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!