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 ( or assistant superintendent Dr. Chris Record ( 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!