Friday, February 18, 2022

Feb. 18 Blog Update

Happy Friday to everyone and best wishes for a positive beginning to your February breaks!  By the time we return, February will be pretty much a thing of the past and we'll be quickly on to March already!  The School year is certainly flying by and even with our challenges, we certainly have much to celebrate!  As usual, I'll begin this blog with a "snapshot" of our students doing what they do best - learning!  And oh, by the way - having fun while doing it!

These nine photos each blog post are truly just a snapshot of what occurs in our schools daily.  I remain so very proud to walk through our schools and to see the incredible learning that is going on in our classrooms.  I look forward to continuing my walk-abouts after the February break!  Now on to the information update...


I've seen some recent "chatter" in social media land regarding our initial (and still very much ongoing) discussions about the 2022-23 school calendar.  The first draft of the calendar was presented to the School Committee on Wed. night, 2/16 for their very first look to begin our annual discussions.  What is likely getting folks' attention this year a bit more than in years past is that our first draft calendar is requesting that we move to having Early Release Days each Wednesday throughout the School Year.  This request would move us from our current 8 Early Release days that are typical each year to a new number of 36 Early Release Days. 

The biggest reason for this initial request is NOT THE SAME as why we have requested additional early release days this school year.  This school year was all about substitute coverage and basically just working to make the school year manageable for our teachers.  Due to our incredible community members stepping up to the plate, we have worked hard to resolve this issue (at least for now) and have moved from what was just 25 substitutes on our roles to now a new of 88 substitutes.  An incredible job for sure, and we thank our new substitutes for helping us to begin to lift a significant burden from the plates of our teachers!

The reason for the early release request for THIS COMING YEAR is NOT about substitutes.  Instead, it is about the need for PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TIME for our teachers in areas (to be frank) that we have had to neglect a bit in order to simply be present for our students during this most difficult school year.  

If there is one thing we have learned throughout the Pandemic it is that we need time with teachers to train them if we are going to ask them to do things differently.  We can’t ask them to “do more” without finding a way to “increase time” to do it.  For this coming year, we are greatly concerned about our ability to do all that will be asked of us, again, without additional time for our school and district leaders to work with staff in real time.  We will continue to experience the following challenges in the coming year:

* Addressing academic learning gaps of students created by the Pandemic.

* Significant increase in mental health and SEL (Social/Emotional Learning) needs of students created by Pandemic. We need to continue to increase the capacity of our staff to work with students through aspects of Trauma Informed Teaching and Learning, as well as Restorative Practices.  This requires significant and ongoing professional development opportunities and time for staff.  This will begin to expand Tier 1 Social Emotional interventions made possible by regular ed staff members in an effort to lighten or “diffuse” the increased needs of students that is currently landing on our affective services support staff at each school such as social workers, school counselors and other support services providers.

* Significant increase in mental health and SEL (Social/Emotional Learning) needs of staff created by the Pandemic.  We need to address concerns related to “the Great Resignations'' that we see beginning to happen across schools even right here in Gorham by:

- Making the job more “doable” for our teachers
- Providing more support to our youngest teachers by bolstering our induction and retention programs.
- Providing time for us to support our support staff - i.e. training time needed for learning facilitator program, training time needed to onboard new bus drivers, etc.

* All this while still also trying to push our district forward in other important areas such as:

- DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) work (training, curriculum review, implementation of new practices, etc.)
- SEL (Social/Emotional Learning)work (training and assessment of effectiveness of programs using data).
- Aspire Gorham (continued emphasis on embedding programs into existing curriculum, coordination of programming, strengthening “out of school” or extended learning opportunities (ELO’s), and strengthening partnerships for things like apprentice programs, internship programs, etc. with a focus on ensuring all students K-12 have embedded "real world" learning experiences into their regular learning.

All of this work takes time, precious, precious time.  We can’t add days to the calendar without significant financial impact so we must get this additional work done within our existing calendar.  The only real way to do that is to add additional early release days.

Now, will we wind up with a school calendar that has an early release day each Wednesday? Perhaps, but perhaps not. We are still very early in our discussions which will include administration presenting additional details and information to the School Committee and the School Committee asking lots and lots of additional questions and ultimately deciding upon what is that best balance moving forward.

I hope you have heard the word "balance" before. It is an important word that we have been focused on here in Gorham as we have worked through the past two years of a global Pandemic TOGETHER. We know and understand the burden that early release days or other non-school days place upon our families. We also understand that when we have early release days that that reduces overall instruction time for students. What we seek when we consider these changes is to find that all important BALANCE between minimizing these potential negative impacts while maximizing the potential positive impacts. Yes, for each early release day there is a reduction of about 2 hours of instruction time. HOWEVER, there is also an increase of 2 hours of professional development time for teachers that we use to strengthen our overall practices and to focus in on better meeting the needs of our children. Yes, we want our children's needs met, and we want to move our schools forward to be the best possible schools they can be to support our children but we can't do that without our incredibly talented staff feeling confident in what they are doing or honoring the time they need to learn new skills to help make these moves.

I have full faith that with continued conversation about our proposed calendar for 2022-23 we will wind up with that correct balance for our community. The School Committee will be meeting again to discuss the 2022-23 School Calendar at their March 9 regular meeting. I would encourage folks to please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions with me, or with School Committee members via email and/or to come to the meeting on March 9 to share your thoughts during public comment. The Gorham School Committee ALWAYS welcomes the thoughts and ideas from our community. It is the sharing of these thoughts/ideas that make us the strong community that we are!

My email address is: You can find our School Committee member's email addresses on our website or by CLICKING HERE. Please address emails to the School Committee to School Committee Chair, Anne Schools and know that although you may only get a response from one of us, all School Committee members read your emails.



On Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2022 the Dr. Shah and the Maine CDC announced an initial change in our SOP that may likely pave the path towards optional masking by mid March. As you are likely aware, the conversation about masking has once again heated up across our country. Recently some New England states have moved from mandatory masking policies to recommended masking policies. Some states such as Vermont are looking to make masking optional based upon specific metrics such as community vaccination rates or case rates while others are simply looking to drop the mandate and make masking optional without any additional requirements. These decisions are being made state by state and Maine is no different than others in wrestling with this difficult question.

On that same day (Feb. 16) Dr. Shah met with Superintendents from across the state to share information and to hear from us what we are seeing on the ground and what our ideas are for moving forward. Dr. Shah was very receptive and open to these discussions. At the conclusion of the meeting, The Maine CDC announced it would release guidance around mask wearing in schools.

The following guidance was discussed, and it was determined that required masking in schools will be in place for at least a week following the end of February break. The guidance says:


  1. Maine CDC is expanding access and encouraging all families to take advantage of the free test kits that are available to Maine families. Testing before returning to school after the vacation is recommended. Further information on how to get testing kits mailed to homes will be provided.
  2. Contact tracing will be uncoupled from universal masking in the SOP. The SOP document will make it clear that while schools can opt to continue contact tracing, they are no longer required to, regardless of mask wearing policies.
  3. Masking will remain a requirement in the SOP for any positive cases of COVID-19 returning to school/work in the 5-10 day window after confirmed diagnosis or symptom onset.
  4. Maine CDC is carefully monitoring federal CDC’s words on making changes to masking recommendations for school settings. In the event that there are no changes next week, and if there is a continued positive trend related to COVID case counts in Maine, CDC will begin Maine specific conversations that could establish plans for moving toward a masking optional recommendation for schools.
  5. It should be noted that the federal transportation requirement for masks is currently in effect until March 18, including for school buses. Any changes to this timeline would have to come from federal CDC.
  6. At this time, pooled testing will continue to be supported by the state.

You can get your free test kits by CLICKING HERE (and yes, this one works - I tried it)!

So What does all this mean?  Let me break it down for you...

FIRST - the Maine CDC continues to follow the federal CDC to recommend masking remain in place in public schools, at least until after the February break.  At that time, during the first and second week in March the Maine CDC will be tracking the data and meeting with School Superintendents.  As long as data indicates it is safe to do so they will likely make a recommendation to allow schools to move to optional masking by the mid part of March. 

TO BE CLEAR - THE GORHAM SCHOOLS WILL CONTINUE TO FOLLOW MAINE CDC RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIVERSAL MASKING UNTIL SUCH A TIME AS THEY CHANGE THOSE RECOMMENDATIONS THROUGH THE SOP.  I know it's been a long two years, but we have followed these recommendations from the beginning and it has served us well so we will continue to do so.  I fully expect the Maine CDC to adjust the SOP sometime in mid March based on data.

SECOND - it is important to note that they will be tracking data to help make this determination.  If you want to do something to help make sure this change can occur, I'd STRONGLY ENCOURAGE YOU to reach out to the free testing site or use other resources available to you to test your students on Saturday or Sunday before they return to school on Monday.  There will be lots of opportunities for exposures to take place over the February break, and the more we can keep these potential exposures from spreading when school reopens after the break the better our data will look!  So once again, we'd strongly encourage folks to use a home test kit to test children before returning to school on Feb. 28.

THIRD - Assuming data looks good and the Maine CDC adjusts its SOP to make masking optional in our schools by mid March, we will need to have a School Committee meeting to make that final determination.  We will be prepared to hold a special meeting if necessary to make that adjustment as quickly as possible.  The Gorham School Department has always followed Maine CDC recommendations, so if those recommendations change, we will act quickly to align practices to the adjusted SOP.

FOURTH - Just because masking MAY become optional by the end of March does not mean our schools will drop all other safety protocols.  Our main goal has been and will continue to be ensuring the safety of our students.  As has been the case from the beginning, we have utilized a layered safety approach and we will continue to do so.  IF/When this change occurs, masking will still be optional so that anyone that wishes to wear a mask may do so without fear of ridicule.  Our Code of Conduct will be followed.  We will also continue to emphasize hand sanitization/washing protocols.  We will continue to ensure our air exchange and ventilation systems across our buildings meets requirements set by the state.  We will continue to encourage physical distancing when possible, we will continue to utilize air purification systems in our cafeterias and we will continue to encourage outdoor learning experiences whenever Maine's weather permits.

OVERALL - We realize that whatever happens after the break, whether the Maine CDC moves to optional masking or not - there will be folks that are "happy" about that and folks that are perhaps even a little "fearful" about that.  This has been a long two years with emotions running high in all kinds of directions.  With a significant potential change on the horizon, it is normal to feel all kinds of emotions.  I would urge people to step back and pause.  To think about how we have navigated these difficult times TOGETHER since March of 2020.  Since that time we have followed Maine CDC recommendations.  We have worked to ensure a layered strategy is in place to make sure our community and our children are safe.  We will continue to do so.  Two years ago we didn't have vaccinations.  We didn't have widespread access to testing.  We were just learning about the importance of physical distancing and proper air ventilation.  We now have far more tools to keep our children and our community safe than we ever have and if the Maine CDC makes a move to making masking optional in our schools after the February break, those tools will still exist.

We would encourage continued patience and vigilance as we move closer towards making this Pandemic an Endemic here in Maine.  We will continue to keep you informed every step of the way as new information comes out and, as always, encourage you to reach out with your questions directly.


Over the past few weeks you have gotten individual email messages from me regarding lead water testing results in our schools.  The State of Maine now requires that all schools in Maine test their water annually for lead and report said results to the public.  At this time, we have received back all first round testing results for our schools and have communicated those to you directly.  These results include clearly outlined action steps and timelines for mitigation strategies if any of our results were higher than the state benchmark.  

You can find all testing results with these outlined plans on our district website.  Please go to and then scroll down under news and announcements to the link with our Lead Testing results.  Click there and you can view all information for all five schools.  We will keep this information updated as some of our schools will require additional rounds of testing.

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our Facilities Director, Norm Justice at

Read Across America day will be upon us after the break.  This year it falls on Wed. March 2, 2022.  Many of our schools will be celebrating the joys of reading throughout the whole week and we encourage our families to do the same!  What can you do as a parent to add to the fun?  Here are some ideas from some parenting sites across the internet:

Parents can check out the Read Across America Website by CLICKING HERE.  And you can check out our Diverse Books Read Aloud Classroom space created by our very own teachers for some ideas on Diverse book selections too by CLICKING HERE.  

Whatever you do, big or small...the point of this day is to just have fun reading!  So, whatever you do - make it fun and have a great time with your children and books - and know we'll be doing the same in our schools!


Our Aspire Gorham Newsletter is ready to view!  Check it out!  Lots of great information and some details on our Baxter Library partnership called our "Little Learners" project.  Bet you didn't know we partnered with Baxter Memorial Library for this awesome program!  Read the newsletter to learn more!  Here's the link!


Check out the information below for dates and times:

Art for the flyer above was done by 9th grader Alauna Worden.  NICE JOB!  See you at the play!


Looking for something to do near the end of the February break?  Check out this event hosted by the Gorham Outdoors Club - a snow hold biathalon!  Sounds cool...what is it.  Check the link below to learn more and to sign up to participate!


Just thought I'd share this great resource from the state of Maine for winter activities across the state that might be of interest to folks as we launch into the February break...check out the link below to see some of what our great state has to offer!

That's it for this blog, other than a reminder that once we return from break, things will begin to "heat up" for spring activities.  We have our Kindergarten Parent night on March 1, we have our 9th grade family night on March 2, and much much more!  Best place to keep up with all the activities is on our website (  Once there you can click on each school to view their calendar of events!  

I wish you all the best and will blog again on March 4!  And between now and's a little food for thought:

Let's make sure we don't forget to have some fun and play whenever the opportunity arises!  Its good for our brains and its good for our souls! Have a great break!

Friday, February 4, 2022

February 4, 2022 Blog Post

February already!  Wow...this year is flying by.  Unfortunately according to Phil the groundhog, looks like we have another 6 weeks of winter in our future...but something tells me our students don't mind the thought of more winter fun in the snow.  Ah, the days of youth when snow was ALWAYS a good thing!  Not sure we can say that now as adults and that is likely OUR LOSS !

As per usual, I want to start this blog post off by sharing some images showing our students and our staff in their "elements" having fun while learning across our schools!  Check it out!

Now on to the information and updates...


A few months ago in my Dec. 3 blog post, I provided a quick update on the work of our Anti-Racism and Equity Committee.  In this blog I wanted to provide an update to that post that I hope continues to demonstrate our district's commitment to this important work now and well into the future.

As a quick reminder, the Dec. 3 blog post included a link to a summary document outlining work accomplished thus far, which at that time went through September, 2021.  You can review that document by CLICKING HERE.  Since then, we have continued this important work in the following ways:

*. School Based D.E.I. leadership teams (or what we call our Intercultural Leadership Cohorts or ILC's) continue to meet at least monthly with leadership and facilitation provided by Maine Intercultural Communications Consultants.  The major purpose of these school based groups is to build capacity and understanding for staff around issues of D.E.I. such that these staff members can then serve as respective resources in their schools and assist in driving the daily learning, understandings, and aligned activities of the school around this topic.  Basically their job is to work to integrate these important conversations into the very fabric of each school's culture.  No small task indeed, but great progress is being made!

* Phase II curriculum audit work continues in the area of social studies across grades K-12.  This work digs more deeply into the content area of social studies in order to determine what strengths exist in our current curriculum and what areas may need to be strengthened in our curriculum using the lens of D.E.I.  Most recently, we have engaged the consulting services of Lawrence Alexander to assist our curriculum committees in this important work.  Our goal is to have a specific list of recommendations brought to the Teaching & Learning Committee for approval and hopeful implementation to begin in the Fall of 2022.  

*. Just before the Holiday break significant work was done to purchase additional diverse children's literature across grades K-5 to be added to our school's libraries and classrooms for use by classroom teachers and our students.  These books were selected by teachers to ensure we could strengthen the diverse themes and stories in our libraries.  Emphasis was placed on ensuring the characters in these stories better reflected the diversity and experiences of our student populations across our schools.  

*. We are working to expand our diversity hiring practices.  We will be working with Lawerence Alexander to provide specific training to members of our district leadership teams on diverse hiring practices in March.  We also hope to post an updated equity statement for our website, and place additional materials on our district website to highlight our commitment to diverse hiring practices, diverse recruitment and retention practices.  Additionally, we are seeking to post positions in ways that encourage more diverse applicants moving forward.  These are small steps that we hope will lead to bigger outcomes to strengthen our overall D.E.I. work. 

*. We have recently engaged the services of Lawrence Alexander to assist us in the development of a specific training for students and staff across grades 6-12 on the topic of Micro-aggressions later this spring.

*. Our Anti-Racism and Equity Committee continue to meet on a regular basis to help steer this work and generate ideas for how best to move forward.  You can follow this group's meetings by CLICKING HERE.

Please know this is NOT an all inclusive list of the things going on in our schools focused on the topic of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  These are just highlights of the ongoing work of our district to meet the vision outlined in our district's policy, which states:

Please stay tuned...more great work is yet to come!


Over the past year+ the Gorham Schools, in collaboration with the Town of Gorham has been working with CHA Architects to complete a comprehensive facilities study.  Last month this study was presented to both the Town Council and the Gorham School Committee in a Joint meeting.  The full report is still being finalized and I will share that once it is received, but I thought folks might at least be interested in seeing the slide presentation that was shared as it provides a really nice overview of information.

CLICK HERE to view the slide presentation.

Next steps in this important work are for the Joint facilities committees of the Town and the School Department to meet and begin to "dig in" to develop a prioritized list of capital projects over the next 10-15 years that we will work together to try and tackle.  As always, if you have questions, just reach out and ask! 


The Gorham Schools will be hosting a series of THREE open community forums to assist us in informing the development of our next 3-5 year Strategic Plan.  You can view our old Strategic Plan by CLICKING HERE.  This plan was created to move our district forward in meeting our Mission/Vision back in 2018 and is up for renewal.  WE NEED YOUR VOICE to make sure we are moving our schools forward to best serve our children and our community as a whole.  

Two of the three public forums will be virtual and one will be in person for folks that prefer that more personal touch.  Each forum will last 1 hour and is open to all parents/guardians and Gorham community members.  Dates and zoom links are below...WOULD LOVE TO SEE YOU THERE!

-  Monday Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. (VIA ZOOM)

Join Zoom Meeting Meeting ID: 879 4038 9839 Passcode: 085975

-  Tuesday, Feb. 8 at 6:30 p.m. (VIA ZOOM)

Join Zoom Meeting Meeting ID: 886 2318 5288 Passcode: 340960

- Thursday, Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m. (IN PERSON)
Location: Gorham High School, back of MPAC.


Maine Schools are now required to test their water for lead contamination on an annual basis regardless of where the water is sourced from.  All of our schools are on town water, but as anyone knows, it isn't just about the water source with lead contamination, it can also be about pipes and fixtures.  This is the intent of this new law, to ensure we are addressing all these possible areas of lead contamination in our water supply.

As a result, you will be getting a series of emails from me over the course of the next few weeks with the specific results of our lead testing across all five schools.  In these notices, you will find the detailed lab test report, a summary of findings, and if specific mitigation strategies are required, an outline of what those specific mitigation strategies may be.

If you happen to miss an email, don't can ALWAYS go to our website and click on the link located right on the front page under "News & Announcements" to check out all information posted to date regarding each school's test results.  You can also CLICK HERE to view.

Please know we take the safety of our water supply very seriously here in Gorham and if any concerns are detected, prompt action will be taken to mitigate and ensure our students are not exposed to lead in our water supply.


Just a quick reminder of our overall plans for snow days this year in Gorham.  We have five snow days built into our calendar.  With those five days built in, we plan on the last student day of the year to be the 15th of June.  

So far, including today, we have used three snow days, which gives us two more to use.  We will continue to use snow days in a traditional manner until we use all five of our planned snow days.  If we go over the five planned snow days, any further snow days will move from "traditional" snow days to "remote learning" snow days so that we do not extend the end of the school year beyond June 15th.

What does this mean?  It means we have two more traditional snow days to use and then if we need to cancel school for inclement weather after that (which may or may not happen) we would move to remote learning days.  Our hope is that this plan balances that we want our students to still experience the traditional snow day, while also making sure our summer vacations begin on time as we know many families make travel plans, etc. around our school calendar.

As always, any questions, please ask...and in the meantime - ENJOY YOUR SNOW DAY!


Just wanted to share a quick congratulations to our very own Stephanie Nichols, teacher at Narragansett Elementary School, who was recently elected to serve as a Board member on the NATIONAL Social Studies Council!  Check out the LINK HERE (scroll down just a bit)...and be sure to congratulate her if you see her around!  A well deserved honor indeed!  GO RAMS!


CLICK HERE for the flyer information with active links.  Then mark your calendars for March 1 if you are a parent of an incoming K student for the 2022-23 school year!  We can't wait to have you join the Gorham Schools Family!


So I was talking to my Superintendent colleagues the other day across Cumberland County about staffing issues that we are currently facing.  Gorham is not alone in facing these difficulties.  Although in most cases we are fairing better than our neighbors - the challenge is still very much present and one that concerns me now and into the coming year's hiring cycles.

Just the other day I did a quick calculation and we have 41 teachers in our district who are eligible to retire THIS YEAR!  Now, thankfully, not all of them will retire (WE LOVE OUR TEACHERS)...but the fact of the matter is that eventually they will, and we will need to fill these positions.  In the past we'd often get 100-150 applications for classroom teaching positions.  In the past few years, we were very happy to get 20-25 applicants.  Couple the challenge of upcoming retirements with the current trend called "the Great Resignation"...and well - you can see why I was talking about staffing with my colleagues and trying to better understand what keeps folks in their positions, what helps to recruit new folks, and what prevents issues of burnout among our staff.

As I was scrolling around recent articles and blog posts on these topics, I came across this most interesting article written from the perspective of a military veteran sharing their thoughts on why employees might be leaving their positions - not just in education, but more broadly.  I read the article and thought immediately to myself what a wonderful job this military veteran did in putting some real context into what may be going on in our employment lives as a result of the COVID 19 Pandemic.  I certainly wrote my fair share of notes when reading this article, and I will take away some key thoughts for how this information can help our schools to continue to grow and thrive even in the fact of the ongoing Pandemic but what I also thought when I was reading this is that - many of YOU might also be interested in reading it.  

Its a quick read - I promise...but worth the time.  I have always so respected our military veterans, their thoughts, their opinions, and their strong character.  This perspective really helped me to frame what I continue to hear from employees and employers as we all "come back from deployment"...Check it out!


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month, I thought I might share a poem from one of my all time favorite poets - Maya Angelou...

My next blog post will be on Feb. 18, right before the February break!