladies...and please know I will use that new learning in my future decision making!

OK, on to the topic at hand...a topic I know you have all been very interested in since we began talking about it ten years ago now!  For those of you who may not have been involved in this conversation for that long...some quick points to help you understand the need for this project and why we are working so diligently to bring this project to a voter referendum in November of 2019.

Quick Points:
*  GHS was last renovated in 1992.  At the time, the school was built to house 750 students.  We currently have 868 students in the building now - 118 more than it was constructed for.
*  Our Enrollment projections indicate that we will continue to grow in student population with our high school population scheduled to reach approximately 944 students by the year 2027-28.
*  Currently, our main entrance for students is located on the opposite side of the school as our administrative offices.  This creates a significant safety concern that we have worked hard to mitigate over the years, but one that must be more thoroughly dealt with by changing the physical plant for the long term.
*  Current classroom sizes in our building range between 500-717 square feet, while today's standards require classrooms of approximately 800 square feet in order to accommodate the type of learning required in today's schools.
*  The current cafeteria is far undersized for our students.  During our three lunch periods, students are forced to sit on benches in the hallway/lobby area, and unfortunately, often on the floor.
*  Mechanical systems at GHS are nearing the end of their useful life and many are inefficient compared to today's standards.  It currently costs $1.17/square foot to operate GHS while Great Falls Elementary School operates at $.91/square foot and that building is air-conditioned.
*  GHS currently operates 2.5 competition athletic fields compared to other comparable high schools in the state that operate between 6-8 grass fields (or utilize synthetic surfaces for fewer fields).
*  Currently we offer a total of 280 parking spaces for staff and students on site.  Schools of our size are now built to have between 400-500 parking spaces.  If you've ever tried to park at GHS during the school day - you understand the difference!
*  Currently, the community is not able to use our facilities in the way that we would like.  Because of our overutilized fields, and because of our crowded spaces, we aren't able to allow this important community use.  We want to open up our facilities more to community use - but in order to do this, we must design with this in mind.

The GHS Building Committee & Athletic Capital Campaign Committee:

These two committees have been working diligently over the course of the past year or more to develop specific designs for the project that attempt to meet our programmatic needs for students now and 25 years from now all while balancing the ability of our community to support such a necessary project.  No small task for sure, but we have the right people for the job on our committee! 

Membership on the GHS Building Committee includes:

*  Heather Perry, Superintendent of Schools
*  Chris Record, Asst. Superintendent of Schools
*  Darryl Wright, School Committee Chair
*  Brian Jandreau, GHS Principal
*  Tim Spear, Athletic Director
*  Norm Justice, Facilities Director
*  Hollis Cobb, Business Director
*  Robert Weed, GHS Teacher
*  Kate Stevens, GHS Guidance Counselor
*  Kyren Bettencourt, GHS Student
*  Sarah Plummer, Parent
*  Lee Pratt, Gorham Town Council
*  Suzie Phillips, Gorham Town Council
*  Jon Smith, Gorham Community Member

Membership on the GHS Athletic Capital Campaign Committee includes:

*  Heather Perry, Superintendent of Schools
*  Norm Justice, Facilities Director
*  Hollis Cobb, Business Manager
*  Tim Spear, Athletic Director
*  Jim Hager, Gorham Town Council
*  Cindy Hazelton, Gorham Recreation Director
*  Darren Shiers, Gorham Community Member
*  Ethan Johnson, Gorham Community Member
*  Gerry Durgin, Gorham Community Member
*  David Willis, Gorham Community Member
*  Craig Belhumeur, Gorham Community Member

These two committees have been meeting jointly for the past year with additional meetings held by the Athletic Capital Campaign Committee to plan our upcoming capital campaign launch.  Members have met to help build the design for the project, to help orchestrate a public survey regarding the project and to facilitate conversations with the full School Committee and Town Council to keep both of these groups well informed of progress.  All told, volunteers on these two committees have already put in countless hours of work in getting us to where we are with this project with much more work ahead of us.

Which leads us to the next piece...where are we with this project?  A very good question indeed!  Right now, we have an overall draft design that we are working from.  This draft design incorporates all of the programmatic, athletic, and community needs associated with this project at this time.  This IS NOT A FINAL DESIGN, but this will be the design that gets us to our first initial project estimate.  I expect that our first project estimate will be high, and because of this, we will then need to take more time to sharpen our pencils and reduce costs to get the estimated project total to a place where our building committee feels it can be supported by our community - all of you!

But for now, here is where we are:



I realize this is likely a bit small, so I'll review the highlights of what you see here.  Please note that what you see in the cream color for the building is existing.  What you see in the orange color is additional classroom space.  At this point, we are designing the building to house 1100 students even though our 10-year projections have us going to 944 students total.  We are doing this because we know that whatever we wind up doing for this project will be a 20-30 year commitment and we do not want to have to come back to taxpayers in 10 years with another capital project for GHS because we have run out of space. This enrollment target may change as we continue to move through the work.

You should also note when looking at the new classroom wing on the right side of the existing building that we are proposing to close the current access road on that side, therefore diverting all traffic down Ballpark Road and then reconnecting with the Access Road to allow traffic to flow to the high school.  This was done in order to give us space to build the new classroom wing.  This new classroom wing will be a two-story structure adding approximately 14 new classrooms and 2 science labs to GHS. 

As you can also see, this new wing takes up a small portion of Robie Park.  We are having to utilize Robie as a way to keep the expansion of GHS at the current location.  As you may recall, this is the least expensive of all options researched a year ago (we looked at building new on another site, flip-flopping with GMS, and renovating on existing site - renovating on existing site was the least expensive option) and what the Town Council requested we look at as our primary option moving forward.  We are working diligently to ensure we are leaving as much green space and functional community recreational space at Robie Park as possible while still meeting the needs of the project.  We are also proposing to move our tennis courts to Robie Park, which we hope will expand community access and use of these great recreational facilities.  Please note that even with the classroom expansion using access road and a small portion of Robie, and moving the Tennis courts to Robie, we are still able to leave the playground and community gardens in place for future use.  Also, the softball field will continue to remain where it is.

Continuing on with the building additions, when you look at the other orange areas, you can see that we are expanding our existing cafeteria to hold the appropriate number of students.  Additionally, because we are projecting to grow as much as we are, we are factoring in the need for an additional gymnasium.  This gymnasium will assure students are able to participate in Physical Education classes during the day, practice and participate in our after-school programs during reasonable times, all while also allowing more community use of our facilities.  In addition to the gym, we are also looking to add a large cardio and fitness room to this area which can be used by our students during the day and be open to the community for use outside of the regular student day.

Additional items to note from this site plan are the addition of over 200 parking spaces, the movement of the administrative offices to the main entrance side of the building with appropriate security measures in place to ensure increased student safety, and the movement of our main competition field to allow for the building changes necessary to accommodate the design.  We are also seeking the addition of synthetic turf to the main competition field so that we can provide an adequate space for our students to participate in PE classes during the school day, an adequate space for practices and competitions to be held by our students, and provide a venue that can be more readily used by our community when not in use by the school. 

What you can't see very well from this image is the fact that this renovation will also ensure our existing classroom sizes meet square footage standards for the present day, and our mechanical systems will be upgraded to be more energy efficient and reliable for the next 30 years!

Overall, what I hope you see from the diagram is that we have worked hard to address all of the identified needs for the building that will make this building a source of pride for our community for many more years to come!  By adding classrooms, by increasing square footage space in existing classrooms, by expanding the cafeteria, by moving administrative offices, by adding parking, and by focusing on how we can increase community utilization of this incredible Gorham community asset, I believe we are well on our way to making this project a success for our students and for the whole community of Gorham!

What to Expect Moving Forward:

The Building Committee will be meeting again on January 8, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. to continue its work.  After that meeting, the Building Committee will be presenting the draft design to the Gorham School Committee at its regular "on camera" meeting on January 9, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.  Folks can tune in via GoCat if you are interested in hearing a more comprehensive overview of the proposed project.  The School Committee will then host a joint meeting with the Gorham Town Council on January 15 at 6:30 p.m..  At this meeting, the Town Council will be brought up to speed on the project.  This meeting will also be televised via GoCat or interested parties may also attend any of these meetings in person.

After the School Committee and Town Council are brought up to speed, we anticipate that the first initial project estimate will be ready in late January or early February.  Once the Building Committee sees this, it will then work to adjust the project design to get the total cost to a place where it feels the community can support it.  This will be an ongoing and iterative process throughout the winter between February - June, 2019 that will involve a constant cycle of sharing information with elected officials and the public, gathering feedback, using that feedback to make revisions, and then sending more information out for more feedback until we land on what we feel is the best proposal to bring to the voters in November of 2019.

We anticipate the first (of several) community forum will take place in early February, 2019.  Simultaneously we will also be launching another "Thought Exchange" survey in February to allow those who may not be able to make it out in person to still share their thoughts and ideas about the project (you can view results from the original "Thought Exhange" conducted last spring by CLICKING HERE).  You can also follow all the work on our website.  You can view the building committee meeting agendas and materials by CLICKING HERE.  You can view the Athletic Capital Campaign Committee meeting agendas and materials by CLICKING HERE, and we are working to consolidate information onto a dedicated webpage that you can view here, although it is currently under construction for formal release later this winter.

The timeline for final decision making will be a vote for support of the final design by the Building Committee in July, 2019.  The School Committee will vote to approve a final project design in August, 2019 and the Town Council will need to vote to approve of a referendum to appear on the November, 2019 ballot by September, 2019.

Summary

The GHS Capital Project continues to move forward and is beginning to pick up significant momentum.  We have launched a broad-based community stakeholder committee (our Building Committee) to inform the process and they have been working diligently to first identify the needs that must be addressed in this project and to then work with our architects (Harriman Associates) to design a building that meets those needs.  We will be seeing our first initial estimate for the design in late January or early February and then working to launch public forums and various feedback loops at that time that will extend throughout the course of the winter and spring of 2019. 

Additionally, we know that we need to find a way to offset local taxpayer costs for this project so we have been building the foundations for a capital campaign for the athletic portions of this work.  We are poised to do a "soft launch" of the capital campaign focused on information sharing in January and February with a goal of trying to raise approximately 20% of the athletic fields costs through community wide fundraising efforts.

As you can see, there is A LOT going on within the Gorham Schools regarding this project, and things will get even more hectic starting very soon.  Even with all this work, however, we are committed to making sure that appropriate time is taken so that the community of Gorham has a strong voice in this project.  We are committed to finding the balance needed between meeting the educational needs of our high school students for the next 30-40 years and doing so in a way that is sustainable and fiscally responsible for the community of Gorham.  We NEED YOUR VOICES to help make sure we meet this commitment! 

If you have questions, concerns or comments, please do not hesitate to reach out to me and ask them.  My email address is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org. 

Thank you!




Sunday, October 28, 2018

K-5 Configuration Update and More

Before I jump into an update for parents on some recent decisions made by the school committee regarding K-5 Configurations and discussions regarding the length of the school day - I did want to congratulate ALL of our Fall Athletes for their incredible seasons - a few of which are still going on! 

The way all of our students in all of our programs represent the community of Gorham is to be commended!  Whenever I am "out and about" across the state, people always come up to me and talk about how polite our students are, how hard they compete, what great sportsmanship they demonstrate and how much passion our students have for whatever it is they are undertaking to do.

As we think about the recent tragic events in Pittsburgh, it is important to reflect on the way each of us holds ourselves in relationship to our fellow man.  We are truly blessed by the positive attitude of our incredible students towards one another and others and I know this doesn't happen by accident!  It takes all of us modeling this behavior in all that we do to maintain the strong positive environments we have.  Let's keep those positive attitudes going - not only for our students - but for ourselves and our fellow man!

    

  

Update on Recent School Committee Decision Regarding K-5 Configurations

The Gorham School Committee has been having some pretty in-depth conversations over the past two years or more regarding how best to address our increasing student enrollments here in Gorham.  Two years ago, the School Committee established a K-5 configuration study committee.  This committee undertook to study the best ways to address the problems associated with increasing enrollments and the decreasing capacity in our buildings.  This study committee presented its findings to the School Committee last spring.  At that time, the School Committee decided that the best way to move forward would be to develop a long-term K-5 facilities plan first and then use this vision to plan backward for shorter-term action steps.  The School Committee worked with an organization called NESDEC to conduct a long-term facilities study.  This study was conducted over the course of last spring and summer.  A report was developed and shared with the School Committee in late September and just last week the School Committee used that information along with other information collected over time to make at least one small determination as part of the larger work.  The determination that was reached by the School Committee is that our current K-5 community school structure is an important core component of our long-term facilities vision.

At last week's school committee workshop meeting, the school committee agreed that maintaining our K-5 community school structures was a paramount component to the development of our long-term K-8 facilities vision.  They are still working on the details of this long-term vision, but the decision to maintain our K-5 schools as part of that vision was a big step and one that is important to share with parents for sure.  Community members who are interested in viewing the results of the K-5 study committee and the NESDEC facilities study may click below to learn more. 

NESDEC Demographic Study Report
*  K-5 Configuration Study Committee Report
NESDEC Facilities study report

Update on Recent School Committee Discussions Regarding Length of School Day K-12

At the same time that the K-5 Reconfiguration study group was studying the best options for our existing configurations, another study group was created by the School Committee with two goals.  The School Day Committee was tasked with studying two things 1)  The viability of moving start times to later for our middle and high school students and 2) the viability of lengthening our school day across K-12 to address the fact that we currently have one of the shortest instructional days in all of Cumberland County.

The School Committee has decided to discuss these two items separately and to begin their deliberations first on the topic of the length of our current instructional day across grades K-12.  At our last workshop meeting, the School Committee was presented with updated information regarding current K-12 schedules that compared our instructional time with other area school systems.  You can view a summary of that data by CLICKING HERE.  What has become clear is that we are somewhere between 15-20 minutes shorter in our instructional day than other neighboring schools across grades K-12.

Because of this information, and the feedback from staff that annually states they feel as though there simply isn't enough time in the school day to instruct students in the things that matter most, the School Committee will be strongly considering the possibility of adding between 15-20  minutes onto the instructional day across all schools.  The School Committee has sought feedback from staff at this time but has not had an opportunity to gather feedback regarding this topic from parents.  As a means to this end, the School Committee will be using their annual visits to each school's PIE group to gather feedback on this important conversation before making any decisions.  I am currently working with all schools to set up these meetings between School Committee members and parents and will post them broadly once dates and times are finalized.  In the meantime, if you would like to share your thoughts on this topic with the School Committee please feel free to email either me (heather.perry@gorhamschools.org) or the chair of the School Committee, Darryl Wright (darryl.wright@gorhamschools.org).

Again, as mentioned above, the discussion regarding possible later start times has been set aside for the time being as the School Committee works through other priority items such as the creation of a long-term K-8 facilities vision and plan and the decision as to whether or not it would be in our student's best interest to extend our instructional day.  I will endeavor to do my best to keep parents informed as to how you can best participate in these conversations as we move along in the decision-making process.

Thank you!



Sunday, October 7, 2018

October Update With a Focus on Bullying Prevention

Hard to believe we have already gone through more than a month of school in the 2018-19 school year!  I wanted to take a moment and share just a few of the images I have collected from this past month showing what great learning is occurring in our buildings - and outside of them for that matter!

    


    

We have such incredible staff and students, which I hope is clear when you view these images.  Our students learn in the classrooms, but they also learn on our playgrounds, our cafeterias, and out in the community! 

One of the things that make our schools great is our focus on our Code of Conduct.  Our Code of Conduct is a set of values and beliefs that staff models for students and that is used as the foundation for all our school culture/climate work across all our schools and classrooms K-12.  The Code of Conduct consists of five key areas:  Respect, Honesty, Courage, Compassion, and Responsibility.  We talk with students about what each one of these traits looks like when they are being done well, and sometimes not so well:

 
As you may or may not know, October is Bullying Prevention Month across our great nation.  This is a time when communities across the country work together to inspire everyone to unite for kindness, acceptance, and inclusion.  The Gorham Schools has participated in this initiative for several years now during the month of October and this year is no different.  All of our schools have been sponsoring various activities and other learning opportunities focused on Kindness.  I could share lots of stories to provide an example around this, but the one I'd like to share is one that came from our very own students at GHS.  Our football team came up with an idea of their very own, without prompting by teachers or any other adults to honor the kindness of their teachers over the years.  Each member of the football team selected a teacher at GHS to honor by giving them their own (clean) football Jersey for a day.  Each student had to go to a teacher who they thought inspired them to be a great student.  They had to ask the teacher if they would wear the jersey on game day and they had to invite the teacher to come to the game and cheer them on.  I heard stories of football players talking about which teachers they wanted to invite, practicing what they would say with one another, and then drawing the courage to go up to the teacher to ask.  It was a huge success and shows just how much our students care about their school, their teachers, and each other as a team.  The teachers, as you might image were thrilled...and rightly so.  Below is a picture that was taken after the game showing the football players and their teachers together.



What a great night, and a great example of the incredible students, staff, and community we have here in Gorham. 

Are our schools without bullying?  No.  No school, no community, is without bullying...but we work hard to instill within our students a sense of community, a sense of what it means to put our five characters of Respect, Honesty, Courage, Compassion, and Responsibility together and to act on those understandings in the best interest of ourselves and of others we interact with.  We work with young children who are still learning what it means to be any of these five things...and sometimes there are times when we need to reinforce those values...but ultimately, through our system, I am very proud of the students we graduate from Gorham High School.  I am proud of their sense of community.  Their sense of themselves and the types of people they want to be, and their understanding of our Code of Conduct and how exhibiting those character traits will help them after their time here with us.  I am so very proud to be a Gorham Ram!


Here are some additional resources for parents who wish to talk with their children about bullying prevention and the importance of being kind to one another:

National Bullying Prevention Center
Not In Our Town - Building Inclusive Communities for All
US Department of Education Site:  Stop Bullying.gov
Stomp Out Bullying - Parent Page

I do have a couple of small items that I wanted to communicate to parents in addition to our focus on Bullying Prevention month.  I know it is hard to believe but it is getting closer and closer to having that white stuff we all love begin falling from the sky.  Because of this, I wanted to remind parents about how we communicate school cancellations, early dismissals, or late starts.  Communication regarding snow cancellations is always sent via our school messenger system.  We typically send an automated phone call, email, and text to parents on these days.  My typical routine is to make the call in the mornings by a little after 5:00 a.m.  I usually will send the automated message out by approximately 5:30 a.m. as to whether the school is canceled, or if we are going to have a 1 hour or 2-hour delay.  I sometimes run a little later than this on particularly difficult to judge days...but that is the usual routine.  If we are considering an early dismissal of students, we usually will make that call by 10:00 a.m.  In addition to the automated message, we post this information on our district Facebook page, twitter, and on our web page.  Finally, we also will make announcements over the local tv news and radio stations.  I will send a letter home to parents within the next few weeks to reiterate these points.

The final thing I wanted to mention in this blog is just a reminder to all parents regarding the importance of stopping for buses with their red lights flashing.  I am sharing this with all of you in hopes you might also share with other community members to help remind everyone of the importance of stopping for school buses who have their red lights flashing.  I was at the transportation garage the other day with all bus drivers and I asked them a question thinking I'd have just a few respond.  My question was this:  Since the beginning of school, how many of you have had cars pass you while you had your red lights flashing?  Every single one of the bus drivers in the room (which was all but a couple) raised their hands, shaking their heads as they did so.  We live in a busy world, where everyone is under a lot of pressure to get to where they need to be and to do about 10 things while they are getting there, but it is important to step back...plan that extra 5-10 minutes in the morning for those buses and make sure that we stop for school buses.  I have also shared this information with our local PD who will be making a special effort in communicating the importance of stopping for school buses as well over the next several weeks.  Whatever any of you can do to help in spreading this message - that would also be greatly appreciated.

Well, that's it for this month!  Next month I'll be sharing information on our GHS building project work among other topics!  As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out!  my email is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org. 

THANK YOU!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Updated Proficiency Based Learning Information for 2018-19

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and Have a Great Year!


















































Thursday, August 23, 2018

WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL!

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




Thursday, June 7, 2018

Final Proposed FY 19 School Budget Update

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

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

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


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

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

The summary figures for the finally approved budget then are:

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

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

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

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

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