Friday, May 17, 2019

K-5 Modular Expansion Project Update

Hard to believe it is already mid-May and we are just weeks away from the close of another incredible school year here in the Gorham Schools.  With the ending of another school year comes the whirlwind of events celebrating the accomplishments of our students, and the hard work that goes into helping students and families transition from one grade to the next and from one school to another. 

FY 20 Proposed Budget Quick "Plug"

Another "not so small" thing that occurs during this time of the year is our school budget approval process.  I am not going to spend a lot of time on this blog post regarding the FY 20 budget, only to say that it has passed the school committee by a vote of 6-1, we have had a very productive budget workshop meeting with the Town Council and it is ready to be voted on by the Town Council on June 4.  If you would like more details on our proposed budget, please visit our web page linked HERE where you can find all the details you can handle!  You can also review the "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) I've put together to communicate the essential pieces of our proposed FY 20 school budget.  Please review and don't forget to get out and VOTE on June 11th!  THANK YOU!

The Proposed K-5 Modular Expansion Project at Narragansett Elementary School

SOME CONTEXT FOR WHY WE ARE PROPOSING THIS PROJECT. . . As you know, we've been experiencing significant growth over the past four years, actually increasing by 155 students in grades K-5 alone between 2015 and this school year.  The School Committee has been working over the past 3 years to develop a comprehensive long term facilities strategy/plan to address not only the current growth but the continued projected growth of our K-12 populations here in Gorham.  You can see those projections by CLICKING HERE and you can review a "one-pager" (LINKED HERE) that I put together to explain the K-5 modular project and its need. 

In addition to our facilities needs at the K-5 levels, I'm sure most folks are also fairly familiar with the needs at our High School Level.  To be clear, we will NOT be bringing forward a $97,000,000.00 high school project to the voters as that figure is simply too high, but we are still left with figuring out what we will do to address the needs at this level as well.  Again, I've created a "one-pager" to try and communicate those needs that is LINKED HERE

I mention the potential high school project here in order to be clear that due to growth, the community of Gorham is likely going to need to find a way to support TWO capital projects (not one) which plays heavily into our long term planning strategy and is part of the reason why we are electing to do what we want to do with the K-5 modular expansion project.  We are operating under the very likely and well-educated assumption that we will NOT be eligible for state funding for two capital projects. Of the two projects we need, we are more likely to get state funding support for an Elementary capital project than we would be for a high school project (this would take me another 2 blog posts to explain, but please understand we have asked enough questions to believe this to be true).  Therefore, we are looking to position ourselves to locally fund the long term needs at the high school level and to position ourselves at the K-5 level to be approved for a state-funded project.

State-funded projects take time...often as many as 6-8 years from the time an application is even made, and unfortunately the state is likely not to have another application cycle for 2 more years.  Therefore, the project we are suggesting is what we are calling a "mid-range" solution to K-5 growth that will last us 10-15 years whereby at the end of that time frame we would be positioned to build a state-funded capital expansion that would be at least 85% paid for by the State of Maine.  This "mid-range" solution will cost approximately $2.8 million dollars (in FY 20) and another $2.8 million dollars in FY 23 or 24 (depending upon continued growth) but will ultimately save the community upwards of $25 million dollars for a long term solution.   Here's another way to see that same information for those of you that like spreadsheets.  The first spreadsheet illustrates anticipated costs associated with our proposed plan in order to get us from where we are to a true long term solution (a capital expansion at the K-5 level that would house all students anticipated):



Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $12,630,900.00.

The second spreadsheet illustrates for you the local costs that would be associated if we do not follow this plan, and instead look to do something different in phases like permanent construction at Narragansett in smaller chunks, or even possible renovation of another location with local funds.



Total local costs to get us to the long term solution in this illustration would be $38,543,976.00.

Again, these are illustrations only, so please don't get caught up in the specific dollar figures, but instead, try to focus on the relationships between costs for one plan vs. another.

The key to understanding the differences is that the modular expansion sets us up for an MDOE approved capital project within the next 10-15 years that would be at least 85% funded by the state, whereas other alternatives would place the burden of dealing with short, mid-range, and long term solutions on the backs of our local taxpayers entirely.

An Overview of the Long Range Plan

To make a long story short (I know, too late)...after several years of study, the school committee believes that the most efficient and cost-effective way to move forward and address our issues of growth is as follows:

1.  Maintain our existing K-5 elementary school structures.
2.  Create a "mid-range" expansion of Narragansett Elementary School (which is our largest site) by constructing "Phase I" (Blue part below) of the modular expansion plan during the course of the 2019-20 School Year.
3.  Complete "Phase I" (Blue) of the modular expansion by Spring of 2020.
4.  Spring/Summer of 2020 prepare parents and families for a K-5 attendance zone shift which will occur in order to open the 2020-21 school year.
5.  In Fall of 2020 shift K-5 attendance zones to allow for "room to grow" at Great Falls and Village Elementary Schools while shifting additional growth towards Narragansett Elementary School.  This will in effect create three K-5 schools of approximately the same size.
6.  By 2023-24 we may need to consider adding either all or parts of Phase II (Green) in order to address continued growth.  If we need to, we may at that point bond an additional modular expansion at a relatively similar cost to the first phase. The orange below only illustrates that if our enrollment projections are higher than anticipated, we could simply continue to add on at relatively small costs.
7.  By 2026 we need to have figured out what to do at GHS as it is in this year that growth will reach almost 900 students.
8.  Address GHS building needs by 2026 at a local cost of ????
9.  By 2028-29 be prepared for MDOE supported capital expansion at the K-5 level.


K-5 Attendance Zone Changes Proposed for 2020-21

As you have probably noticed, the proposal for this much needed modular expansion project comes with one other important piece of information.  A change to our current attendance zones for 2020-2021.  I am sure I can hear the collective groan (or possible scream) from parents from here and for that I truly do apologize.  NO ONE enjoys shifting attendance zones...however from time to time it is a necessity and we have reached that time in Gorham's growth that we must consider this.

The reason is that in order to make this a true 10-15 year "fix" for our growth issues, we not only need to expand at Narragansett and shift growth in that direction, but we need to provide some room to grow at the other two schools as well (that are both full).  Since both schools are currently full, the only way to do that is to shift attendance zones.

Now, we all knew this was coming (at least those parents of K-5 students who followed with intent our earlier discussions from 2 years ago regarding the possibility of changing our elementary school configurations).  Our attendance zones have not been adjusted since we originally opened Great Falls Elementary School and with the growth that has occurred, well it clearly hasn't been "evenly spread" across all three attendance zones.

We need to shift our zones so that we can provide more space at Great Falls and Village to continue to grow while also shifting the majority of continued projected growth towards Narragansett.  Our transportation Director (who by the way was the mastermind behind the last attendance zone work that didn't have to change for 10 years - which is incredible) has been hard at work trying to figure out where our new lines should go to create the spaces we need at Great Falls and Village while also encompassing the "hot spots" where we think growth will be at the highest in the future. 

Once the referendum is passed, we will work to get this information to parents as quickly as possible during the 2019-20 school year and communicate that effectively to parents throughout that year so that we are ready to make the shift for the 2020-21 school year, and hopefully NOT have to do it again for another 10 years!

A Frequently Asked Question or Two

This is already a long blog post (once again sorry)... but I did want to address at least one or two of the most frequently asked questions I get from parents and community members. 

Question #1- Why modulars?  Why can't we take that same (or likely a little more $) and sink it into an already existing building like the Little Falls Recreation Center and update that instead? 

Answer #1 - A valid question for sure as it seems that would make at least some sense...but when you lift up the layers of the onion a little more, you begin to see why it would actually be more costly to go this route.

Let's take Little Falls as an example (as its the one I hear the most).  There are currently 6 viable classroom spaces at Little Falls with some other auxiliary spaces.  So the first problem is space.  With 6 classrooms, you can fit approximately 120 students (avg. of 20 per classroom).  A single grade in Gorham right now has an average population of 215 students at the K-5 level.  That means you couldn't fit a whole grade into the school.  This means that you would have to have part of a grade there and the rest of it spread out across the other 3 schools.  Although this would be a bit of a nightmare to figure out with attendance zones, we could likely overcome that hurdle, but by doing so we are creating other consequences such as significantly increasing staffing costs. 

We would now need to split grades across another building.  This would force us to add staffing for allied arts such as Art, Music, PE, and for other support services important to our programs such as for PT, OT, Speech, Social Workers, etc.  We would need an additional administrator, school secretary, another school nurse, and these are just the quick things I can think of off the top of my head.  There would be increased costs for travel for these positions as one small school would not warrant full-time employees in these areas.  Then we would also have to add a cafeteria with cafeteria workers as we would be required to serve both breakfast and lunch to these students.  Then in order to make this work, we'd need to increase more bus routes, add drivers, and we would also need to clean an additional facility which would add costs for maintenance and custodial services. 

In other words, the staffing needs that would be created and would need to exist for the long term would far outweigh the initial upfront costs of the modular expansion where we wouldn't need to add as many staff (I say "as many" because with increasing populations, you will need to add staff...just wouldn't be as many as what you would do if you separate things out into another school). 

Of course, not to mention that if we were really considering Little Falls, we would also displace many senior-oriented programs that are very vested in that building, which is no one's intention.

Question #2:  What kind of modulars are we talking here?  Are these the same things we had 10 years ago?

Answer #2:  NO.  The modulars we are proposing will be connected to the school and to each other.  They will be secure facilities.  They will have access to bathrooms, technology, phones, etc.  All life safety codes such as sprinklers, etc. will be met.  Students will not have to go outside to get to them.  They will truly be connected and built in such a way as to last 10-15 years where previous modulars were put in place for 2-3 year short term fixes.  I am actually making a video to demonstrate this with Georgia at GOCAT and will send the link out as soon as it is completed.

Question #3:  What are the implications if we DO NOT approve this referendum?

Answer #3:  Our student populations are increasing and we are officially out of room at our existing K-5 schools as of next year (2019-20).  If we don't approve of this, we will likely need to add a modular at Great Falls and one at Narragansett in 2020-21 and then keep "piece-mealing" modulars at all three schools at a much greater cost due to inefficiencies of 3 separate sites.  The likelihood is also high that we would have to increase class sizes at the K-5 level to fit more students into the same existing spaces.

Question #4:  Why now?  Can't we wait another year or two?

Answer #4:  Unfortunately, we are out of room now at the elementary schools.  We are cobbling together a few more adjustments for 2019-20, but by 2020-21 we will either have to have a plan ready or we will be increasing class sizes to accommodate student numbers. 

We have to approve the referendum now so that there is the appropriate time to do the site work and other work required to have the expansion operational by the 2020-21 school year.  You can see the timeline by CLICKING HERE.

I could keep going with Q&A but this post is already WAAAAAYYYY TOOOOO LOOOONNNGGG!  Rather than do that I would urge you to reach out to me individually with any questions you may have and I'd be more than happy to answer them.  My email is heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU!






Tuesday, April 16, 2019

FY 20 Proposed School Budget Approved by School Committee! On to Town Council!

I wanted to take a quick moment to share an update with folks on the FY 20 Proposed Gorham School Department Budget since we've had some recent changes since my last blog update that impact the overall proposal.

Newly Approved FY 20 Proposed School Budget:

On Wednesday, April 10, 2019 the Gorham School Committee voted 6-1 to approve of the newly revised FY 20 Proposed School Budget.

The proposed FY 20 Budget now totals $41,010,533.00 and represents a 5.31% increase in expenditures over the final approved FY 19 budget of $38,942,505.00.  This proposed budget represents an 8.2% increase in local appropriation need, an overall increase of $1,642,126.00. Assuming General Purpose Aid (State GPA) is finalized at the proposed level, and the actual FY 20 property tax base increases by just $25,000,000.00, the impact of this budget on the mil rate is an estimated increase of 6.6% or $0.79 on the mil.  I fully anticipate that this mil impact will decrease as we get more up to date information from the Town on our tax base increases for FY 20.

The proposed budget is approximately $700,000.00 LESS THAN what I had shared with folks in my last blog. Since my last blog, the School Department received information that our health insurance premiums would remain unchanged for FY 20 (0% increase) which allowed us to reduce approximately $150,000.00 from the budget. Also since my last blog, significant changes were made to our proposed CIPS (Capital Improvement) budget. These changes are a little more complex, so I'll take a moment to explain...

Our originally proposed FY 20 CIPS budget included over $1 million in funds to pay for site work for a proposed modular expansion project at Narragansett Elementary School that is needed to address our increasing enrollments at the K-5 levels. The School Committee had been attempting to pay for the modular expansion solely from "regular budget" funds. Because of this, we had anticipated leasing modular spaces and paying for the site work from the originally proposed FY 20 CIPS budget. However, when we brought the necessary referendum question to the Town Council for approval to be placed on the June ballot, the Town Council voted 4-2 against allowing the referendum question to be placed on the June ballot, explaining that their preference seemed to be that they wanted this expansion to be bonded and for the modulars to be owned by the Town of Gorham vs. leased. We will be meeting with the Town Council jointly on April 26 at 6:30 p.m. to gain clarity on this piece, and to hopefully move forward with the modular expansion as a bonded project. In the meantime, however, it became clear that we no longer needed to place the site work and lease costs in the proposed FY 20 budget because we would either be bonding this project or we wouldn't be doing this project at all (I'll get into the implications of that in a minute). Because of this, we were able to adjust our proposed FY 20 budget and reduce another $560,000.00 from the proposal.

That's the simplified version of how we got to the proposed budget we are at....if you want to learn more, please visit our website LINKED HERE and you can see the original budget presented to the SC, you can watch videos of our budget workshops, and you can see the final proposed budget booklet in much more detail.

Overall, the School Committee and our district leadership team believe that this budget represents the funds necessary to continue to support the high-quality educational services we strive to provide for our community's most precious resource (its children) while balancing the needs of our taxpayers who support our schools.

A Little More On The Proposed K-5 Modular Expansion

I wanted to make sure folks understood a little more about the need for our K-5 Modular Expansion Proposal. PLEASE CLICK HERE to read more detailed information. Bottom line is this. If we don't move forward with this expansion project we will officially be out of classroom space in all 3 elementary schools at the end of the 2019-20 school year. This means that in order to address continued growth from that point forward, we would either need to increase class sizes (putting more students in the same number of classrooms) or we would need to add a modular at Great Falls and then another one at Narragansett and then another one at Village, and, and, and. This would be a haphazard and "piecemeal" approach. The preferred approach is to build on a modular expansion at Narragansett Elementary School in order to prepare for a shift in attendance zones to occur for the 2020-21 School Year. This shift would then direct most of the continued growth towards Narragansett Elem. while reducing some populations from Great Falls and Village giving them additional room to continue to grow. This preferred approach would be a 10-15 year "solution" that would set us up well to then construct a more permanent addition onto Narragansett Elementary School that could be, at least partially, funded by the state. This would provide the long term facilities vision we wish to achieve.

The School Committee will be meeting with the Town Council on April 29 at 6:30 p.m. for a workshop meeting to discuss how to best move forward to address these needs. I will update you once I hear more.

Last Days of School

I just received official word from the MDOE today that they have approved my request to "waive" the use of a school day as a community day due to Pooch's funeral services. I can now share the last day of schools calendar with parents. Here's the plan:

With this one day "waived" we used 6 snow days this year, 5 of which were already planned in our calendar. This means we must make up one full day of school. Because of this, the last student day will now be held on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. This last student day will be an early release-dismissal day. Teaching staff from across the district will then gather in the afternoon for our final luncheon and closing workshop, after which they too will be dismissed for the summer.

So, once again, the last student day will be on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, and students will be dismissed early on this day. If you have questions, please reach out to your school's principal. If you are interested in seeing the 2019-20 School Calendar to start planning for next year...please CLICK HERE.

As always, if you have ANY QUESTIONS regarding the budget (or anything for that matter)...please let me know. You can always reach me via email at heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

THANK YOU!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Proposed FY 20 School Budget Work Update

The Gorham School Committee will be voting on a proposed FY 20 School Budget at their regular meeting scheduled on April 10, 2019.  Although this is certainly not the last step in the budget approval process, it is an important one so I wanted to provide an update to parents regarding what is contained within the Proposed FY 20 Gorham School Budget at this time.  Here's a quick overview of the highlights of changes proposed at each school/program level:

Gorham High School:

The current proposed budget includes the addition of a 4/5 Health/PE teacher in order to accommodate for the large "bubble class" that is currently at the 9th-grade level.  The budget also includes the addition of a half time Educational Technician position in the learning lab. This position will be used to help provide support for students in the area of literacy and math at the grades 9-12 levels.

At one point there had been discussions of reducing positions in the alternative education program and 2-3 teaching positions, but after considerable conversation, these positions remain within the proposed budget.

Gorham Middle School:

The current proposed budget contains no substantial changes to positions or programs at Gorham Middle School at this time.

K-5 Schools:

The proposed budget currently includes the addition of a teaching position at Narragansett Elementary School.  This additional position will allow Narragansett to add a 4/5 classroom as well as maintain three grade 3 classrooms for the 2019-20 School Year.

The budget also currently adds one additional teacher to Great Falls Elementary School to account for a large third-grade classroom projected for next year.

Finally, the current proposed budget adds a new K-5 School Resource officer to be shared across our K-5 schools.  Currently, we have one SRO for GHS, and 1 more SRO that is shared between GMS and our three K-5 Schools.

Technology:

The proposed budget includes funds to purchase additional i-pads for Kindergarten classrooms.  The budget also includes funds to purchase additional Chromebooks to be placed on carts and used for students in grades 1-3 in order to provide enough working laptops for instruction and for testing.

Finally, the proposed budget holds off on purchasing new laptops for GHS students as they are still in extremely good working order.  The budget does add funds to account for a shift in shared services with the Town of Gorham who has decided to hire its own full-time technician as their technology needs grow.  This means we now need to fully fund our 32 hour a week position without shared costs with the Town for 2019-20.

School Nutrition:

The proposed budget includes $30,000.00 additional local dollars to fund our SNP program.  These funds will allow us to keep up with labor and supply costs (due to our increasing enrollments) as well as to begin trying to make continuous changes to our program to improve the quality of our meals.

Transportation:

The proposed budget includes funds to add two new buses and two new bus driver positions to our budget.  These positions are needed to address our increasing enrollments.  These positions will also allow us to adjust our existing routes to create "inter-zone" specific routes that will then eliminate the need for transfer buses for students traveling across attendance zones.  In essence, this will allow us to add 10 minutes on to the morning for K-5 students and 10 more minutes onto the afternoon for K-12 students without asking students to ride buses longer, get up earlier, or arrive home later each day.

Special Education:

The proposed budget includes two additional Ed. Tech. III positions to address increasing populations and decreasing federal fund allocations.

Facilities:

The proposed budget includes a Capital Improvements Budget addition of over $600,000.00.  These funds are needed to fund a modular expansion proposed at Narragansett Elementary School.  This modular expansion will be done in two phases in preparation to shift attendance zones for the 2020-21 School Year so that we will "funnel" all additional growth in Gorham at the K-5 levels towards Narragansett Elementary School.  The first phase of the project will be to fund three modular spaces and associated site work.  These three modular buildings will become home to 4 additional classrooms, one set of boys and girls bathrooms, and an electrical/plumbing/technology "closet" that will house the infrastructure needed to support continued additions.  Phase I will be completed during the course of the 2019-20 school year although no students will be in the modular spaces until the 2020-21 School Year.  Over the course of the spring and summer of 2020, we will then add three more modular spaces.  Of those three, two will be combined to create a new cafeteria space (eating space only...kitchen will remain where it is) and one will be added on to Phase I to add two more classrooms.  Overall then, when Phase I and II are combined in preparation for the 2020-21 school year we will have space for 6 additional classrooms and a cafeteria which will free up the gymnasium space for use with our physical education classes.

The funds associated with phase I of this expansion are currently within our regular proposed FY 20 CIPS budget so even though there will be a separate referendum question on this item in June (due to our town charter's requirement for a referendum on any individual project whose costs exceeds $250,000.00), the funds to pay for this project are intended to be within our proposed school budget and not bonded.

The Town Council will be discussing this referendum question at its meeting on Tuesday, April 2 of this week.

Overall ESTIMATED Impacts:

I underline the word "estimated" so that folks are clear lots of things can still change in this process.  The state could change our funding, the town could update its property tax base numbers, the School Committee could still reduce or add items to the proposed budget and the Town Council can still reduce or add items to the proposed budget.

But as of right now, March 31, 2019 the estimated impacts of the proposed FY 20 school budget are as follows:

*  This budget would represent an overall increase in expenditures of 6.87% or $2,674,665.00.   A large portion of these operating increases can be attributed to just maintenance of existing positions ($1 million) or increases to our CIPS budget ($600,000.00).

*  Assuming an increase in property tax base of $25 million, the proposed budget would increase the mil rate by 9.59% or $1.15 on the mil.


There are lots more details that are associated with this proposed budget...but hopefully, this summary provides good insights into the highlights.  Once the school committee approves the proposed budget on April 10, it will then be sent to the Town Council.  The Town Council will review and meet jointly with the School Committee on May 14th to learn the details of the proposed budget.  The Town Council will then vote on the proposed budget (and can make possible adjustments to the proposed budget) on June 4.  Whatever is approved on June 4 then goes to voters via referendum on June 11, 2019.

As always, if you have any questions regarding the proposed FY 20 School Budget, please ask!

Thank you!







Wednesday, March 13, 2019

GMS Upcoming Parent Event Focused on Bullying and Discrimination Prevention

As you may know, we have been very focused over the past year on working to strengthen our culture of kindness and compassion at GMS. We have some of the best students and the best staff in all of Cumberland County working at our Middle School for sure, but it is still a middle school of more than 630 complex and ever-changing adolescent students and therefore, this work is NEVER done. 

We continually endeavor to create the most positive cultures possible for our students and we will continue to work on this never completed canvas on behalf of our students!  Just over the course of the past year, we have done several things to specifically work to strengthen our practices in the areas of preventing bullying and discrimination behaviors through a focus on kindness and compassion. 

Specifically:

*  We have conducted rounds of individual meetings between administration and students of various ages and backgrounds to get a sense of their perspective on the existing culture and climate at GMS.

*  We have conducted specific training with all GMS staff (above and beyond the state required minimum) to review all bullying and discrimination policies and procedures with all staff so that all staff are well trained in how to appropriately respond to reports.

*  We have publicly reviewed all bullying policies and procedures with the Gorham School Committee so that the Gorham School Committee is clear and so that our public is better informed as to what these policies and procedures are and how they operate if a report occurs.

*  We have conducted specific training with GMS staff on:  "Spread the Word to End the Word", Adverse Childhood Experiences Training, Social Media Training, and Restorative Practices Training.

*  We have implemented additional "internal control" measures using google forms to ensure that if a report of bullying or discrimination occurs, it is recorded, communicated, investigated, and reported in a manner that meets all requirements of our policies and procedures.

*  We have re-vamped our discipline structure at GMS so that it is more consistently implemented across all grade levels and teams with restorative practices being a foundational approach whenever possible.

*  We have worked with "Sandy Hook Promise" to offer a program called "Start with Hello" to our students this past fall.  This program encourages students to reach out to one another, to be positive and encouraging, and to make sure no student is left on their own.

*  We have conducted digital citizenry assemblies for all students with follow up activities during advisory periods.

*  We continue to work to strengthen our advisory periods in order to continually promote daily opportunities for positive interactions between students and adults and between students and their peers.

*  We have conducted 7th grade Common Sense Media lessons on the topics of a digital footprint, bullying, discrimination, and other elements of digital citizenship.

*  Our Civil Rights Team has facilitated activities with advisory groups to help celebrate Black History Month, and Women's History Month as well as a "get to know each other" activities series where students in advisory classes asked questions of each other to find out who has what in common and then discussed those commonalities using a facilitated protocol.

*  We have worked with staff using materials from CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) to provide training to staff on trauma informed practices which is at the heart of understanding one another before making assumptions - a core component of kindness and compassion towards one another.

*  We have also used materials from CASEL as part of our advisory program to provide specific instruction to all students on how to manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships with their peers and make responsible decisions.

*  Our students participate in prevention-based curriculum from our social worker on emotional regulation strategies, self esteem, values, and peer pressure as well as suicide prevention over the course of each school year.

*  Our student support team sets up daily lunch meetings and other small group meetings for students to discuss student behavioral concerns and to problem solve relational issues between peers, often serving 80+ studentes each week in this one setting alone.

*  We continue to provide a full team of social and emotional support staff for our students including 1 guidance counselor, 1 social worker, and 1 substance abuse counselor who all meet with students 1:1 or in small groups whenever needed.

*  Most recently we had the whole school participate in an event called "Spread the Word to End the Word" (check out www.r-word.org to learn more), a program aimed at kindness and compassion, specifically towards those with special needs.

I am sharing this with all of you to let you know that we have been working hard with staff and students so far this year to make the words of "Kindness" and "Compassion" a part of every day vocabulary at GMS.  But while this work goes on (and will continue to go on)...issues in these areas are not just the school's alone to bear.  Making Kindness and Compassion a key part of our lives, and thereby working to stamp out bullying and discriminatory behavior in our schools and in our community is a community-wide endeavor and this important work must now begin to turn in that direction.

As a means to help start this community wide conversation, Gorham Middle School is planning to host the first of what we hope becomes a series of parent evenings to begin in the month of April.  We are working to bring in a renowned professional speaker to engage parents and families in this important discussion and to begin to open up this important conversation to our entire community.

We are finalizing dates now, but wanted to give everyone a heads up to be thinking about this and looking for the date/time when it is announced so that hopefully as many parents and their children as possible can attend.  Specific details should be forthcoming within the next few weeks.

As always, I do encourage parents/guardians to reach out to me if you have questions.  I also want to encourage parents/guardians who have ideas about how to broaden these important discussions within our community to please share those ideas.  Our intent will be to continue this focus, both internally and externally into the next school year and well beyond.

Thank you!

Monday, March 4, 2019

GHS Building Update, FY 20 Budget Development and more!

Wow, I can't believe that I haven't written since late January! Hard to believe we are already in March and hopefully this white stuff we are all growing tired of will soon be gone and the beautiful green of Maine's spring and summer will return.  I'm sure we are all looking forward to that!

Before I get into the "meat" of this post regarding FY 20 budget development and a quick update on the GHS building project, I just wanted to take a moment to send out a heartfelt THANK YOU to students, staff, and community members who pulled together in a very short period of time to celebrate the life of Officer Wayne (Pooch) Drown last week.  The lessons learned by those of our students attending the services were significant.  They watched as an entire community mourned the loss of an incredible person.  They watched community leaders show emotions they would otherwise never see. They watched folks cry and other folks support them in their grief.  They watched almost 2,500 people celebrate the life of service that Pooch personified.  They could see the very real positive impacts on others that service can have and what it truly means to be a member of a strong community.  Folks stepped up, and came together in incredible ways to make it all happen.  I don't know about anyone else, but after having been a part of that service, I feel an extremely strong sense of pride in being able to serve this incredible community, and I just wanted to say THANK YOU to those that helped celebrate Pooch and all that his life stood for.



Now on to my updates. . .

Proposed FY 20 Budget Development Update:

Of course with spring, comes school budget development season!  As is the case every year, the months of March, April and May are the intense times that our administrative team works closely with the School Committee and then later with the Town Council to develop a budget for the coming school year that does its best to balance the needs of our children with the needs of the taxpayers who we ask annually to support our incredible schools. 

As you all know, in recent years we have had increasing costs to support our increasing student populations here in Gorham.  We have worked hard to balance these costs with our community's ability to support our schools and continue to work hard to do so. 

This year, the Gorham School Committee instructed me to start our budget development process a little differently than in the past.  This year, they provided a "target" overall expenditure increase number and asked that in the budget development process, I present to them a budget that met that target.  The target that was set was an operational increase of just 2.75% over FY 19.  In order to hit this mark, that means that I could only propose an increased budget of a little over $1 million dollars in operational expenses for FY 20.  When one understands that it costs us just under $1 million to simply "roll forward" our existing staff and programs for students it provides the context to understand that in order for our administrative team to hit that target, we had to propose significant reductions to the initial proposed FY 20 budget.

The budget that was presented to the Gorham School Committee on Feb. 13, 2019 represents an operational expenditure increase of 2.72% over FY 19 with an overall expenditure increase (including Adult Education & a summer benefits reserve amount) of 3.22%.  At the time that the budget was presented to the School Committee we had not yet received initial state subsidy amounts so we simply used FY 19's numbers on the revenue side to fill in those blanks.  Therefore, as the School Committee was advised - YOU SHOULD NOT LOOK AT THE REVENUE SIDE YET as it is not accurate!  Those numbers will fill out more accurately as we move through the budget approval process.  If you want to see the details of our initially proposed School Budget, you can check out the 270+ page budget booklet that presented to the School on February 13, 2019 by CLICKING HERE and for a little more "context" you can check out the slide presentation shared with the School Committee on Feb. 13, 2019 by CLICKING HERE.   If you are looking for a summary list of all proposed additions, you should go to digital pages 24 and 25 of the budget booklet (or hard copy page 21 & 22)  and if you want to see a summary list of all proposed reductions, you should go to the digital pages 48 and 49 of the budget booklet (or hard copy page 44 & 45).

Since that original presentation, the School Committee has been asked to read the 270+ page proposed budget booklet.  They have asked questions and the administrative team has provided answers that can be reviewed by CLICKING HERE.  They have also held a full day budget workshop meeting this past Saturday where they have reviewed additional information and where they dove more deeply into the details and implications for all proposed additions and reductions to the budget.  They have developed a system of discussions and "straw poll" tentative agreements or TA's that allows for every School Committee member to ask questions of the administrative team and to voice their opinions regarding each proposed addition or reduction prior to making decisions to keep items out, add items in, or bring items from the proposed reductions list back into the proposed budget.  School Committee members may also suggest their own ideas on additions or reductions.  The March 2nd full day meeting was just the beginning.  There are 4 more budget workshop meetings scheduled.  Those are (starting at 7:00 p.m. and held at Central Office) scheduled for:

*  March 11, 2019
*  March 18, 2019
*  March 25, 2019
*  April 1, 2019

These meetings are open to the public to attend, although public comments will not be accepted.  It is during these budget workshop meetings that the originally proposed FY 20 Superintendent's Budget becomes the proposed FY 20 School Committee budget.  It is this budget that will be approved by the School Committee on April 10, 2019 and then sent to the Town Council for their approval and from there to the residents of Gorham in the form of the validation referendum vote scheduled for June 11, 2019.

So this is already a long blog post with just the budget to focus on...but I did want to also take a minute to share a little information on the GHS Building Project Discussion...

GHS Building Project Update:

If you haven't already done so, please check out our UPDATED GHS Building Project Website which you can view by CLICKING HERE.  This site is absolutely stuffed with incredibly detailed information to help the public stay up to date on our work!  The only thing missing is an updated Q&A section, which I am working on right now so should soon be up and operational.

Once you have reviewed this site - WHICH I STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO - please also be sure to participate in a very important "Thought Exchange" Survey which will help guide the next phase of work with the GHS building committee.  You can participate in the thought exchange survey by CLICKING HERE.

Next big items for the public to be aware of are:

*  Presentation of the first INITIAL estimate of project costs to GHS Building Committee - March 12, 2019

*  Presentation of the first INITIAL estimate of project costs to Gorham School Committee - March 13, 2019

*  Presentation of the first INITIAL estimate of project costs to Gorham Town Council - March 19, 2019

*  Public Forum #2 held at GHS - March 26, 2019

*  Traffic Engineering Study - Conducted over the course of March and early April, 2019

*  "Hard Launch" of the "Gorham Pride" Athletic Capital Campaign - by end of March, 2019.

There is much more detailed information on the website...so please check it out...and also please know that that website will be where we archive all information pertaining to this project.  We have agendas and notes from all meetings, we have results from feedback on surveys and public forums, etc.  We are working hard to make this as transparent a process for our community as possible...and as always - IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME!  I have already heard significant amounts of misinformation out there in the community regarding this project...I'd much prefer people ask questions of me so I can provide accurate information to folks!

Well, that's a long enough blog post for now!  More to come!  Please stay tuned!

THANK YOU!






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!  ☺