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 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!